On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
I don’t know if something as unabashedly macro as the Super Bowl could ever be considered a microcosm for anything, but here’s what I’d say: It seems almost stupidly fitting, after a season in which the NFL’s commissioner displayed an uncharacteristic surplus of political ineptitude, that the league could not manage to keep its own power on. And it seems just as fitting that one of the more entertaining NFL seasons in recent memory climaxed near the goal line, with a quarterback who represents the possibilities of the future ultimately in charge of the game’s result. The NFL is great, and the NFL is dysfunctional. It lives in the light, and it lives in the dark.
— Michael Weinreb
Evening at the Improv
Once, there was an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in which the WJM news team was covering election night and a blizzard knocked out their tabulation devices, so the results read something like 42-37 all night and into the morning, as Ted Baxter vamped away, including a stretch with the priest who’d come in to do the sermonette, until Ted was pretty much a puddle in his shoes. (“I think they ran out of steam after they sang ‘Danny Boy,'” Mary explained.) Eventually, the next morning, the pachyderm-doomed Chuckles the Clown had to deliver the final results. I always wondered what that would be like in the real world.
Ladies and gentlemen, your CBS studio crew!
Let’s face it: As an improv troupe, JB, Boomer, Shannon, Dan, and Coach Cowher aren’t going to make anyone forget the Groundlings. (Hey, let’s see Anquan Boldin catch that first-quarter TD pass one more time! When did that happen? Wasn’t it Thursday?) But watching them try to come up with something fresh to say about what was then a blowout was almost as much fun as watching Baltimore Harbaugh harangue the dude in the suit with the walkie-talkie, who doesn’t get paid enough to take that kind of crap from a guy with a 22-point lead. This was a Super Bowl of the unexpected — a fake field goal, a 108-yard kickoff return, the dancing safety at the end — and watching the NFL and its partners try to cope with a power shortage was the most unexpected thing of all. By Wednesday, I predict, Roger Goodell will lay a heavy fine on the estate of Thomas Edison.
— Charlie Pierce
Helpful Suggestions for What to Name Your Baby Conceived During the 34-Minute Super Bowl Brownout
Leon Sandcastle II
— Mark Lisanti
Who Brought Momentum to This Party?
In physics, momentum is determined by multiplying the mass of an object and the velocity with which it’s traveling. Like a car hurtling down a freeway, or a pinball rolling back through the clutches of two helpless flippers. It’s a vector quantity — you can’t fully measure it without considering direction and magnitude. Cars travel north and south, just like pinballs. Football teams can, too. But momentum doesn’t figure.
Yesterday, after they turned the lights down in New Orleans, the Ravens were hurtling, too, past that vaunted Niners defense, through NaVorro Bowman, over Carlos Rogers, and around Aldon Smith. Because they played well. Then the lights came back, and they didn’t anymore.
Super Bowl parties are fun, but there’s opportunity for awkwardness — like when two people argue about momentum. It’s not real, the intelligent writers on this very website will tell you. But that doesn’t account for what everyone else will say. A guest at my home last night — a dear friend — was concerned that as the Niners stormed back into the game, the narrative would consume what was happening. This game would need an asterisk, he said. Because of the brownout. I thought that was dumb because I’ve been trained to reject that notion. That asterisk would imply that that 34-minute game stoppage — really, just about the strangest, most boring thing that could have happened — altered the psychological and physical complexion of the game. During the break, Ravens like Terrell Suggs could be seen stretching on the field so as not to get cold, or something. Aside from the warmth of his calves and thighs, he did not seem terribly concerned with the situation. Then the lights came up and the Niners’ Pistol offense began working and touchdowns poured in. As the gap closed, my dear friend and I yelled at each other about what this meant — no one else spoke, presumably because, honestly, what’s wrong with these two morons yelling about momentum over the commercials at an intimate party?
Then presumed momentum stopped, after the Ravens marched down the field and kicked a field goal. Then it started again with a Colin Kaepernick TD. Then it stopped with another Ravens field goal. You see my point. That the game essentially ended with the Ravens willfully surrendering two points in the Super Bowl on a safety to strip time from the clock is perhaps the single greatest act of momentum defiance. The Ravens won because they played better. You don’t need physics to understand that. I’m going to go hug my friend.
— Sean Fennessey
A Butterfly Flaps Its Wings and Jurassic Park Gets Made
I think at some point during the above argument, Sean shouted, “You’re the editor of a sports blog!” He’s right, so I’m going to use that power to have the last word here. I don’t actually believe in momentum. I believe in causality. I don’t think the lights going off made the Ravens feel the passage of time, tightened up Terrell Suggs’s hamstrings, or showed the 49ers the magnitude of the game they were playing in, thus causing “Lose Yourself” to play in their helmets and creating a swing in “momentum.” It was a thing that happened. But everything that happened after the lights went off happened because the lights went off. And it just seemed to me a strange, silly, wholly avoidable event to have thrown into the continuum of events that constitute a football game. It’s crazy to think there are football gods above us who have control over the way games play out, but it’s even crazier to think that everything that happens on a field, and sometimes in the stands, or with the lights, doesn’t, even on a minor level, affect the game. The lights went out. There were basically two halftimes in a Super Bowl. That affected how the second half was played, for better or for worse, for the Niners or the Ravens. Or both.
— Chris Ryan
The Power Outage: Should We Develop Standard Rules for Random Game Stoppages?
Every year at numerous professional sporting events, there are random game stoppages caused by technical or mechanical failures. It’s something that leagues should be more prepared for because it can have a decided impact on the momentum and outcome of a game. We already have so many examples — the power outage at the 49ers game, a water cannon going off at a Spurs game, or Shaquille O’Neal breaking down a backboard during his rookie year are just a few more notable ones. Technical and mechanical failures during a professional sporting event shouldn’t be a catastrophe that’s more memorable than the actual game. Should we be at a point where we develop an American sports protocol for “weird-game-stoppage procedure”?
First of all, leagues should remove randomness from a stoppage caused by technical or mechanical failure, giving order to the fans, players, broadcast teams, and even the staff who’s scrambling under pressure to fix the issue. I don’t think that the priority should be getting the players back on the field as soon as possible because we assume that the goal is satisfying the restless fans and unhappy broadcast partners. There should be set increments of stoppage time (depending on the sport) to ensure that coaches and players have their own “emergency” plan, similar to how an elementary school would have a known protocol for fire and tornado drills. Whether a team retreats to the locker room or stays on field with coaches and trainers, the idea of established increments of time with an established line of communication to the head coach can eliminate the chaotic pictures we saw during the Super Bowl. Knowing that you’re going to be off the field for at least 15 or 30 minutes would add a bit more order to any sudden technical interruption for every party participating in the game.
Outdoor sports all have built-in rules for volatile weather changes during the game; why not attempt to minimize the impact of sudden technical failures with established protocols?
Michelle Williams from Destiny’s Child = Gretchen Wieners from Mean Girls
Remembrance of Brownouts Past
As Alexis de Tocqueville once said, we all get the Twitter feed we deserve. Which is how I ended up watching the Super Bowl partially through the prism of a lovably peculiar sect: hard-core NHL fans. The streams began crossing early in the day when an old photo of the Harbros participating in zmite-level hockey in Bowling Green, Ohio, began to circulate. (I love how it’s immediately apparent which one’s Jim; I also feel like little John could have developed nicely into like a Scott Niedermayer–type defenseman. Hey, speak of the …)
When the lights went down in the Superdome, the 49ers weren’t quite able to match the San Francisco Giants’ good luck, though they certainly came close. But the strange situation did give hockey fans the opportunity to do what they do best: proudly remind the world that no matter how demented any given sport, league, or activity might be, something even more messed up has happened in the annals of the NHL. A Beyoncé-sparked “abnormality” that knocked out the power in part of the stadium for a little while? It could have been worse:
In the 1988 Stanley Cup finals between Gretzky’s Oilers and Bourque’s Bruins, clouds that only a dry-ice–dependent DJ could love settled on and around the ice surface. (At intervals, players had to all skate around the rink like prisoners getting yard time to help “break up the fog.”) Ultimately the Boston Garden’s power went out midgame, forcing the cancellation of a Game 4 tied at 3.
But if that callback demonstrated hockey fans’ flair for aggressive self-deprecation, the trophy ceremony showcased their inclinations toward proud judgment. There was the all-but-indisputable matter that the NHL’s ultimate piece of hardware is a little bit more badass than the NFL’s is. The bigger point of contention, though, was that the trophy was handed first to the Ravens’ owner and not, as is the custom in hockey, directly to some bloody, bearded, toothless team captain. Shameful! Proof that the NFL’s just a corporate megalith! (Though you could do a whole lot worse than Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti — with his ponytail and his textbook Baltimore twang.)
It took only seconds for the backlash to set in, as it does every year right around this time. “Sure, the NHL might have a better trophy,” wrote an L.A. Kings blogger who has spent the past many months relishing hockey’s own. “But I’m sure they’d trade it for billions of people watching their sport.”
— Katie Baker
A Harbaugh Surrounded by Buffy … Villains
— Brian Phillips
Here’s to an Anti-Climax
How great was that safety? It was the perfect Super Bowl party play: It starts as a murmur in the room after the fourth-down stop, as someone throws out, “What, do they take a safety here?” and a couple of people laugh, and then someone else starts to do the math and is like, “Wait, maybe a safety’s the answer,” and then people start throwing numbers and made-up odds back and forth across the room, before everyone agrees that while taking the safety would be cool, and probably the right choice if well-executed, the Super Bowl will never end with an intentional safety. But then it did, and it was awesome!
I know the Brothers Harbaugh story lines have been beaten to death, but how many times growing up did they discuss taking a safety up late in a big game? For the nascent football enthusiast (which, for the Harbaughs, was probably the period between ages 3 and 4, but still) it’s a perfect problem, because the parameters, unlike so much else in the game, are simply defined. It’s an easy image to conjure: two towheaded young boys, flashlights on the ground, surrounded by wrinkled box scores and issues of The Sporting News, beating the hell out of each other with their Pop Warner trophies after one called the other a cowardly jackoff for saying you have to punt it away in case your punter fumbles. And what’s more American than that?
— Spike Friedman
Your Anyanka the Vengeance Demon Award for Best Buffy Villain to Receive the Vince Lombardi Trophy from Pro Buffy Villain Roger Goodell goes to … Baltimore Ravens owner Steve “Vampire Mayor” Bisciotti!
I have two words for you: Jacoby Jones. Give him 11 seconds, and he turns a kickoff return into a 108-yard touchdown. Super Bowl game go boooom. But that’s not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is something a bit more … artistic. I want to talk about this:
Immediately after the play, I took to Twitter and was about to write something along the lines of “Omgaskfsldjfa;sjfaowiejfasdklfsd what just happened?>!?!” Instead, I started typing, saw the touchdown dance and thought, Wow, which was more amazing? I .. I don’t even know. The latter? I’ve just been told by a commenter (thanks David Meyer!) that this actually happened after his 56-yard touchdown. (His celebration after his return was Ray Lewis’s squirrel dance.) Regardless, I maintain that this celebration beats his 108-yard touchdown … by a long shot. To be honest, I have zero idea what he was doing, but it was the best. His play just seconds before? Cool, but not nearly on the level of this dance. Just look at those first few hops/steps/running-man moves to get himself into the mood and warm up his muscles for the ensuing motions. Then look at him pump his arms up and down, set in position, and start a violin-playing (???)/right-arm rocking motion in perfect rhythm. Those back and shoulder rotations and that gyrating hip coupled with subtle knee bends and side-to-side rocking? Perfect. Even Torrey Smith, who’s ready to go in and high-five the guy, just grabs the football and stares in awe, admiring Jacoby Jones’s flawless form. I have probably watched this GIF 50-plus times, and despite my best efforts to break down the movements, I still don’t entirely understand what he was doing. Which, of course, only adds to the beauty of it all. I’ve tried replicating it, only to look like an awkward dummy at the hands of a novice ventriloquist.
Jacoby Jones, helmets off to you. You win MVP in the “Best Touchdown Celebration” category by exactly 108 yards.
— Patricia Lee
Not Fade Away
I asked Barnwell earlier this season if anyone had ever done a study of outcomes on fade routes toward the corner of the end zone. I wanted to know if they were more efficient than I thought, or rather, if they had emerged as an efficient end-zone alternative over the last half-decade or so in which I had stopped paying much attention to the NFL. I’ve always hated them, but anyone who makes final conclusions based only on the “eye test,” without digging into the data, is a fool.
I’m still curious. It seems almost like the NFL’s equivalent of the NBA’s late-game hero-ball isolation play — a low-percentage, high-degree-of-difficulty play that appeals to coaches because it is low risk. A sack or fumble is unlikely, since the quarterback throws the ball almost immediately. The coach is putting the ball into the hands of his star players — the quarterback and his best receiver — and telling everyone else to get out of the way. By removing all other options, the coach is making things simple for the guy who has to do something with the ball.
But does it actually work well when compared with running a regular play in the same short-yardage situation? I have no clue. And for all I know — again, I’m a basketball writer whose NFL fandom peaked when Steve Young was a star for the 49ers — there are a million types of fade routes with different structures. I just know I’ve always hated the version the Niners unleashed last night with the season on the line. I want options, and I want them in the middle of the field. And I want the quarterback running the ball to be one of those options.
But I’m a hoops guy. What does the data actually say, I wonder?
— Zach Lowe
“When we return to the lab, I shall outfit you with even more potent feeling-pistons! I will show you emotions you’ve never even dreamed of! Your churning passions shall drown Sunnydale forever!”
I heard the beginning of the Super Bowl from my car. This wasn’t intentional. But my wife and I just had a second kid and the only time the sitter could make it was Sunday afternoon. Add L.A. traffic, bad planning, and a food truck that took a little too long with the empanadas, and we were listening to the anthem and “America the Beautiful” on Beverly Boulevard.
Anyway, I was doing that asshole-husband-missing-the-game thing — annoyed terseness, punching the gas a little too heavily, frantically searching radio stations. We landed at 570 AM just in time to hear a bunch of kids singing “America the Beautiful.” It ended, Jennifer Hudson began, and the announcer said, “So beautiful. So perfect. After all these kids have been through …” And my wife looked at me at a stop light and said, “You don’t think …” And I thought about it for a moment and said, “No.”
But of course it was.
I’ve been thinking about honesty lately. Part of it is raising kids who have reached the age of reason. Part of it is being a journalist. A lot of it is interacting with sports and sports coverage every day for a living. I think the question of being honest with ourselves about the things we love is a lot of what The Boss was talking about in this piece. (Be what you are. Say what you actually believe. Can we please, dear lord, for once, avoid the hypocrisy of this whole thing? Etc., etc.) And trotting out those Sandy Hook schoolchildren before the annual climax of the most violent popular sport in the world? For me, it was just too much.
I got home. I opened a beer. My older son — the one who I trained so well to hate Baltimore the two weeks before — sat down to watch the game with me and decided to root for San Francisco. (Smart kid. Bad result.) When the lights went out in the third quarter, he asked me why the game had stopped. Whether the game was broken. And instead of a good, pat, fatherly answer about electric grids and acts of God, I said nothing. All I could think about was those smiling kids, the way they were supposed to make us feel good, and the way that they had made me feel rotten for loving football.
— Dan Fierman
These are several indisputable facts about Ray Lewis:
• Ray Lewis is 37 years old.
• Ray Lewis has played his entire NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens.
• Ray Lewis was indicted on two counts of murder in February 2000.
• Ray Lewis is one of the best defensive players in NFL history.
• Ray Lewis announced before the playoffs began that he was retiring; since then, a team that was average for the entire season went on to win the Super Bowl.
Ray Lewis’s legacy was difficult to parse long before what happened last night. There are people who remain convinced that Ray Lewis was inextricably involved with the slaying of two men in Atlanta 13 years ago. To them, that will be how Ray Lewis is remembered. There are others who will choose to remember him for the type of football player he was the last time the Ravens won a Super Bowl, and that is, without question, one of the best who’s ever done it.
This Super Bowl figures into that legacy as well — only in the exact opposite way. Ray Lewis the football player was horrible for much of last night. Whether it was Michael Crabtree or Vernon Davis, the 49ers did what they wanted in the middle of the field, and it was the 37-year-old linebacker who was often their target. Save for its final stand, the Baltimore defense didn’t have much to do with the Ravens’ Super Bowl win. San Francisco’s 468 yards were the most ever by a Super Bowl loser, and I don’t think anyone walked away last night wondering whether Colin Kaepernick has a future in this league.
If the Ravens had lost last night, Ray Lewis would have played a major part in it happening. What complicates matters is wondering that if he weren’t playing at all, would Baltimore have even been here? The Ravens were an average football team for much of the season, and that included a very average defense. Maybe this was a team who laid low for 17 weeks before flipping a switch in the playoffs. Or maybe everything we read about the team’s reaction to Lewis’s pre-playoff retirement announcement was real.
I’m not saying that Joe Flacco’s postseason was a product of trying to win one for the Gipper (the stack of cash coming Flacco’s way probably had something to do with it), but on both sides of the ball, Baltimore never seemed like a team capable of a Super Bowl win before these playoffs began. Before kickoff last night, I watched the way Brendon Ayanbadejo looked at Lewis as both men cried. Whatever we think of Ray Lewis, there’s really no denying that the men around him felt a certain way about him, believed in him. In light of everything else that’s happened, I can’t say how much that should matter; I can just say that for four football games, it mattered a great deal.
— Robert Mays