17 seasons, 2 defensive MVP awards, 1 Super Bowl ring and 13 trips to the NFL’s all-star game, the Pro Bowl. There can be little doubt that despite his challenging childhood and ‘trials’ and tribulations off the field, the Ravens’ Ray Lewis will go down as one of, if not the best all round linebacker in NFL history. Perhaps a few years ago it was conceivable that we would be witness to this fairy tale ending, but there are other aspects of tonight’s game that many onlookers thought couldn’t possibly happen.
It was only a mere 8 years ago that the Louisiana Superdome played host to a mass outpouring of emotion of a different kind. Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and much of Louisiana and the Superdome became home for many families who are still trying to piece together their lives to this day. After $336 million dollars-worth of renovations, the Superdome will welcome fans from Baltimore and San Francisco and whilst it is unclear who will be victorious on Sunday night, it is clear that the city of New Orleans has won the most impressive battle thus far.
With the Super Bowl attracting a television audience that far exceeds a billion people, it is obvious that many viewers will be unaware of the background to tonight’s game, so I will therefore provide the casual fan with a brief insight into just what will captivate the more eager NFL enthusiast.
As I have already mentioned, there is one player on show tonight who can be considered to be one of the all-time greats. Ray Lewis possesses a career that many current NFL players can only dream to emulate, but whilst I have already mentioned a few of his mind-blowing statistics in my opening gambit, like any NFL player I am sure Ray would have his super bowl victories at the very top of his list. The fact that Lewis has played all 17 of his seasons at middle linebacker, a position that requires arguably the greatest combination of fitness, size and athleticism, highlights just how impressive his feat of 17 seasons has been. Ray has managed to sustain a level of performance unparalleled in today’s game, but whilst Ray will undoubtedly be considered one of the best of all time, it is Super Bowl wins rather than longevity which is usually seen as the measure for true greatness.
Lynn Swann of the Pittsburgh Steelers started fewer than 100 games, but the fact that he played a big part in four victorious Super Bowl teams meant that he was a shoe in as one of the all-time greats. Montana won four, Jerry Rice won three, will Ray Lewis win two? No matter what happens in tonight’s game, Lewis has left his mark on the NFL and even those with the most limited NFL knowledge in the UK appear to know if there are ‘any dogs in the house’ or have stumbled across an inspiration induced clip of Ray Lewis on youtube. There were many to choose from, but I thought I should share with you this recent youtube addition that encapsulates the passion and vigour of the man brilliantly.
While Ray Lewis will be ending his career in New Orleans, another potentially fantastic career is only just beginning. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is starting only his 10th NFL game after taking over as the 49ers starter in week 11 of the 16 game regular season. Only Tom Brady and Kurt Warner have ever won the Super Bowl in their first season as a starter, so could we be looking at the start of an equally impressive career?
One thing is for certain is that Kaepernick has big boots to fill. In the 49ers five previous Super Bowl wins, no 49ers quarterback has ever thrown an interception and Kaepernick plays in this game only a matter of weeks after the 49ers were heavily criticised for starting the massively inexperienced 2nd year quarterback ahead of their tried and trusted quarterback Alex Smith. It was decided that although Smith had guided the 49ers to the NFC championship game the previous year, Kaepernick provided the 49ers offense with and additional running threat that could propel the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
Since this change in personnel, Kaepernick has amassed record breaking numbers, and has arguably surpassed Michael Vick with regards to statistics. In 828 total career rushing attempts Vick had three runs greater than 50 yards while Kaepernick has had the same number of big runs in just his last 41 attempts. Most impressively of all though is that Vick has never made the Super Bowl, while Kaepernick has reached the NFL’s showpiece game in only his first attempt. Judging by this letter from when Kaepernick was only eleven years old, his lofty ambitions have been realised. Will we see the dream continue for the 25 year-old at the expense of Ray Lewis’s crowning moment?