Before the final kicks — one missed, one made — that determined the Super Bowl XLVI contestants came some plays that I’ll relive over and over in the wake of the most compelling days of playoff football ever staged.
My motives were pure: I wanted a Baltimore-San Francisco match-up in Indianapolis for the sake of Utah readership, and it almost happened — with contributions from key players with local ties. For the Ravens, Dennis Pitta (BYU) had a touchdown catch among his five receptions, Paul Kruger (Utah) recorded a sack and Haloti Ngata (Highland High School) made three tackles. For the 49ers, Alex Smith (Utah) threw two touchdown passes during an otherwise erratic game.
But the Ravens lost 23-20 to New England and the 49ers fell 20-17 to the New York Giants in overtime. The dual defeats left me as frustrated as anyone outside the Harbaugh family, which nearly delivered two brothers to the Super Bowl as head coaches.
Christian Cox, a linebacker from Bountiful and the University of Utah, is the only player on the roster of either Super Bowl qualifier, and he’s spent the season on injured reserve.
Even aside from Baltimore’s missed field goal that could have forced overtime and the two fumbled punts that dearly cost San Francisco, these are the two plays that will stick with me.
• Baltimore ball, third and 1 at the New England 14-yard line, trailing 23-20 with 22 seconds remaining. Lee Evans had just dropped a potential touchdown pass, but the Ravens still had a great chance to win. They could have run to pick up a first down, then called a timeout and taken another shot or two at the end zone. As quarterback Joe Flacco rolled right, he appeared to have room to run, but tried to fire the ball to Pitta. The pass was broken up. Pitta said he was held on the play.
In any case, Flacco’s brilliant game ended with two incompletions, followed by the missed field goal.
• San Francisco ball, third and 5 at the New York 10, trailing 17-14 with 6:03 remaining. With coach Jim Harbaugh trying to call a timeout, Smith took the snap and threw a pass to Michael Crabtree, who was tackle 2 yards short of a first down. The 49ers settled for a tying field goal and would never come close to scoring again, which also was disturbing.
San Francisco had three more possessions in regulation (counting an opportunity in the final 19 seconds) and one in overtime, but could not move the ball. Everything was set up for Smith to add another chapter to his season of redemption, but he could not deliver in the end.
Of the previous 14 Super Bowls, 13 of them featured at least one alumnus of a Utah school as an active player or head coach. The exception was the Giants’ upset of New England four years ago. That game is considered perhaps the greatest Super Bowl ever played, so that’s some consolation looking ahead to Feb. 5.