Super Bowl 2013 – the NFL's annual extravaganza – has descended on New Orleans with all its pomp and fanfare. The projected economic impact of this one week event for the city is $434 million.
As with all such events, there are numerous story lines with some close to home.
First and foremost is the brotherly competition between the two opposing head coaches – the 49ers Jim Harbaugh vs. the Ravens John Harbaugh – to take back to one of their respective cities the coveted Vince Lombardy trophy, symbolic of the best NFL team.
Or, how about the quarterback battle between the 49ers' upstart midseason sensation Colin Kaepernick vs. veteran Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who recently lived up to his potential with his last two postseason victories, propelling the Ravens to New Orleans via road victories over the Broncos in Denver and the Patriots in New England.
Not to be outdone is the story of Ravens controversial linebacker Ray Lewis, who turned his life around, after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and testified in a double – homicide case in 2000. Now, Lewis will end his career in the Super Bowl – kind of a made-for-TV movie script.
And, speaking of movies how about the family reunion of the real life "Blind Side" movie cast headed by Baltimore Ravens tackle Michael Oher, and his New Orleans' adoptive family, the Tuohys. My neighbor, Sandra Bullock, won an Oscar for her performance.
Or what may be the last game as a Raven for Destrehan native Ed Reed, who has been to the Pro Bowl eight times and leads the NFL with 1,541 return yards on 61 career interceptions as a safety.
With all this trivia behind us, let's get to the real issue – who will win the Super Bowl? Here is what it is going to take to be victorious, based on an interesting book- "The Weekly Coaching Conversation" by Brian Souza - that I read last weekend.
The book is a 163-page story of a young man who wins sales manager of the year in his company only to find that his sales team, who he realizes that he let down, has abandoned him during his time of celebration. The sales manager finds his ultimate path from manager to leader with the help of a 70-year-old retired coach, who teaches him the lessons of coaching applied to business.
Using this information, the successful Harbaugh (Jim or John) will need to master the following statement courtesy of Mr. Souza's research. "As a coach, you have one job only: to pull every ounce of potential from each and every person on your team each and every day." To accomplish this task, Souza points to many "coachable moments" such that you "don't just celebrate the touchdowns – celebrate the first downs."
To do this feat consistently, the leader, whether it be the head coach, quarterback or the defensive captain, must get players to follow them. To accomplish that (objective), your players must trust and believe in you." And, in order for people (your players) to trust and believe in you, you must first trust and believe in them.
Such was the case 13 years ago when the Ravens organization stuck with Ray Lewis despite his serious legal issues. The same applied to Jim Harbaugh's decision at week 10 of the regular season to replace popular 49ers QB Alex Smith with Kaepernick, after Smith suffered a concussion.
The ability of one of the two teams to carry out Souza's game plan ultimately will decide the final outcome of Sunday's big game.
As to the game plan, that process began the week after the Super Bowl teams were determined last Sunday. Super Bowl week is all about focus, efficiency, effort, and attention to detail mixed in with millions of distractions in the form of the media descending from all corners of the Earth to search for any new story - as mundane as each team's mascot, if there is an angle.
While you might consider the break in the action in the week following the division championships is for R&R (rest and relaxation), here is what John Harbaugh said: "We've had a great week. We had an excellent practice. The guys are very sharp and they're excited. We'll have to go down there (New Orleans) and do just as well and do better," with all those distractions that the Super Bowl has to offer, I might add.
One thing John Harbaugh does not need to do is to teach his Raven players to be tough, hard-hitting intimidators on the playing field, which will be a decided advantage going up against the 49er rushing tandem of running back Frank Gore and quarterback Kaepernick, who combined for 300 yards rushing against the Packers in the postseason.
Damage control in sports is as much about risk management, as it is about follow-up care, when a player is injured. Based on Kapernick's propensity to be both a running and passing QB, and with a habit of not using the "slide maneuver" when he's about to be trapped, his injury-free days could be coming to an end in the Super Bowl. Here's why.
The one player on the Ravens' defense that will have his tracking mechanism locked in on Kaepernick this Sunday is seven-year veteran strong safety Bernard Pollard. Much like former hard-hitting Patriot strong safety, Lawyer Milloy, my client, Pollard "channels a boatload of inner rage into hits that render unusually large human beings into lesser versions of themselves," says The New York Times.
In fact, Pollard hurt Patriots running back Stevan Ridley in the AFC championship game, causing him to fumble with his body going limp from the hit. Subsequently, the Ravens, who recovered Ridley's fumble, went on to seal their trip to New Orleans with a score.
Other notable Patriot damage control recipients of a Pollard hit are QB Tom Brady (knee, 2008), receiver Wes Welker (knee, 2010), and tight end Rob Gronkowski (ankle, 2012). As Pollard was quoted as saying, "this (NFL football) is a violent sport."
Let's keep a watchful eye out as Kaepernick takes off and runs, to see if he survives the Predator missile strike, when Polllard locks in on his next victim.
So at this point, I would like to venture my own story line for the big game. Here is a scenario, which could play out during the action.
Kaepernick breaks free in the open field during one of his frequent runs only to have none other than Ray Lewis and Bernard Pollard combine on a devastating open field, legal tackle. Kaepernick gets up slow holding his ribs and is attended to on the sideline.
During one of the famous Super Bowl commercials, neglected 49ers QB Alex Smith, starts his warm up. When the action resumes, Smith proceeds to save the day for the 49ers - down 10 points in the third quarter – with pinpoint passing and a balanced running attack that had been missing so far in the game.
Smith is starting to look like the hero and brings his team within three points of the Ravens at the end of the third quarter.
Now, you will need to watch the game to see if my vision is right and who ultimately wins the Super Bowl other than New Orleans.
On Tuesday, at the Super Bowl media day, both Pollard and President Obama took center stage regarding comments made about injuries and violence in the NFL.
In a New Republic interview, President Obama, as recounted in the Tuesday New York Times sports section, "expressed concern about on-filed injuries, though he (Obama) added that NFL players were grown men who are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies."
Pollard commented in the same Times story that "you keep playing football you're going to have injuries, no one is exempt from that. You're going to have concussions. You're going to have broken bones. That's going to happen. But, I think for the most part, we know what we signed up for."
Pollard's comments were echoed by the the 49ers' hard-hitting safety tandem of Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, who concluded that what needed to be done was to make sure big hits were legal hits, as opposed to removing them with rule changes designed to protect the player that will change the intensity of the game.
By the way, Pollard commented, when asked about his 4-year-old son following in his footsteps and playing football: "My whole stance right now is that I don't want him to play football."
In the meantime, while Pollard is out there hunting his next pray with legal ammunition, you can expect a hard-hitting game with injuries Sunday.
Damage control doesn't always come in the form of an injury and the surrounding impact to the injured player and his team. Take for example the controversy Wednesday regarding the allegations that non other than Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was using "supplements made from deer antler" which is supposed to contain IGF-1, an insulin hormone, which is a banned substance. Lewis flatly denied the allegation at a press conference.
The New York Times quoted Lewis in its Thursday edition to say "it's foolish, and the guy has no credibility," referring to Mitch Ross, a former male stripper, who was quoted in a SI.com story saying that Lewis "went through about 40 bottles" of the deer antler extract.
IGF-1 is a downstream metabolite of human growth hormone (HGH), which can among other uses, accelerate recovery, increase muscle mass and reduce body fat. HGH detection may, in my opinion, be harder to quantify, since it tends to decrease with age, especially after the age of 25. However, IGF-1, produced by the liver, could be a more viable candidate for testing.
On the Tuesday, the 49ers were handling their own emotional damage control related to comments made by cornerback Chris Culliver to radio personality Artie Lange. "No, we don't got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up out of here if they do," as reported in The New York Times on Thursday. The 49ers released a statement Wednesday saying, the San Francisco 49ers reject the comments that were made yesterday and have addressed the matter with Chris."
When the clock runs out on the last play at Sunday's Super Bowl, Damage Control - my column - will begin its offseason, returning with the start of next season. Beginning in March my new column – Optimum Performance - will guide you to a higher level of health and fitness.
I wish both teams - the 49ers and Ravens - great success and hopefully an injury-free conclusion to what has been an exciting NFL season filled with plenty of bumps and bruises.
And to that note taken from "The Weekly Coaching Conversation," here is a parting thought. "A wise man once told me that when it is all said and done and we've finally completed this journey we call life, what matters most is not what we have achieved – but rather who we have become."