Just minutes into the third quarter the lights at the Superdome went out,… (Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images )
NEW ORLEANS — It began with the light of the chorus from Sandy Hook Elementary school, saved children singing "America the Beautiful" in tiny voices that moved the soul.
It was then pitched into 34 minutes of a murky darkness, the power out, the air conditioners off, the humid Superdome beginning a slow cook that frazzled the nerves.
It ended, finally, in light again, the Super Bowl coming full circle on a dizzying Sunday night with a dramatically blinding finish of wrestling players, screaming coaches and winners doing snow angels in the purple and white confetti.
The Baltimore Ravens' 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers might not have been the best of the 47 Super Bowls, but it could certainly qualify as the most bonkers. "Oh my," shouted the Baltimore Ravens' Terrell Suggs afterward, his championship cap tugged sideways, his jaw still on the floor. "That was fantastic!"
Agreed. It was the Ravens punching the 49ers for a 28-6 lead that appeared insurmountable, followed by a blackout that seemed impossible, followed by a 17-point 49ers charge that was apparently unstoppable, ending in a Ravens' goal-line stand that was unreal.
It was a kickoff return that went about a mile for a touchdown, a playground catch in which the same defensive back was fooled twice for a touchdown, and enough celebration dances to fill a Bourbon Street nightclub.
There was not only team drama, but awkward family drama, Ravens Coach John Harbaugh exchanging a tight midfield postgame handshake with 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh before softening it a bit with a few pats to his little brother's chest.
Talk about a hardened end to two weeks of syrupy stories. John had been furious with a momentum-killing blackout that some of his players only half-jokingly accused being caused by Jim, while Jim had ended the game screaming at the officials for what he believed was a missed pass interference call on San Francisco's final play, an overthrown pass from the five-yard line.
"That meeting with Jim in the middle was probably the most difficult thing I have ever been associated with in my life," said John, and it was just as painful to watch.
The first brothers to battle as opposing Super Bowl coaches parted ways amid a sea of cameras and sprinted off to teams as emotionally charged as the millions fortunate enough to witness this spectacle.
The Ravens were soaring such that, while conducting postgame press conferences at adjoining podiums in the Superdome tunnel, they began an impromptu pep rally, actually yelling at each other from across the room in the first such display in postgame Super Bowl memory.
Shouted receiver Jacoby Jones: "Hey Ray Lewis, we did it!"
Shouted Lewis: "We did it!"
Shouted Ray Rice: "Hey Ray Lewis, make sure we get some big diamonds in our rings!"
Shouted Lewis: "We did it!"
Shouted Rice: "I want my ring to light up like a chandelier!"
Shouted Lewis: "We did it!"
Down the hall, the 49ers were stunned into the anger that comes with coming so close. "This is kind of tough, to get this far and let everything slip away through your hands," said linebacker Ahmad Brooks.
Nobody let more things slip than 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver. In a humiliating end to his horrid week, the player who made headlines by saying he wouldn't accept gays in the locker room was beaten in a rainbow of ways. He was the defensive back beaten twice on the freak 56-yard touchdown catch by Jones in the first half, then he missed a tackle on Jones' 108-yard kickoff return that gave the Ravens a 28-6 lead.
"We were just running around a lot of places," said Culliver afterward before running to hide for rest of the winter.
The two Jones plays were the early Baltimore offensive highlights, particularly when he caught a long pass from Joe Flacco, fell down as Culliver flew above him, and then juked Culliver to run into the end zone. "That was backyard football, that was freeze tag," said Jones.
But after his kickoff return, it was freeze game, as the lights went out less than two minutes into the second half and the aging Ravens lost their momentum and their legs. "That was Jim Harbaugh pulling another trick out of his sleeve," said Suggs, joking, sort of. "He ran into a buzz saw and had to turn the lights out."
The strangest sight during the blackout was the Ravens' cheerleaders continuing to cheer in the dark. The strangest sight after the lights returned was the 49ers, led by Colin Kaepernick, outgaining the Ravens 114-20 for most of the rest of the third quarter.
"Sure it changed the momentum, our offense had not been on the field in a long time, I was really stiff," said Rice. "I was like, how could this happen at the Super Bowl? Aren't there some extra generators around here or something?"
John Harbaugh's anger was evident in how he berated NFL officials during the blackout, and his fears were realized when the 49ers ended up the ball on the Ravens' seven-yard line in the final two minutes with a chance to take the lead.
"How could it be any other way?" said Harbaugh of a Ravens team that lost four of its last five regular-season games. "It's never pretty, it's never easy, but it's us."
But somehow the Ravens held, taking advantage of strange play calling -- LaMichael James runs it, but Frank Gore doesn't? -- and one final grapple between cornerback Jimmy Smith and receiver Michael Crabtree that was properly not called pass interference.
"They had been letting us play the whole time, why would they call something there?" said cornerback Corey Graham.
No flag, fair fight, breathless finish, darkness gone.