There are many standout lines in Dave Eggers' seminal novel Zeitoun, which tells a tale in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. One that rises higher than most, on the subject of New Orleans, goes like this… "Yes, a dark time passed over this land, but now there is something like light." Tonight, as Super Bowl XLVII arrives in The Big Easy, the light will shine brightest in Louisiana's greatest city.
Moreover the darkness of failure will lift for one of the teams contesting the famous Lombardi trophy.
The San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens will square-off in what is being billed as one of the most open - and physical - Super Bowls that have been contested in recent years. In the States, the press have been fixated on two key storylines that may yet shape the destiny of the game. And while Ray Lewis' unstoppable drive to take the Ravens to the biggest game in his final season grapples with Jim and John Harbaugh being the first brothers to face-off as head coaches in a final, the sixty minutes will be decided by plenty of intangibles.
There will be little to choose between the sides at kick-off, though the younger Jim's 49ers were well fancied to make the Super Bowl at the season's start. The Californians had played an excellent brand of defensive football last season, which saw them fall perilously short in the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants. This season, the difference has been made thanks in no small part to the emergence of rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who unseated regular starter Alex Smith through injury before making the position his own playing an exceptional brand of read option, running attack-play that compliments Harbaugh's 'nutty professor' style of play calling.
As for the Ravens, it was touch-and-go if they would make the postseason. After soaring to a 9-2 season at the end of November, they proceeded to lose four of their last five. This was attributed to a combination of inconsistency from QB Joe Flacco, and the loss through injury of Lewis. John Harbaugh's side finished 10-6 that was enough to take the AFC North - but few fancied them to go deep. That is until Lewis declared his availability in what would be his "last ride" as an NFL player after seventeen years. In a move that galvanised his team, the Ravens proved unstoppable beating the Colts, the conference-favourite Broncos and long-time rival Patriots. The ride for the men in purple has been emotional, attritional and - some might say - destined.
This Super Bowl will be contested on a knife-edge. Defense may lead the way, as both teams are key proponents of ground-and-pound play that will make the running game difficult for the offenses. This will make both sides evaluate their passing game more strongly. Baltimore's Flacco perhaps carries the hotter hand, having outplayed New England's Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game (now two years on the trot) - this, having gone to Peyton Manning's house in Denver and seen him off with clutch quarterback play in the Divisional playoffs.
Yet Kaepernick is San Fran's ace in the hole. He drew huge attention to himself defeating Aaron Rodgers' Green Bay Packers with an incredible game of passing and rushing. He is young and susceptible to mistakes but possesses such an explosive attacking gene, the Ravens could be in huge trouble early if they don't neutralise him and his key weapons: Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree.
The Superdome in NOLA will be treated to a show regardless. Both these teams, who have been away from the Super Bowl conversation for many years, will enjoy the experience but won't lose sight of the prize. Experts often say the NFL is a 'win-now' league, and that successful teams have a limited window to maximise success. For this reason, the Ray Lewis factor may just see the Ravens over the line. So many are willing him to victory in what will be his last ever game. But the 49ers have finesse, power and hunger on their side; the Ravens have not played a team like them all season. Both Harbaughs will be aware of this and the elder John can serve as a fine pragmatist in both overcoming his brother, and getting Lewis his fairytale ending.
The Baltimore Ravens will play like men possessed, but Kaepernick and his offense will have too much across the game. Expect Flacco to struggle by comparison, as the 49ers go after him and trusted running back Ray Rice. Overall, a tight contest but the nineteen-year wait ends for the Candlestick Park faithful. Ravens 22, 49ers 31.
San Francisco's Frank Gore.