49ers, Ravens seek one more chance to celebrate

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, right, celebrates with fullback Vonta Leach after the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, right, celebrates with fullback Vonta Leach after the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

NEW ORLEANS — Super Bowl XLVII isn’t as intriguing as some recent games have been ... if you’re only talking about the most glamorous of all matchups at quarterback.

Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers?

Not here.

Peyton Manning vs. Drew Brees?

Not this time.

Ben Roethlisberger vs. Eli Manning?

Maybe next year.

But that doesn’t mean Sunday’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, which kicks off at 5:30 p.m. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, is devoid of compelling storylines. There are plenty.

Of course, it starts with the first set of coaching brothers to face off in a major championship sporting event, when the 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh and Ravens’ John Harbaugh — born just 15 months apart — oppose each other in the first Super Bowl played in New Orleans in 11 years.

It’s also the final game of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis’ sterling 17-year career, the return of the 49ers to the Super Bowl after an 18-year absence and a matchup of offenses that earned a share of the spotlight after being overshadowed for years by stout defenses.

And, yes, there actually is an intriguing matchup at quarterback.

While 49ers second-year pro Colin Kaepernick and Ravens five-year veteran Joe Flacco aren’t among the game’s marquee signal-callers yet, they certainly did their parts to get to this game. They got here even though many said they couldn’t — the 49ers because Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith at midseason, the Ravens because they had to travel a difficult road in the playoffs.

“We were counted out the whole playoffs,” Ravens running back Ray Rice said. “We were not the team. People wanted to see Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. That’s what they’re used to, but we’re here. It feels pretty good.”

Despite being the center of attention for the two weeks since the Ravens (13-6) and 49ers (13-4-1) claimed their title-game spots, the Harbaughs did their best to make sure the most intriguing matchup wasn’t about them.

“Thank goodness we don’t square off against each other in the middle of the field — nobody would pay to see that,” John said when asked about facing his brother. “It’s a great opportunity and it’s going to be fun, but it’s two teams going against each other. It’s the players; those are the guys that really deserve the attention. These are the guys who have really won the games to get here.”

It’s not surprising that the teams are mirror images — both relying on strong, physical defenses and running games that rank among the league’s best.

That’s just fine with Lewis, who kick-started the Ravens’ Super Bowl run when he returned from a triceps injury and announced this would be his final season. If he sticks to his word, he’ll go out playing the kind of game he loves.

“I don’t think it will be anything less than physical,” he said of a game coached by the Harbaughs, who learned their old-school ways from their coaching dad, Jack. “Both teams play a very physical game. They like to run the ball; we like to run the ball. They have a physical defense; we have a physical defense. They have a physical offensive line; we have a physical offensive line. These teams match up very well.”

49ers running back Frank Gore, who figures to see Lewis a few times Sunday, agreed.

“We’re just going to keep chipping away and do whatever it takes, like we did all year to get where we are,” he said. “We have to take the opportunities when they’re there. When they come, we’re going to make them.”

If there is one difference between the “Harbowl” teams, it’s at quarterback. The Ravens use a traditional pro-style passing game with the oft-criticized Flacco, who already has won eight playoff games in five seasons, while the 49ers utilize the running abilities of Kaepernick in the increasingly popular read-option attack.

Flacco has been a starter for five years, but Kaepernick, starting just his 10th game, got his shot when Smith suffered a concussion.

“Colin deserves all the credit for the way he’s produced, the way he’s acquitted himself in these games,” Jim Harbaugh said. “Our team has great faith in him. The thing you see in his eyes is the competitive fire, the poise beyond his years.”