When the final whistle blows at Super Bowl XLVII between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, one storied career will be over, yet key chapters will be added to the tales of others.
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis will leave the field one last time, retiring after the game. But will he be a champion again or will this be yet another test of character for a player who's had several over the years?
Facing the 17-year veteran, we see quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He attempted just five passes in 2011 and just five more in the first six weeks of 2012. Yet after taking the reins of the 49ers from Alex Smith, he's done nothing but lead his team to victory after victory, and now a chance at another Super Bowl title for a franchise that has known excellence before.
It's been some time for San Francisco, which is famously 5-0 all-time in the Super Bowl, with Joe Montana leading San Francisco to four of the five wins. With a title Sunday, Kaepernick will have his spot in 49ers history, too.
Those aren't the only stories to follow, of course. Super Bowl XLVII will mark the first time in professional sports history that siblings will oppose each other on the sidelines, as the Ravens are led by John Harbaugh, while the 49ers are led by Jim Harbaugh.
No matter what story captures your imagination the best, it's sure to be a game remembered for some time.
Meet the 49ers
For the first time since 1994, when Steve Young was the quarterback, the San Francisco 49ers are back in the Super Bowl.
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh made the gutsy decision mid-year to bench Alex Smith in favor of Colin Kaepernick -- even though Smith was in the middle of a career season. The move paid off, as Kaepernick led the 49ers down the stretch to the No. 2 seed in the NFC, and to playoff wins over the Green Bay Packers and top-seeded Atlanta Falcons.
For more on the 49ers, check out Niners Nation
Kaepernick has played well so far in the postseason for San Francisco, completing 63.5 percent of his passes for 496 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for 202 yards and two touchdowns. When Kaepernick starts on Sunday, he will join Vince Ferragamo, Kurt Warner and Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to start the Super Bowl the same season in the same season of their first NFL start.
While Kaepernick has received much of the attention surrounding the 49ers lately, it's San Francisco's defense that has shined throughout the season. Of the nine 49ers selected to the NFC's Pro Bowl roster, six were members of San Francisco's defensive unit -- Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner and Patrick Willis.
San Francisco's defensive unit ranked fourth in the NFL in passing defense, limiting opposing quarterbacks to just 200.2 yards per game, while also ranking fourth in rushing defense, holding teams to 94.2 yards per game.
Meet the Ravens
John Harbaugh's Baltimore Ravens refuse to lose. After defeating the Indianapolis Colts at home in the Wild Card round, in Ray Lewis' final home game, the Ravens shocked the world in a double-overtime thriller, defeating the top-seeded Broncos in Denver, advancing to the AFC Championship game. Once again, the Ravens shocked the football world, holding Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to zero points in the second half, en route to advancing to Super Bowl XLVII.
For all things Ravens, head over to Baltimore Beatdown
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has been instrumental in Baltimore's playoff success. With Baltimore's win over New England, Flacco broke Eli Manning's playoff record for road playoff wins, improving to 6-4 in road playoff games. Flacco has played at an exceptionally high level this postseason, completing 54.8 percent of his passes for 853 yards, while throwing eight touchdowns without throwing an interception.
If the Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII, Flacco would tie Tom Brady's record for most playoff wins by a quarterback in his first five seasons, with nine.
While Flacco receives much of the credit for Baltimore's offensive success, newly appointed offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell placed a renewed emphasis on running the ball, resulting in success against Indianapolis and Denver in the playoffs. Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice combined for 171 total rushing yards against the Colts, while Rice added 131 against Denver in Baltimore's thrilling double-overtime win.
Super Bowl XLVII will end an era in Baltimore history, regardless of the outcome, as franchise icon Ray Lewis will walk away from the game and retire following the Super Bowl. Ed Reed, Cary Williams and Flacco are also ticketed for free agency following the Super Bowl.
Local Takes: San Francisco
Wes Hanson of Niners Nation compares Bill Walsh to Jim Harbaugh, and though he concedes that Harbaugh's 49ers are a long way away from the dynasty Walsh built, Hanson believes Harbaugh is just the coach to rekindle San Francisco's dynasty:
In some ways, the parallels to Jim Harbaugh are obvious. Harbaugh is likewise and intense perfectionist, sometimes staying in his office until the wee hours of the morning. Both coaches are incredibly eccentric. They don't fit into the pre-packaged, media happy image that most people want them to. And, I think, that is what makes them so valuable. This franchise is on the upswing. We are a long way -- a very long way -- away from the dynasty of the ‘80s, but if there is anybody I would want to do the deed, I think Jim Harbaugh is about as good as it gets.
Local Takes: Baltimore
Bruce Raffel from Baltimore Beatdown compares the two quarterbacks in the game, illustrating the differences in style between Flacco and Kaepernick:
Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flaco and San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick could not be any more different in the breed of quarterbacks in the NFL. Flacco is the classic drop-back pocket passer, who prefers to be content to stand there and even take a crushing shot if it means waiting for his receiver to finally break open.
Meanwhile, Kaepernick will gladly take off and play catch-me-if-you-can with the opposing defense, rather than sit back and scan the field for the open guy. Both guys enjoyed success in the regular season but have stepped it up big time in the post season.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
Elway: I tell Joe [Montana] all the time. You don't appreciate your 4 as much as I appreciate my 2 because you haven't lost #DamnRight— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) January 25, 2013
@MattBarrows -- 49ers beat writer
He came up gimpy on one play in ATL but hasn't shown any ill effects this week. @len_dub: how's Mike iupati?He injured his knee didn't he?— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) January 25, 2013
@RavensInsider -- Ravens beat writer
John harbaugh said he was informed by matt birk today that the phrase 'where else would you rather be' originated with marv levy— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) January 26, 2013
According to OddsShark, the 49ers opened as five-point favorites, but since then the line has shifted, and the Niners are now either three-and-a-half or four-point favorites, depending on the book. The over/under for the game is set at either 47 or 47.5, again, depending on the book.
Either Baltimore or San Francisco will host a victory parade, while the losing team and its fan base looks toward the 2013 NFL Draft.