By TIM DAHLBERG
AP Sports Columnist
NEW ORLEANS — It ended another lifetime after it began, with the Baltimore Ravens gladly surrendering two points that meant nothing except to some lucky bettors in Vegas. One brother patted the other on the cheek and, just like that, the strangest Super Bowl you will ever see was finally over.
If football is a game of momentum, the San Francisco 49ers probably deserved a better fate. It took a blackout to get them going, only to have some pedestrian play calling with the game on the line finally finish them off.
This wasn’t two coaching geniuses at their best, not even close. Their father, Jack, surely saw that from the stands, where he and his wife, Jackie, spent more than four hours trying their hardest not to root either way as their sons went up against each other on the biggest stage in football.
One, though, was better than the other, and in the end that was why the Ravens were holding the Lombardi trophy aloft in celebration while the 49ers filed quietly off the field.
Not that either coaching Harbaugh could be totally at fault in a game that went a whopping 4 hours and 14 minutes. Watch all the film you want, do all the planning you can, but nothing could prepare them for a 34-minute power outage that turned what was becoming a Ravens blowout into a thrilling game that could have lit up the Superdome just by the sheer energy of everyone involved.
Conspiracy theorists can rest easy, even if the Ravens couldn’t rest until Ted Ginn Jr. was tackled on the final desperation play of the game. The investigation is ongoing, but the guess is there will be no evidence that panicked San Francisco fans somehow found their way into the bowels of the dome and flipped the lights off with their team trailing 28-6 in a third quarter unlike any in Super Bowl history.
The team that should have won did, mostly because the Ravens played with only a few mistakes while the 49ers kept making a ton of them.
“How could it be any other way?” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We talk to our guys all the time: It’s never pretty, it’s never perfect, but it is us, and that was us today.”
Just a few weeks ago the Ravens were dead in the water, the seconds running out when a miracle play helped them beat Denver. They went on to become the first team to win two straight playoff games as an underdog on the road, then followed it with a win as underdogs in the biggest game they’ll ever play.
That Ray Lewis went out as a champion seemed merely a side note, even if he was on the field for the last goal line stand that sealed the 34-31 win. Lewis was such a non-factor in this game that, if he did spend money for deer antler spray, he should ask for it back.
“Baltimore!!!” Lewis screamed as the confetti fell inside the now very bright Superdome, and for once he made some sense. This was a working man’s win for a working class city, and most of the credit for that can go to a quarterback who always seemed overlooked when the conversation turned to the NFL’s elite.
Joe Flacco will get that recognition now as well as the big contract that comes along with it. He deserves it after throwing for three touchdowns, winning the MVP and going in the record books alongside Kurt Warner and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks with 11 touchdown passes in one postseason.
But this was always going to be more about the brothers who faced off on opposing sidelines than anything else. They spent two weeks trying to prepare to beat their sibling, something neither of them really wanted. But it was the only way for either to win his first Super Bowl, even if the postgame handshake was always going to be painfully awkward no matter which brother won.
“Congratulations,” Jim said, patting his brother on the cheek.
“I love you,” John said.
They are both very different even if they are both very much the same. Jim coached this game with an intense scowl, while John was so relaxed that he draped an arm around his daughter on the sidelines before the game in a touching moment while the Newtown children’s choir sang “America the Beautiful.”
John was simply a better coach on this night than the brother who was born 15 months after him. His game plan helped the Ravens jump to an early lead, and his team managed to hold just enough when it seemed the 49ers would steamroll them after scoring 17 points in just over 4 minutes in the longest quarter of the longest Super Bowl game ever.
The 49ers, meanwhile, squandered two timeouts that would cost them, including one when they were inside the 10-yard line with less than 2 minutes left and on the verge of taking the lead for the first time in the game. And with first-and-goal at the 7, Harbaugh didn’t call one read-option for Colin Kaepernick and never gave bruising back Frank Gore the ball.
“We had other plays called,” was Harbaugh’s only explanation.
The 49ers coach was still put out after the game, upset that there wasn’t even one penalty, much less two, called on the team’s final offensive play. Jim Harbaugh claimed receiver Michael Crabtree was both held and interfered with, but with the game on the line he wasn’t going to get either call even if he was right.
The brothers who once battled each other over who would cut the grass at their coaching father’s house both battled as hard as they could to win the game that meant the most. In the end, big brother triumphed, but it came at a price.
John Harbaugh had joked during the week that whoever lost would always have a chance to regain bragging rights on the golf course. But both knew one would be bitterly disappointed, and the other would be feeling some of his brother’s pain.
“It’s a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be,” John said. “It’s very painful.”
Not nearly as painful, though, as it was for his little brother.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg