As the Baltimore Ravens' plane climbed into the night skies above New England following the team's 28--13 win in the conference title game last month, full of happy and tired AFC champions, a voice rose from the back of the charter. "Hey Ray! ... Ray!" quarterback Joe Flacco called to Ray Lewis, who a few hours earlier had wept with joy at the thought of his final NFL game being played in the Super Bowl. "There's no crying in football!"
The times, in Baltimore, are changing. The quiet 28-year-old quarterback needles the 37-year-old Raven in Winter, one of the greatest (and most complicated) leaders we've ever seen, on his way out. But change comes to all teams, in all sports. And now that the Ravens have staked their claim to a second world championship in their 17 seasons in Baltimore—the wild and dusky and fraternal and rollicking 34--31 Super Bowl XLVII victory over San Francisco at the Superdome in New Orleans on Sunday night—an orderly succession plan is in place as Lewis heads for the TV studio. Baltimore has the organization, the coaching and the quarterback—especially the quarterback—to contend for the next 10 years. Flacco won't be a hollerer. But as Derek Jeter says, It ain't about what you say—it's how you practice, how you run out ground balls hard every time. You lead by example.
Sounds like another Joe.
"Wow," Flacco said of the comparison to Joe Montana as Sunday night turned into Monday morning. "My idol." They're in history together now, the two Joes, for having the most explosive and most efficient quarterbacking postseasons ever. Montana, 23 years ago, threw 11 playoff touchdowns and no interceptions in a campaign that ended with a Super Bowl XXIV blowout of the Broncos. Flacco, in Baltimore's four-game playoff run this season, matched that. And for his 22-of-33, 287-yard, three-TD, 124.2-rating effort, he earned the game's Most Valuable Player award, just as Montana had 23 years earlier.
So many fascinating dimensions to this game. The first (non-football-related) delay of game in Super Bowl history, 34 minutes when a partial power outage in the Superdome darkened the place. The first brother-brother championship-game coaching matchup in major American sports history. ("I never thought you could feel 100 percent elation and 100 percent devastation at the same time, but I learned tonight you can," John Harbaugh said of beating brother Jim.) Lewis's farewell game. Most likely, safety Ed Reed's final game with Baltimore, his team of 11 years. (He's a free agent too rich for the Ravens' salary cap.) The amazing running and throwing talent of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (page 36), who very nearly ruined Baltimore's neatly wrapped destiny package with his second-half comeback and his 302 yards passing and 62 rushing yards. The 104-yard receiving night of football's most physical wideout, Anquan Boldin. The continued failure of San Francisco's vaunted defense to be anything north of mediocre in this postseason. And a bargain receiver--returnman, Jacoby Jones ($2.5 million in 2012), with 56- and 108-yard touchdowns in his hometown. Said Jones, who played his high school ball at Marion Abramson High, 10 miles northeast of the Superdome, "Just a blessing, dude, to do it in front of my people."
Speaking of the Ravens' people, it was after midnight when Flacco finally arrived at his family's party, at Huck Finn's sports bar in the French Quarter, where he was awaited by his agent and his youth coaches and his youth sports teammates and his five siblings and his parents and his grandparents and his cousin, a New Jersey state trooper who himself had brought 24 of his closest state trooper friends from Flacco's native Garden State. As he walked in the door, smiling slightly, Flacco was greeted with this: "MVP! MVP! MVP!"
Now, a few words about that organization. Go back to a Monday-night game in the middle of the 2007 season. The Ravens were one troubled franchise, and it was becoming abundantly clear that struggling quarterbacks Kyle Boller and Troy Smith were not the answer, and that Steve McNair could not stay healthy. The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger riddled Baltimore for five touchdown passes in a 38--7 rout in Pittsburgh that evening, and Ravens scouts were put on notice. G.M. Ozzie Newsome's tacit order: Find us a quarterback.
Five days later, two of those scouts, Joe Douglas, who covers the East Coast, and Andy Weidl from out west, went to look in on a senior quarterback at Delaware as he played against Richmond. There were seven scouts there that cold day, and when Joe Flacco threw a pick-six just before halftime, five of them left. The Ravens' duo stuck around.
"The other scouts thought he was too stiff, too slow," Douglas recalled on Sunday night, soaking up the Super Bowl win.
"A Dan McGwire," Weidl said, referring to Mark's brother, a 6' 8" QB out of lower-level San Diego State who was drafted with the 16th pick in 1991 and washed out. "But we were on the field before the game watching [Flacco] warm up, and we loved him. The ball just whizzed. We thought, This guy's got an AFC North arm—a bad-weather arm. When I saw Joe, I saw Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer...."