Hey, did you know Jim and John Harbaugh were brothers? And that they’re both coaching in the Super Bowl?! Yes, it’s a storyline that’s already old and we’re still two weeks away from the big game. But Super Bowl XLVII week isn’t just about the coaches (I saw someone call this the “Breaux Bowl,” ugh). There are longtime NFL veterans seeking their first rings, incredible personnel matchups on both sides of the ball, and an incredible Hall of Fame finalist class that somehow needs to be narrowed down to five. Here are 10 Ravens and 49ers to watch — other than those darn Harbaugh brothers — over the next two weeks. — Peter Schrager
Tom Crean, Head Coach, Indiana University men’s basketball
What’s a college basketball coach doing on here? Well, when you’re the brother-in-law of two head coaches in the Super Bowl, you make lists like this. Crean’s married to Jim and John’s sister Joani. "It was incredible,” Crean said on this week’s Big Ten basketball teleconference. “We found out that Jim won when we were on the plane (back from the win over Northwestern), and that was exciting. We watched it until about the 8-minute mark at the airport, when we were getting ready to leave. Then we got to watch the Ravens' win, and it was something else. The happiness for Joani’s mom and dad, the happiness for Joani —we’ve talked to Jim, we hadn’t talked to John late last night. But it’s hard to describe it; it’s hard to put it into words.” Will Crean be at the game next Sunday? The Hoosiers host No. 2 Michigan at 9 p.m. ET the Saturday night before the Super Bowl. Win or lose, he’ll likely find his way to New Orleans.
A lot was made of Suggs’ inflammatory “Tell them to have fun at the Pro Bowl” comment (followed by an expletive) made in the moments immediately following Baltimore’s win over New England in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. Some fans loved it, others hated it. That’s sizzle. For better or for worse, the man is going to speak his mind. And for that, he makes a great subject come Super Bowl week. He’ll say some things — poignant, absurd, even prophetic. That’ll be great. But guess what? The man can play, and after looking rusty for weeks immediately following his return from the torn Achilles, he’s finally looking like the Terrell Suggs of old.
Warren Sapp, Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer/Oakland Raider
What’s Sapp doing here? Well, he’s the most intriguing of the 15 finalists in this year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame class. A candidate for the first time, Sapp could find a logjam in front of him when the Class of 2013 is selected the Saturday before the Super Bowl. Though many fans would assume he’s a no-brainer first-ballot guy, both Charles Haley and Michael Strahan could stand in his way. It’s very unlikely three of the five entrants this year would be defensive linemen. Jon Ogden, Larry Allen, Bill Parcells, Art Modell, Eddie Debartalo Jr. and Cris Carter could all get in this season. Sapp’s candidacy is the most intriguing.
Scott Norwood, meet your match. Akers has missed 14 field goals this season, including a chippy in crunch time during the NFC Championship Game. Billy Cundiff, brought on before the start of the playoffs, was waived two days before the game last weekend. The 49ers fans could be clamoring for him after another substandard performance. Akers has been kicking in the pros since 1998 and has a Super Bowl appearance under his belt (three extra points, no field goal attempts in the Eagles’ 24-21 loss to the Patriots in 2005), but he’s never faced pressure like this. A kicker should never be an X-Factor. Akers is an XYZ-Factor.
Chris Ault, the “Godfather” of the pistol offense out in Nevada-Reno, is getting a ton of media love of late — and rightfully so. His offense has helped spur a new wave of creativity and explosiveness across the NFL. But it’s one thing to create an innovative college offense. It’s another to implement it in the pros. Roman, an assistant of Jim Harbaugh’s at Stanford, has not only flipped the entire playbook to suit QB Colin Kaepernick’s skill set, but he’s done so midseason. The 49ers’ offensive coordinator didn’t get a head coaching job for next season. If you’re a 49ers fan, that’s all gravy. Just imagine what he’ll do with an entire offseason to construct a playbook around Kaepernick. Bells, whistles and even more. I’m just excited to see what he unveils in New Orleans with two weeks to prepare.
Caldwell was the head coach of a Super Bowl team just three years ago in Indianapolis. Quiet and reserved, he wasn’t quite as fiery or verbose as his opposing coach in that game, New Orleans’ Sean Payton. All the chatter in 2010 was on Caldwell’s controversial decision to rest his Colts players prior to the start of the NFL playoffs. He lost that Super Bowl as Peyton Manning couldn’t topple Drew Brees, and Payton’s risky onside kick to start the second half worked out. Fast forward three years and Caldwell may be the most valuable person in that Ravens facility this season. The quarterbacks coach for most of the season, Caldwell replaced Cam Cameron as the offensive coordinator after Week 14 and has since revitalized the Baltimore offense. They Ravens O is as dangerous as it has ever been. Ever.
Ray Lewis will get (or take) a lot of the attention, but Reed’s got an even richer Super Bowl week story. A Louisiana native, Reed was as giddy as I’d ever seen him after Baltimore’s AFC Championship Game win Sunday night, singing the lyrics of Eddie Money’s “Two Tickets to Paradise.” Reed, arguably the greatest free safety to ever play, is headed to his first Super Bowl. There’s been some “Ed Reed hasn’t done anything all postseason” chatter on Twitter and the Internet message boards. There’s a reason for that. No one — Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady — has thrown anything near him these playoffs.
Remember him? Smith is the Lance Harbor (“Varsity Blues” reference, hello) of this 49ers team. Not since Tom Brady got the nod over Drew Bledsoe in 2001 has such a high-profile quarterback been replaced midseason and seen a backup take the team to the Super Bowl. Smith was a couple of Kyle Williams muffed punts away in last year’s NFC Championship Game from getting the spotlight and the Super Bowl week media puff piece treatment. A year later, he’s a forgotten man. His personal journey to New Orleans — the same city in which his replacement, Colin Kaepernick, made his first road start — is almost more fascinating than his young replacement’s.
Moss was out of football last season. He was done, written off by most. He spent most of his season away — a year after playing for three different teams — fishing in West Virginia. Now, more than 24 months after he stepped away, arguably the greatest wide receiver of his generation is a 49er and back in the Super Bowl for the second time in his 14-year NFL career. Ray Lewis has his ring. Moss? He’s still searching for it. A loser in Super Bowl XLII with New England and in two different NFC Championship Games as a Viking, Moss is now just one win away.
Oh, you’ll see, hear and read plenty about the Ravens’ retiring middle linebacker over the next two weeks — don’t you worry about that. And though you may roll your eyes or scream “Enough, already!” at the sight of Lewis tearing up over the national anthem or giving (another) motivational pep talk — I’d be lying if I told you his retirement announcement hasn’t served as real motivation in that Ravens locker room. Running back Ray Rice spelled it out after the AFC title game: "It's all for him. It's his last ride. This is all for him. We're doing this for Ray Lewis." This Ray Lewis thing? Scoff all you want; it's real.