NEW ORLEANS — The football sailed over Michael Crabtree’s head, just past the tips of his outstretched hands, and fell to the bright red turf of the San Francisco end zone. On one side of the field, a Harbaugh pumped his fist in celebration, while on the other, one gripped his hands in no-call frustration.
No foul, no flag, no touchdown.
No shot we’ll ever forget this Super Bowl.
With early dominance and late tenacity, John Harbaugh and his Baltimore Ravens beat Jim Harbaugh and his San Francisco 49ers for the Super Bowl title, a 34-31 decision that we all thought was going to be about family and football, but ended up being about follies and flashbulbs.
This game always will be about power.
As in no power.
As in a power outage that stole more than a half-hour of playing time, stole momentum right from under the purple-hued Ravens rug, and ultimately stole our football hearts for delivering a wild, intense second half that held the game’s outcome in its hands until the final, precious seconds, until Crabtree couldn’t reach the fourth-down heave just inside the two-minute warning.
It was a third quarter that never will be forgotten, yet one if the NFL has its way, never will be repeated.
Here were the 49ers, desperate, down big and in major trouble. They needed a spark, and when the lights at the Superdome went out, they somehow found one. Only minutes after Jacoby Jones’ sprinting, end-to-end kickoff return to open the second half pushed the Ravens’ early dominance to a seemingly in-control 22-point lead, the Superdome went dark.
And for the next 34 minutes, the world’s biggest sporting event turned into the world’s biggest waiting game, an eerie quiet descending over a dome full of sparsely illuminated fans, everyone left in the dark about the cause of the outage.
As fans filled the minutes with various attempts at the wave and alternating chants for their favorite team, players milled around their respective sidelines, stretched a bit, and occasionally passed time tossing a football to each other. Super Bowls aren’t supposed to have second-half breaks like this, but with the bizarre outage hitting the pause button on biggest game of the year, there was no script to follow, no precedent to respect.
It was the night the lights went out in New Orleans.
And a night that will leave a rebuilt city, a refurbished dome and a reeling league searching for explanations as to what went wrong. For all of the NFL’s attempts to ensure its championship game is played under optimal conditions – hence its preference for temperature-controlled domes in moderate climate cities – Sunday’s miscue served as potent reminder that nothing is entirely predictable.
During the initial 2 minutes, 21 seconds of play after the blackout, the 49ers surged with their own bolt of electricity, scoring touchdowns on Crabtree’s daring 31-yard, tackle-breaking catch and Frank Gore’s bruising 6-yard run. And when Ray Rice caught a pass only to fumble it away on Baltimore’s next drive, the conspiracy theorists were in full bloom as they saw San Francisco recover the ball and convert a David Akers field goal four plays later.
And conspire they will, given how dominant the Ravens were during the first half. Quarterback Joe Flacco, with his stand-up presence in the pocket, turned in a first-half performance as good as anything this stage has seen. He threw three more postseason touchdown passes, bringing his total to 11 against no interceptions. With his 6-foot-6, slope-shouldered frame filling the pocket with presence and calm, Flacco threw the first bolt of electricity when he absolutely zipped an over-the-middle post route to Anquan Boldin.
But as it seemed the football gods were turning their spotlight on Flacco, the power grid had other plans. Memorable, yes, but not quite in the way the NFL wanted.