For the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, it’s truly better late than never. Each squad appeared in its conference title games last season, only to lose by a field goal. The Ravens and 49ers avoided a repeat last Sunday by defeating New England and Atlanta respectively — on the road, no less — to earn spots in Super Bowl XLVII. This also means that pregame hype is ready to kick into overdrive until the Feb. 3 kickoff. Here are 10 “super” storylines you will be hearing plenty about in the days ahead. — Alex Marvez
Or should we say Harbeaux since Super Bowl XLVII is being played in New Orleans. For the first time in NFL history, two brothers who are head coaches — Baltimore’s John Harbaugh (pictured right) and his little brother Jim (pictured left) in San Francisco — will be facing each other for the Lombardi Trophy. John already half-heartedly pleaded with the media to give this angle a rest. “It got old last year, did it not?” he asked, referring to the Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh hype surrounding a Thanksgiving Day matchup in 2011. That’s not happening. Look for another round of baby pictures and tales from father Jack Harbaugh, who was a pretty darned good football coach himself back in the day.
Ray Lewis' ride into the sunset
As with John Elway, Jerome Bettis and Michael Strahan, another NFL superstar will have the rare opportunity to end his career with a Super Bowl win. Lewis (pictured) sparked Baltimore’s improbable playoff run with his return from a torn triceps muscle and subsequent announcement of his retirement plans. While plenty of praise will be heaped upon him for his on- and off-field achievements, the iconic linebacker also will be peppered with questions about his involvement in a 2000 stabbing incident that left two people dead. Lewis made a reference to his past after the New England game when saying he tries to tell teammates: “Don’t make the same mistakes I made in life. Learn from my mistakes.” Even after 13 years, the media will be fishing for more details on those “mistakes.”
Will Roger Goodell starve?
Since announcing sanctions against the New Orleans Saints for the franchise’s involvement in a bounty scandal, the NFL commissioner (pictured) has become public enemy No. 1 in the Big Easy. Numerous restaurants around New Orleans feature photos of Goodell in their windows along with the caption, “Do not serve this man.” The affable Goodell won’t shy from making public appearances leading into the game, but the vitriol from the city could take on a life of its own as Saints fans express displeasure with the sanctions that crippled their team’s chances of playing a Super Bowl inside the Louisiana Superdome.
The Randy revival
At this time last year, Randy Moss (pictured) was retired after a disappointing end to a Hall of Fame career. Moss, though, resurfaced with the 49ers and has another shot at the Super Bowl ring that has eluded him. The 35-year-old Moss is no longer a game-changing wide receiver. But his past success — and the controversy that ensued throughout it — will draw plenty of media attention as the narrative of Moss’ career is told. He also could have a bigger role in Super Bowl XLVII depending on the legal status of 49ers wideout Michael Crabtree, who is under investigation for an alleged sexual assault following San Francisco’s second-round playoff victory over Green Bay. Crabtree did play against Atlanta and surely will take the field in the Super Bowl unless charged.
Eddie DeBartolo and Art Modell
The previous ownership of a franchise rarely receives much attention during Super Bowl week. Not this time. Baltimore’s Steve Bisciotti and San Francisco’s Jed York will be pushed into the background as the legacies of their predecessors are debated. DeBartolo (pictured left) and Modell (pictured right) are among 15 finalists for the 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame class, which will be voted upon the day before Super Bowl XLVII. A strong case can be made for both men: The 49ers won five Super Bowl rings during DeBartolo’s tenure; Modell had an influential behind-the-scenes role in the NFL’s growth. But they also must rise above the controversies that have kept them out of Canton. In 2000, DeBartolo divested himself of 49ers ownership two years after he pleaded guilty to a federal charge of failure to report a felony. Modell remains reviled by Cleveland Browns fans for moving the franchise to Baltimore in 1996.
Two very different quarterbacks
Baltimore’s Joe Flacco (pictured left) is a traditional drop-back, long-ball passer. San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick (pictured right) is a run-pass threat when operating the read-option. The clean-cut Flacco and tattoo-covered Kaepernick also couldn’t paint a more different picture physically. But whatever works, right? Flacco can cement his spot among the NFL’s top quarterbacks with a Super Bowl victory while Kaepernick can follow in the footsteps of Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger by winning a championship in just his second NFL season.
Wil David Akers be the next Scott Norwood?
One of the NFL’s top kickers for most of his 14-year career, Akers remains mired in a season-long slump that continued against Atlanta when he clanged a 38-yard field-goal attempt off the left upright. Akers (pictured in front) also missed 13 of his 42 attempts during the regular season, prompting the 49ers to sign Billy Cundiff as competition heading into the playoffs. Akers performed well enough in practice that Cundiff was released before the game against the Falcons. But if Akers shanks the game-winning kick, like Norwood did for Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV, 49ers management will have only themselves to blame for not making a change. Adding to the pressure is all the pregame media scrutiny that Akers will be facing in light of his difficulties.
Ed Reed returns home
Ray Lewis might not be the only prominent Ravens veteran playing his final game with the franchise that drafted him. Reed (pictured), who joined Baltimore as a 2002 first-round pick, is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. Retirement is also an option. If the future Hall of Fame safety follows in Lewis’ footsteps, the 34-year-old Reed will be playing his final game 30 minutes from his hometown of St. Rose, just west of New Orleans.
Human interest stories galore
Ravens linebacker and special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo (pictured) is an outspoken proponent of gay marriage. 49ers tight end Vernon Davis is a budding artist who recently opened his own private gallery. Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker is an opera singer. There will be plenty of feel-good tales like this highlighted as the Super Bowl traditionally serves as a “This Is Your Life” showcase for many involved.
A statue (pictured) was unveiled outside the Superdome in July of Steve Gleason blocking a punt from a 2006 game against Atlanta. The tribute commemorates the successful return of the Saints to New Orleans after the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina the previous year. Gleason, though, is likely a living example of the damage that playing football can cause. A series of concussions throughout the safety’s career are believed to have given him Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a degenerative neurological disease that medical researchers have tied to a higher rate among former NFL players. Gleason, 35, and 43-year-old O.J. Brigance, a former Ravens player who now works in the team’s front office, are both in wheelchairs. Concussions will remain a hot media topic around Super Bowl XLVII, with more than 4,000 former players suing the NFL for damages.