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Super Bowl of firsts, lasts, bests

Super Bowl of firsts, lasts, bests

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — This Super Bowl is one of comebacks, of firsts and lasts, and — if San Francisco wins — the best.

A win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday gives the 49ers six championships, matching Pittsburgh's record number of titles in the Super Bowl era. Unlike the Steelers, the Niners have never lost one.

Of course, they haven't won one in 18 years, either.

"There's a tradition with the San Francisco 49ers, but these guys are paving their own way," said Hall of Fame receiver and three-time champion Jerry Rice. "They're playing with a lot of swagger."

Or as owner Denise DeBartolo York said, "We've come full circle and the dynasty will prevail."

Host city New Orleans has come full circle, too. Ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, losing a quarter of its population, abandoned by the Saints for an entire season, the city couldn't imagine hosting another Super Bowl. But as New Orleans recovered and rebuilt, it envisioned staging what Patriots owner Robert Kraft calls "the pre-eminent sporting event."

The NFL agreed it was time to return. And even if Commissioner Roger Goodell is despised here after slapping the Saints with suspensions and fines in the bounty scandal, the vibes from the French Quarter and Warehouse District this week have been supportive, even uplifting.

"It's also terrific for us to be back here in New Orleans," Goodell said, joking about voodoo dolls in his likeness. "Our 10th Super Bowl here, the first since Katrina, and it's clear this city is back bigger and better than ever."

There's the tale of the head coaching brothers, Baltimore's John and San Francisco's Jim, the first siblings to face off in a Super Bowl. And Ray Lewis, the pre-eminent linebacker of his generation on his self-proclaimed last ride with the Ravens. (His farewell party was somewhat sidetracked for two days this week when Lewis waved off a report that he tried to get unusual products like deer-antler spray to speed his recovery from an arm injury that sidelined him for 10 games.)

"There are so many storylines to this game that make it bigger than just the Super Bowl," 49ers CEO Jed York said.

Such as the Harbaughs, sons of a lifetime coach who took different paths to the top of the NFL.

Baltimore's John, older by 15 months, has made his career standing on the sideline with a headset. He's the only head coach to win playoff games in his first five seasons; his quarterback, Joe Flacco, has the same distinction as he heads into his first Super Bowl. Jim Harbaugh was a first-round draft pick and quarterbacked four teams in 14 pro seasons before going into coaching. He was an immediate success at the San Diego Toreros in the college Pioneer League, then at Stanford before the 49ers won a bidding war for him in 2011.

This week's family reunion has been light-hearted, though that will change Sunday.

"It's probably a little tougher emotionally," John Harbaugh said of facing his brother. "It's a little tougher just from the sense of I don't think you think about it when you're coaching against somebody else; it's more about the scheme and the strategy. There's a little bit of a relationship element that's more strong than maybe coaching against someone else.

"I'll have a better answer for you after the game. I've never been through this before. This is all new."

It's also new for the QBs, Flacco and Colin Kaepernick.

Flacco is no fluke, holding the career record for road playoff wins with six. But until outplaying Peyton Manning and Tom Brady this year, he hadn't gotten the Ravens to the Super Bowl. He has eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in the postseason, padding a resume that soon will make him one very highly paid quarterback: Flacco's contract expires after this game. Even with a franchise tag applied by Baltimore, he'll make about $14.6 million next season.

"When you talk about winning, as quarterbacks in the playoffs," Flacco said, "I would think that all of them have Super Bowl victories. So that's really the only one that matters, and that's what we're trying to get."

Naturally, so are the 49ers, whose midseason adoption of the pistol offense to best use Kaepernick's dynamic versatility added a dimension no one has been able to stop. The Niners might never have taken such a huge step had incumbent Alex Smith, in the midst of his best season, not sustained a concussion on Nov. 11. Kaepernick took over and the offense took off.

Once Smith was healthy, he no longer was the starter. Jim Harbaugh gambled by sticking with the raw second-year quarterback who brought more game-breaking skills to the position.

Difficult decisions like that are sometimes foolhardy, sometimes inspired.

This one worked superbly, and Kaepernick stands one victory from joining Joe Montana and Steve Young as a 49er Super Bowl champion.

"It was tough watching this team do well and not being able to contribute," said Kaepernick, more recognized before his promotion for his collection of tattoos than for his strong arm and sprinter's speed. "For me, what kept me going was the fact that I might get an opportunity to get out there. When I did, I needed to take advantage of it."

The 49ers hope to take advantage in the same Superdome where they were at their most dominant, beating Denver 55-10 in 1990 in the biggest rout the Super Bowl has seen.

The Steelers are recognized as the true powerhouse of the Super Bowl era, which is nearly a half-century old. Four of those titles came in the 1970s, with Mean Joe Greene and the Steel Curtain shutting down opponents while Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and Lynn Swann were scoring on them.

But the last two were in 2005 and 2008, and they've been perennial playoff qualifiers, too. That kept them in the football forefront.

For the 49ers the golden years of Montana, Rice, Young and Ronnie Lott ended with the 1994 season. They didn't even make the playoffs from 2003-10, and this is their first trip back to the Super Bowl.

Rice sees Super Bowl win No. 6 coming Sunday.

"We had players who played well in the big game," he said. "My best football that I played happened in the playoffs and in the Super Bowl. It's the same with these players."

None of whom, except for center Jonathan Goodwin and linebacker Clark Haggans, has won a title. That's still one more ring than the Ravens have: Lewis is the sole NFL champion in Baltimore.

Lewis hungers for these teammates to taste their first title — and to do it in his last game.

"I've touched the Lombardi (Trophy), and I know how it feels," the perennial All-Pro said. "For these guys who've made this journey with me to feel that, it would be the perfect ending for my career."

Like Lewis, 49ers receiver Randy Moss also could be suiting up for the final time, although he hopes to play another year.

Grabbed off the scrap heap after his career spiraled into oblivion and no team would touch him in 2011, Moss didn't do much on the field (28 catches, 434 yards) this season. His loudest headlines came this week when he proclaimed himself the greatest receiver ever; maybe he's never seen Rice's numbers.

Teammates say Moss was very influential as a mentor and teacher.

"Randy's like my older brother," said Michael Crabtree, who emerged as a top receiver in his fourth pro season. "An older brother you would have that's been through a lot that you just can learn from just talking to him, watching him.

"He's a legend and I hope he'll be here next year."

Lewis won't be. He'll don the face paint, put on his No. 52 for the final time, and see if he can replicate the championship of a dozen years ago.

"You can never top the first one, because that's an unknown feeling," Lewis said before adding with a chuckle, eyes widening, "but a second one — that might be the only way you really can top it."

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Harbaugh hoping back injury sidelines Flacco for only one week

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Harbaugh hoping back injury sidelines Flacco for only one week

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were without their starting quarterback for their first day of training camp.

Joe Flacco is dealing with a disk issue in his lower back and is expected to miss 3-6 weeks of training camp, Ian Rapoport reported on Wednesday.

Head coach John Harbaugh addressed the matter Thursday morning after their first day of practice and it sounds like Flacco isn't expected to miss that much time.

MORE RAVENS: HARBAUGH NOT RULING OUT ADDING KAEPERNICK

"We found out yesterday," Harbaugh said on Thursday.

"I guess it's been something that's been bothering him for a week or two. He didn't say anything about it, wasn't really that bad. It flared up a little bit, went and saw a back specialist. So, they're recommending about a week of rest. They say that should take care of it. I guess with the back you can always say, 'we'll see'. But, all indications from a back specialist are that he should be fine in about a week and that's what we'll be hoping for and praying for."

The Super Bowl XLVII MVP is entering his 10th season with the Ravens. Flacco tore both his MCL and ACL in 2015 but returned to form in 2016, throwing for 4,317 yards and 20 touchdowns. 

His fellow teammates however, aren't concerned about him missing time. 

"Joe's gonna be back, safety Eric Weddle said. "We're not worried about how long is he going to be out. He's one of the toughest guys on the team. He'll be leading us out whenever he wants to come back."

For new Ravens wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, he's not worried about missing out on gaining chemistry with his QB during his absence."There's plenty of time for that," Maclin said. "

This is football man, stuff like that happens. I think the most important thing right now for Joe is to get healthy. We gotta roll with what we got."

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Ravens not ruling out adding Colin Kaepernick to roster

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Ravens not ruling out adding Colin Kaepernick to roster

OWINGS MILL, Md. —The offseason has come and gone and polarizing former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is still in search of a job.

Several teams have been in the mix of possible places he could land, one of them being the Baltimore Ravens.

With the Thursday news of Joe Flacco missing some training camp time due to a back injury, now could be the perfect time for Kaepernick to get hired.

After the first day of Ravens' training camp, John Harbaugh touched on the matter.

"He and I have been talking throughout the summer, a number of times," Harbaugh said.

MORE RAVENS: URSCHEL RETIRING FROM NFL

"We've had some great conversations on the phone. I mean, it's really been a pleasure to talk to him to get to know him. You know, I like history and politics and stuff too. We've had some debates and it's been fun, he's a great guy. And he's a guy right now that's being talked about. We'll just see what happens with that. I think it will all be speculation right now. But, I think he's a really good football player and as I said at the owners meetings, I do think he'll be playing in the National Football League this year."

Kaepernick has a unique skillset, but would bring in a heavy dose of media attention and scrutiny.

But Kaepernick is somewhat familiar with the Ravens, having had to study, plan, prepare and then play the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.

When asked to elaborate on the matter, Harbaugh made it clear that Kaepernick is an option depending on necessity.

"I wouldn't rule it out at all. He's a really good football player," the Ravens head coach stated. "I believe he's a really good person. It all depends on a lot of things. Depends on Colin first of all, what he wants to do, what's his passion, what's his priority, what he wants to do, what kind of shape he's in. If he's ready to go and then our needs, so we'll just kinda see where it goes. I don't think that's different for us than any other team."

Whether it's Kaepernick or not, the Ravens are in search of another QB.

"We're definitely going to get another arm in here. He's not an arm obviously, he's an accomplished football player. We always like having good football players."

Ravens training camp is just a day old but things are already moving ahead at a regular-season pace.