Are we ready for football?


Somewhere in the midst of all those clips and commercials and concerts, there will be a football game Sunday. For many of us -- not really keen on Ravens and 49ers -- it will be fresh turf. Here's the story I sent to papers, with CBS people looking at some of the key points. The previous blog is an overview of the TV day:

 

By MIKE HUGHES

For casual football fans, Sunday's game
is a challenge.

It's a Super Bowl without superstars –
at least, not the big-play offense types. There's no Tom Brady or
Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, no Manning of any sort.

During the regular season, the San
Francisco 49ers finished 11th, in total offense; the
Baltimord Ravens were 16th. Neither had a Pro Bowl
quarterback or receiver.

So what do we get excited about? Here
are possibilities, with comments from CBS Sports people:

1) Old vs. new: Ray Lewis has had 17
splendid seasons with the Ravens. The Associated Press named him
All-Pro 10 times and the NFL's best defensive player twice. In 2001,
he became only the seventh defensive man in 35 years to be named the
Super Bowl's most valuable player .

Now, at 37, h's retiring; he'll spend
his final game chasing a young 49er quarterback. “Very few people had
heard of Colin Kaepernick three months ago,” said Sean McManus, he
president of CBS Sports.

Kaepernick, a second-round draft pick,
was 8 when Lewis went pro. This season, his second, he stepped in
when Alex Smith (a former No. 1 pick) was hurt, then held the job
when Smith returned. “This is only his 10th starting
game,” Dan Marino marveled, “and he's in the Super Bowl.”

After spending his first four years in
Wisconsin, Kaepernick grew up in California. “He wrote a letter to
himself,” McManus said, “saying he was going to be a quarterback
for the Packers or the 49ers.”

On Jan. 12, he set the fate of both
teams. Kaepernick ran for 181 yards (a play-off record for a
quarterback) as the 49ers beat the Packers, 45-31; a week later, the
49ers won their Super Bowl spot.

2) The new scramble: Super Bowls are
won by passers who stand in the pocket and fire. Joe Montana was MVP
three times; Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Terry Bradshaw and Bart Starr
twice apiece.

The Ravens quarterback fits that mode,
Marino, a former quarterback, said. “Joe Flacco (is) the kind of
quarterback who will stand in the pocket and make the throws.” He
finished 12th in regular-season quarterback ratings, but
has been No. 1 during the play-offs.

Lately, however, a different kind of
quarterback has emerged. “This year, you have RGIII and Kaepernick
and also Russell Wilson,” said Bill Cowher, the former Steeler
coach. During the regular season, Robert Griffin III ran for 815
yards (beating the top running backs for 13 teams); Cam Newton had
741; Wilson had 489. Kaepernick had 415 in a half-season, then burned
the Packers when they tried some blitzing stunts. “That gave him
running lanes,” Cowher said. A week later, the Falcons stopped his
runs … and he beat them with his passing.

3) Brotherly combat: For the first
time, brothers will face each other as Super Bowl coaches

“Many of us have had sibling
rivalries our whole lives, so we know what it's like,” McManus
said.

And some can sympathize with John
Harbaugh. His younger brother (by 15 months) Jim beat him out for the
starting spot on the high school football team. John shuffled through
many assistant coach jobs, just as their dad did; Jim jumped straight
to the glamor parts. He started at quarterback for the University of
Michigan (winning the Rose Bowl) and for four pro teams in 14 season;
then he quite quickly became head coach at San Diego and Stanford,
then a pro coach of the 49ers.

“I played a lot against Jim,”
Marino said. “He was the complete competitor.”

Adds Shannon Sharpe: “He was a feisty
guy, a competitive guy.”

Sharpe (a former tight end) should be a
sibling-rivalry expert. He and his older brother Sterling (a wide
receiver), faced each other twice in the NFL, each winning once.
Still, he says he wouldn't have liked playing Sterling in the Super
Bowl, even with a win. “I could not have enjoyed my happiness
coming at his expense. It would have torn me up.”

4) The kicker question: If things get
tight, it may all come down to kickers. That's when 49er fans worry
about David Akers. “He missed a very short one” in the the
conference finals,” Cowher said.

Akers, 38, has been a dependable pro,
but this season his field goal percentage went from 85 to 69. In one
game,he missed a 41-yarder in overtime, creating the NFL's first tie
game in four years. In the league championship game, he missed his
only try, from38.

That leaves fans fretting. “It's kind
of tough to change” kickers late in the season, Cowher said. On
Sunday, that may or may not make a difference.