With these Ravens, it was the only way.
A rout wouldn’t have been right. It ended the only way it should have, with a rickety old linebacker in his last game, running on fumes, his stunned defense trying to stop a dreaming kid from playing Montana-to-Clark in the back of the Superdome end zone.
Fourth and the Lombardi trophy from the 5-yard line — all or nothing, just like this go-long-or-go-home ride the past six weeks.
“I was sitting there thinking there’s no way, there’s no way we stop them here,” Flacco said. “But we did. I don’t think there’s any better ending to a career than that — a goal-line stand by one of the greatest linebackers and one of the greatest players to ever play the game.”
Adversity’s Adults 34, the San Francisco 49ers 31.
This was how it needed to end: Chykie Brown making snow angels in the confetti, waving his arms as if he were flying through the roof of the Superdome, rejoining his teammates in the center of the field, the podium brought out and the hardware implausibly — no, impossibly — the property of the Baltimore Ravens.
No one who saw this team in December saw this night coming, this surreal victory over another favored team in the most bizarre Super Bowl anyone but the Ravens could imagine.
In hindsight, they needed the lights to go out, the momentum to shift, their mojo to disappear, their legs to tire, their middle linebacker to look as old as time. A blowout — it was 28-6 after Jacoby Jones’s 108-yard kickoff return to begin the second half — would not have been fitting.
Not for this team, this year. Not for linebacker Ray Lewis or safety Ed Reed. Not for Flacco or Jim Caldwell, who was installed as offensive coordinator in December. Not for wide receiver Torrey Smith or any of Coach John Harbaugh’s players.
“Baltimore, thanks for sticking with us,” an exasperated John Harbaugh said about 45 minutes after it ended. “Thanks for believing in us. We did this together. The final series of Ray Lewis’s career was a goal-line stand for the Lombardi Trophy. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t pretty. But it was us.”
The drama at the end gave them everything they wanted: the trophy; Flacco as cool as could be, headed for Disney World; Lewis, going out a victor on the last night of his incomparable career; Smith, who lost his brother in a motorcycle accident earlier this season, bear-hugging his offensive coordinator, the only African American calling plays in a 67-percent black NFL at the time he was elevated to that position, plays that shredded one of the best defenses in football. The man who didn’t get so much as an interview for a head-coaching job was living proof of the sham Rooney Rule.