They entered the postseason a longer shot than the Washington Redskins to win the grail, and after disposing of Indianapolis in the first round it was pretty much decided that Lewis’s last game would be in Denver.
Then Flacco threw a bomb at the end of regulation, behind the defense, and the Ravens had new life. They beat Peyton Manning in overtime. Then they thrashed Tom Brady in Foxborough, Flacco outplaying the two premier quarterbacks of his era in back-to-back weeks.
The impossible was within reach, but ahead were these hard-hitting 49ers and their read-option quarterback, playing a shell game in the backfield, trying to ruin this whole magical night.
The smoke had not yet cleared from Beyonce’s halftime show when Jones scored. But moments later, the lights went out, a delay of more than 34 minutes that ended with Ravens and 49ers players stretching, as if a local municipality had forgotten to pay the utility bill on its Little League field.
And when the lights came back on, the Ravens were in a haze. They gave up huge yardage and scores to Colin Kaepernick. Ray Rice fumbled inside his own 30. They looked awful, as the 49ers did in the first half. The Ravens looked like the team that nobody could see here as they floundered at the end of the season.
Now, they are the great hope. They showed anybody has a shot if they can find themselves in January. The idea that you can get healthy and hot at the same time and knock the paper champions off the mountain in the postseason has been perfected by a 10-6 wild-card Green Bay team and twice by Eli Manning and the resilient Giants, including last year’s Super Bowl victory over the Patriots.
But none of those teams looked worse or more unfit to be champion than the Ravens did in December, after they were blown off their own field by the Broncos and looked so pedestrian that John Harbaugh decided to fire Cam Cameron and give Caldwell the play-calling duties.
This is the most impressive test of resilience ever in the Super Bowl, given where Baltimore was less than six weeks ago.
Between their defense growing old at key positions, in-season personal tragedy with Smith losing his brother, controversy over Lewis’s reported use of performance-enhancers during Super Bowl week and, oh yeah, two of the best teams in the AFC and these 49ers, no team has overcome more to raise that trophy and feel what the Ravens are feeling right now.
Fourth-and-5 for the Lombardi Trophy — and they stopped the kid and a team about to ruin their dream. They cleared the final hurdle in the most impressive journey a champion has ever had to take.
The rout, a win by blowout, would not have felt as right. They needed the theater, someone to tell them they couldn’t right before they did. Said Reed, smiling big, “After everything we’ve been through, it was the only way it could end.”
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise