07 February 2013
It was around 5pm on a Tuesday when I got the call from my brother. His voice sounded sheepish, like when we were kids and he was up to mischief. He embarked on a winding tale of NFL referees, personal connections, unlikely raffles, and other miscellany, all revolving around his desperate attempts at procuring Super Bowl tickets.
Our Baltimore Ravens were making their second appearance -- the first in 12 years -- in the biggest sporting event in American culture. I now realize the true reason why the NFL corporate heads schedule two weeks between the conference championship games and the big game. A week had gone by after we'd defeated the dainty New England Patriots before the reality of our triumph had fully sunk in. Not until then, the beginning of the second week -- when were we absolutely certain it wasn't an amazing, yet transient dream -- did it even occur to us that we should inquire as to how to make it to New Orleans to be there in person.
Back to my brother's sheepish voice. I had my suspicions, but dared not indulge them. To me, this call was simply an elder brother regaling his younger brother with the convoluted account of how he secured himself a ticket to the Super Bowl. And then came the climax, there wasn't much more to tell, but there was a revelation followed by a question: there was an extra ticket; would I like to go (aka could I afford it)?
This is the Super Bowl. Any way you break it down, it ain't affordable. But our arrangements had some incredibly fortuitous breaks in it and I thought to myself, "Years from now, what am I going to say? I had a chance to go to watch the Ravens in the Super Bowl but I was too cheap?" No. I would not go gently into that impecunious night.
I repeat, our arrangements included incredibly fortuitous breaks. First, the tickets my brother secured were face value. Still wildly expensive but hardly unreasonable (again, the key point here is that our team was playing). Second, my brother's brother-in-law had secured his own ticket through other channels and some of his close friends were also going. One of these guys knows a guy who works at a resort management company. One of their properties, a condo complex in Gulfport, Mississippi, had a three-bedroom condo that hadn't been sold yet. This friend of a friend of a brother's brother-in-law offered to let us stay there for free. That left us with the face-value ticket and the flight as being the only major expenses. Suddenly, I knew: I'm going to the Super Bowl to watch my hometown team play for the Vince Lombardi trophy. (Another serendipitous twist was that I was going with my brother to watch the Harbaugh brothers do battle.)
All the flights to New Orleans were booked solid, but there were available flights to Mobile, Alabama, an hour and a half drive from Gulfport, which itself was an hour and a half drive from New Orleans. So, if counting the layover in Atlanta, we'd be trekking over half the old South to get to this game. A Sherman March all of our own.
The convenience of the free condo was critical, but it came with some quirks. The place was large and furnished but lacked the normal amenities travelers take for granted. There were no sheets on the beds, no towels, not even shower curtains. We had to bring all this ourselves. The first night two of the three toilets didn't work. It had TVs in every room but no cable boxes or antennas. There were seven adult men in a three-bedroom condo which meant my brother and I (both of us 6'6, remember this as this will be important later) had to share a full (indeed it was) bed. Anchovies are better accommodated than we were those two sleepless nights.
Restlessness aside, we awoke on Super Sunday ready for the wonderful bounty we were about to receive. We had rented a large SUV to transport the seven road warriors. Like magic, my brother unveils a large Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl flag (where or when he had the opportunity to buy this I have no idea) that he proceeded to attach to back of the roof, turning our ride into a Baltimore Ravens Supermanesque caravan. (I also used this as an opportunity to enlighten my thirty-something, married-with-children suburban companions of the meaning of Soulja Boy's "Crank That.")
Our first stop was to gas up. At the local Gulfport gas station, an Infiniti pulls in beside us. An incendiary black woman with fake eyelashes, a southern drawl, and supertight capri sweats accentuating her outrageously rotund bottom gets out and asks to have a picture taken with our Ravens caravan. As if on cue, an old RV rumbles out from behind the vastness rhythmically honking its horn while Ravens clad fans hang out from the windows and White Stripes' Seven Nation Army (Ravens' unofficial anthem) blasting over the PA. High fives and chest bumps ensue.
We arrive in New Orleans bathed in warm sunlight. The city is ignited with anticipation. I had heard earlier in the week that Ravens fans were outnumbering 49er fans two or even three to one. This rumor held true. The locals, all die-hard Saints fans, were also strongly in the Ravens' corner as the 49ers used to play in their division years ago and were still vociferously despised.
What happens on Bourbon Street requires no explication, and although the city had delayed Mardi Gras a week to accommodate the Super Bowl, they couldn't delay the carnival atmosphere. One of the bars was blasting Strawberry Alarm Clock's "Incense and Peppermints" into the street and it fit the scene perfectly. Good sense, innocence, crippled and kind / dead kings and many things I can't define.
We had heard a Baltimore radio personality was organizing a seventeen block Ravens march from Bourbon Street to the Superdome in honor of Ray Lewis' seventeen year career. Around four o'clock local time we made our way to the parade. The sea of purple was forever. The locals lined the streets sharing in our exuberance. It was Ravens heaven.
We arrive at the Superdome and make our way to our seats, which are incredible. We're twenty-six rows behind the Ravens end-zone.
From this view we were graced with Anquan Boldin pulling in the first Ravens touchdown right in front of us. As I mentioned earlier, my brother and I are both 6'6 and I'm not hyperbolizing when I say that every time the Ravens had a big play we would literally leap, and then fall, into each other's arms. How we didn't topple over into the rows in front of us, I can't explain. I don't think anyone in our section was as hype as we were and even our fellow Ravens fans were taken aback and then energized by our ecstasy.
Beside me sat a couple in referee garb (signalling their neutrality) from San Diego who were Buffalo Bills fans. (Chew on that one for a while). I guess there will always be people ready to drop thousands of dollars to what essentially to them is a meaningless game. My effusion for my Ravens demanded that my San Diego Bill neighbor root for Baltimore (although he would not shut up about the unsuccessful fake field goal we ran in the first half leaving three points on the table). Beside my brother sat two demure early middle-aged women 49er fans who were clearly overwhelmed by my brother's and my histrionics. They bought us beers as a plea for mercy. Almost immediately, the Niners began to score points in droves and we cursed our acceptance of her token offering.
To those who watched the game, I need not repeat the play-by-play. I do however want to point out that as Jacoby Jones caught the second half kick-off, we could see his unobstructed lane unfurl directly in front of our eyes. Like fiends we simultaneously pointed and screamed, "There it is! There it is!" Sure enough, Jacoby must have heard us and cut through the 49er coverage like a flyswatter through a cobweb. We were ahead 28-6 and immortality was less than thirty minutes away.
And then the power went out.
Days later, watching the replays on TV made it seem like the entire Superdome went black, which was not the case. In fact, the field remained mostly illuminated and everyone assumed the game should resume within a few minutes. The delay sobered our enthusiasm and allowed the 49ers to pick themselves up and dust themselves off. During their furious comeback, it suddenly felt like there were a lot more 49er fans than I had thought. Each time the 49ers made a first down, the PA announcer excitedly bellowed, "First down 49ers!" angering us into apoplexy as we swore he hadn't expressed the same courtesy to the Ravens. (As a side note, our father -- a good-luck charm all year when watching games -- was overseas on business and I feverishly began texting him imploring him to wake up and turn the game on because we needed him.)
Then came the goal-line stand. It was on the other end of the field so our vantage point was minimal but when that 4th down Kaepernick pass sailed long I crumpled into my seat, overwhelmed. My eyes welled up. There were still some formalities but I knew this meant we had just won the Super Bowl. We were champions. I figured we'd just run out the clock and the game would be over. Little did I realize an intentional safety and last second mad scramble on a free kick coverage would ensue.
The emotions of it all were ineffable. My brother and I hugged and jumped and yelled and exulted and whistled and shrieked until we were croaked. The Baltimore Ravens were Super Bowl Champions. Joe Flacco was named MVP and our little city in Maryland, whom the rest of the country and national media looks upon as a grease spot on the map, a hapless place that doesn't deserve anything good to happen to it (and if something good does happen it's because we must have cheated or got supremely lucky), triumphantly ascended to the center of the sports universe.