Super Bowl 47 will be about two teams that haven’t been to the big game for quite some time – The Baltimore Ravens missing quite a few opportunities to return to the big stage, while the San Francisco 49ers have only just recently returned to formidable form.
Under Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers turned from a team that missed the postseason for 8 consecutive years after being one of the most successful NFL franchises for over two decades, beginning with the Joe Montana era in the 1980’s.
Maybe everything took a turn for the better when Patrick Willis was drafted in 2007. He won rookie of the year, and slowly, the 49ers, despite being very unpleased with their quarterback Alex Smith, started building around a defensive mentality that did improve their W record, but not take them to the postseason.
When Jim Harbaugh arrived in 2011, that was the turning point. Enough talent was amassed on both lines, the running game and the front 7. All Harbaugh needed to do was turn Alex Smith from someone who loses games into a quarterback that simply avoids making mistakes. It worked great in 2011, as the 49ers won 13 games for the first time since 1997, reached the NFC championship game only to lose against the New York Giants.
This season? More of the same: 11-4-1 record with a twist. The Niners lost Alex Smith to injury midway through the season and his replacement, Colin Kaepernick, became everything the Niners wanted out of a quarterback: Someone who doesn’t make mistakes, but can win games with his arms and legs, beating the Packers and Falcons en route to their first Super Bowl in 18 years.
For the Baltimore Ravens, it’s been a different route. Since the other Harbaugh brother, John, took over, they’ve been close. Since winning the Super Bowl 12 years ago on the team’s first trip ever to the playoffs since the relocation, the Ravens have missed the postseason only 4 times. In 2008, the return to dominance began, as the Joe Flacco – John Harbaugh era led the team to a 54-26 regular season record and five consecutive postseason appearances.
After losing in two AFC Championship games in 2008 and 2011, their time came. Joe Flacco, under the new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell began playing better than ever, and Ray Lewis, along with the revitalized defense, found new life, new hope, new vigor, leading the team to their second Super Bowl.