NEW ORLEANS — Near the end of Super Bowl XLVII the Baltimore Ravens had to hold on, maybe literally, to avoid the embarrassing fate of blowing the biggest lead in Super Bowl history.
We'll be arguing about the controversial end-zone tangle for a long time, but in Baltimore this thrilling 34-31 victory over the San Francisco will carry no asterisk.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh won the matchup against his younger brother, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh. For the first time in Super Bowl history, the winning coach had to deal with feelings of anguish.
The emotional postgame handshake between the coaches on the Superdome floor could have taken place many years ago in the bedroom shared by the brothers. Big brother had to pick little brother up, try to boost his spirit.
"There's great joy, but it was very difficult knowing Jim was over there," John said. "I am happy we won, but I'm hurting for him."
This was also the "Last Ride" for retiring Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis. He will now enter civilian life, hopefully a much quieter life, a life that does not include being wired for sound and followed by every TV camera owned by CBS, FOX, ESPN, NBC.
This was a victory for the mute button, which can rest now.
"This was my last ride, and we finished the race," Lewis said.
Barely, but we'll get into that later.
This day, ultimately, belonged to Joe Flacco.
The Ravens' frequently maligned quarterback was named Super Bowl MVP after completing 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns.
Flacco completed his sensational four-game postseason flurry of big plays and grand moments, finishing the tournament with 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions and a record 1,140 passing yards.
No NFL quarterback had fired 11 postseason touchdowns without an interception since the 49ers' Joe Montana in 1989. The irony will be noted in San Francisco.
The Ravens had to hang on — in a manner of speaking — to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy. But this made sense, considering the way they'd been clawing like desperate crabs in a soup pot all season.
"I think it's fitting we won that way," Flacco said. "We are a tough, blue-collar city, and that's the way our games kind of come down to."
The last ride was a journey into madness, and darkness.
Flacco had zipped three touchdown passes to put the Ravens up 21-6 at the half. He also reversed history, because a Super Bowl featuring the 49ers and a quarterback named Joe always ended in a bad way for their opponents.
Flacco was so good, he was transporting Baltimore fans out of the past. Maybe they would finally embrace him now instead of unfairly holding him to the Johnny Unitas standard. Flacco was so good, his uniform No. 5 was worthy of another famous No. 5 in Baltimore sports: Brooks Robinson.
When Jacoby Jones returned the second-half kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown that pumped the Ravens' lead to 28-6, the Super Blowout was on.
John Harbaugh claimed he knew better.
"I knew with Jim Harbaugh being on the other sideline, and all of those years we have been together, the game was going to be a dogfight until the end."
The lights went out, and the Ravens powered down.
Maybe it was because Jones used up too much electricity during his 108-yard jolt.
Maybe it was because Beyonce broke the stadium with excessive hip synching during a halftime show. I saw grown men sweating; this was hotter than a bottle of red Lousiana hot sauce.
Perhaps the blackout was caused by Jim Harbaugh, who was so upset by being down by 22 points he may have cut the power lines with his teeth.
The bizarre delay lasted 30 minutes, which wasn't enough to cool Beyonce down. But it chilled the Ravens. When the power came back on, the 49ers surged.
The Super Bowl became the game we'd hoped for. The Ravens flattened out and got the yips. Mistakes set up easy scores for the 49ers.
In his 10th NFL start San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick may have been overwhelmed by the setting early in the game. He was shaky. But Kaepernick got his legs in the second half, settled in and starting making plays.
Kaepernick dished to receivers, took off on designed runs, broke free on mad-man dashes. There was a touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree, and a TD run by Frank Gore. After the gold rush, the 49ers were down only 28-23. Back in Baltimore, worried Ravens fans were probably choking on their crab cakes.
The Ravens, however, still had a pulse and a response. And they still had Flacco to take them on a stabilizing 12-play drive for a field goal and a 31-23 lead.
Kaepernick answered with a 15-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion attempt failed, but the lead was only two (31-29) now.
Flacco and the Ravens would be pressed, again, to protect the lead. And Flacco wasn't about to allow his remarkable postseason to be downgraded into a footnote. In a huge moment, Flacco connected with wide receiver Anquan Boldin for a 15-yard strike on third and 1 from the Ravens' 40.
The play energized the Ravens, who advanced for another field goal and a 34-29 lead. The Ravens' defense would be asked to dig in one more time to deny the 49ers the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. It was close, very close, with Kaepernick and Gore making magic and moving the 49ers down to the 5-yard line.
On fourth down, Kaepernick went for Crabtree in the right side of the end zone. What followed will be debated forever. Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith locked onto Crabtree and wouldn't permit any space to open between them.
Smith tugged at Crabtree — there is no question about that. But Crabtree was doing some of his own hand-fighting on the inside, and the contact went both ways. I know many will disagree with me, but I thought it was the right non-call.
Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers were screaming for a holding penalty on Smith. In San Francisco they'll be wondering: if the lights came back on, why couldn't the officials see?
"The officials let us play all day," Ravens cornerback Corey Graham said. "There were a lot of physical plays the entire game. And they're (the 49ers) going to start crying about that now?"
To the Ravens, the stop was the latest example of their strong will. "How else can you finish that off, but with a goal-line stand to win the Super Bowl?" Lewis said. "We kept them out of the end zone. That's championship football."
The Ravens intentionally took a safety instead of punting, and that made the final score 34-31.
Flacco will be the toast of Baltimore now. In the working-class taverns they will raise a glass of National Boh and praise his name. But the 49ers lost a Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.
This time a quarterback named Joe played for the other team.
This time there was no famous catch, like Montana to Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC championship game.
This time, the catch was put on hold.