Huddle up: 5 story lines to follow at Super Bowl XLVII
NEW ORLEANS (CNN) — America has spent $12 billion getting ready for the big game Sunday. Now it’s time to cook the wings, prepare the dip, order the pizza, put the beer on ice.
The San Francisco 49ers are favored to win their sixth NFL title, but can the Baltimore Ravens send their magnificent, but controversial, linebacker Ray Lewis into retirement with a second championship ring?
Will the Baltimore defense be able to stop young quarterback Colin Kaepernick from beating them with his right arm and his legs?
Who will win the battle of super siblings?
Who will have the best commercial? Will it be sexy or funny?
Will the halftime show be live? OK, Beyoncé assures us it will.
Here are five other story lines you might be talking about around the snack table before the game kicks off in New Orleans at 6:30 p.m. ET:
1. Some fans are ‘Switzerland’
Indiana Hoosiers basketball coach Tom Crean will be one of the 72,000 fans at the game.
But he and his wife, Joani, and her parents won’t be pulling for the Ravens to maul the 49ers or for San Francisco to knock off Baltimore.
You see Joani’s brothers, John and Jim Harbaugh, are the two opposing head coaches in the big game. John coaches the Ravens, Jim leads San Francisco.
“I get, ‘Which brother are you rooting for?’ ” Joani told the New York Times. “I’m sure it’s a joke. I’m neutral. I’m Switzerland.”
In a perfect world, Jackie Harbaugh would like to see the Super Bowl end in a tie, but she and her husband, Jack, know they will have one son on Sunday night who’ll be ecstatic and one who’ll be melancholy.
“There is going to be one winner and there is going to be one who is going to be totally disappointed,” said Jack Harbaugh, who coached for 43 years.” My thoughts go to that one that will not experience the thrill of victory. That’s where our thoughts will be.”
And mom and dad, married for 51 years, will be there to make things a little better.
“We’re going to hug both of them and tell them how proud we are of them and their teams,” Jackie Harbaugh said.
The old coach said he was just as proud of his sons this week as he was in the days when they each told him they made the junior high or high school football team. Or when they said they earned a college scholarship — Jim to Michigan and John to Miami University in Ohio.
“The thrill that you feel — I know this is on a big stage — but in parenting, those don’t rank any differently,” he said.
2. “Reverend Ray” inspires, draws criticism
At Pastor Jamal Bryant’s church, God is on the Ravens’ side. And why not? Bryant is Ray Lewis’ pastor, the man who helped lead Lewis to redemption.
People at the Empowerment Temple AME Church call Lewis “Reverend Ray.” Bryant says the title fits.
“He’s a jack leg preacher without a license, no Bible college, but it’s just in him,” Bryant said. “He’s spoken here a couple of times, I’ve put him up to do our Bible study, and he’s like Billy Graham and Bishop (T.D.) Jakes wrapped into one.”
Fans say Lewis’ in-your-face faith and extensive community service is beautifully sincere. His critics find it phony — a redemption tour with no true redemption.
“Redemption? Stop acting like you are one of those people that come out of the Bible,” Greg Wilson told CNN.
Thirteen years ago, Wilson’s nephew, Jacinth Baker, and his buddy, Richard Lollar, were stabbed to death outside of an Atlanta nightclub.
Lewis and two others were charged in their killings.
Four months later, Lewis pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice. A jury acquitted Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley. “It was self-defense for me because someone attacked me,” Oakley told CNN.
Today, Lewis insists whatever happened in Atlanta changed him.
“With everything I’ve been through in my whole life, the thing for me to be here today and my only purpose in life is to find ways to help people and encourage people and make our world a better place,” he said.
Bryant compares Lewis to the biblical figure King David.
“David was a man after God’s own heart, after committing adultery, after committing murder, after being negligent on the job, after being taken out of position,” Bryant said. “He’s still somebody who God honored, and I think that many times history can’t appreciate it while you’re in it, it’s only after you walk away.”
That is the definition of redemption, Bryant said. It’s not what you’ve done, it’s what you’ve become.
3. From starter to mentor
Alex Smith can’t help but be a little disappointed even though the 49ers are in the game of their lives. Just a few months ago, Smith was San Francisco’s starting quarterback before a concussion sent him to the sideline.
Kaepernick, the second-year backup, played even better than Smith, stayed in the lineup and had a big role in getting the 49ers to the Super Bowl. He said Smith has been supportive since losing his spot.
“It means a lot,” Kaepernick said this week. “I think it really shows his character and the kind of man he is. He’s helped me through everything, from Week 1 ’til now.”
Smith, who is healthy again, said he said he became a starter in college at Utah when their No. 1 quarterback went down.
“I’d be pretty hypocritical to be upset about it,” Smith said. “It’s the nature of sports. He got an opportunity, stepped up and made the most of it.”
NBC Sports reported this week that Smith will ask to be released in the offseason, giving him greater control of which team he will play for next. The 49ers also could trade him, or keep him, but not many teams would want to pay their backup quarterback $8.5 million.
It’s unlikely Harbaugh will pull Kaepernick if he struggles, but if he is injured the 49ers have little to worry about in his replacement.
4. Distractions, distractions, distractions
This Super Bowl has had more distractions than most. First there was Lewis being asked whether he had taken a banned substance called deer antler spray. Then 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver said Tuesday he didn’t want any gay players on his team. Add to that the story of TV analyst Dan Marino fathering a child out of wedlock and San Francisco’s Randy Moss boasting he was the best receiver of all time (to which Jerry Rice replied, “Scoreboard.”)
Players were sure the media circus wouldn’t affect Super Bowl XLVII.
“You get to play at this level because most of the guys are mentally tough, so when you get out there, the last thing you’re going to be thinking about is what people are saying,” 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin said.
Ravens center Matt Birk said the being a professional football player requires staying focused at the task at hand, something some guys can’t handle. He said he compartmentalizes the bad stuff, blocks it out.
Patrick Willis, a 49ers linebacker, defended Culliver.
“In this business, it’s always going to be something, and we know those guys,” he said. “We know those guys’ hearts. We know that those things that come out of their mouths aren’t intended to hurt anyone or intended to make it about them.”
Culliver apologized Wednesday and again Thursday, saying: “I’m sorry that I offended anyone. They were very ugly comments, and that’s not what I feel in my heart. Hopefully, I can learn and grow from this experience and this situation. I love San Francisco.”
5. New Orleans on the comeback
The Big Easy is playing host to its 10th Super Bowl and even though locals are crushed that the hometown Saints aren’t playing in the game, they are happy to show a city that has rebounded strongly from Hurricane Katrina seven years ago.
“We’re in an economic resurrection of the city,” actor and businessman Wendell Pierce said. “This is a point in time that people will remember that New Orleans was on its way back. We came from total destruction and now we’re hosting one of the great events known to the world.”
The New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. says the big game served as a goal line to cross for more than $1 billion in improvements to the city. Much of that was spent fixing up the airport, where most fans will get a first impression of the city that depends heavily on tourism.
New Orleans officials hope that some of the fans don’t pack up and leave on Monday. After all, there’s another big event going on. Mardi Gras!
“You’re right in the middle of the greatest street party in the history of the world, Mardi Gras,” he said. “To have the Super Bowl join that, it’s one of the most festive times to be here in New Orleans. We’re going to have great food, great time and one of the greatest games in … world sports.”
CNN’s Carol Costello contributed to this report.