Take a deep breath Northern California sports fans.
Fill your lungs with that sweet crisp air, ripe with glory. Embrace this moment because there has been no better time to be a fan in this region.
The Stanford Cardinal won the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1972, the Golden State Warriors are currently in second in the Pacific Division standings, the San Jose Sharks are unbeatable so far, and the San Francisco Giants’ World Series win still warms me on a chilly night.
Oh yeah, and there’s that thing happening Sunday.
If the San Francisco 49ers claim their sixth Super Bowl title, it will cap an amazing four months for Northern California, the likes of which very few fan bases have seen.
But before we get ahead of ourselves and start planning another victory parade, there are some things that need to happen.
If the Niners are going to keep this NorCal sports party going, there are five things that need to happen in New Orleans.
1. Neutralize Ray Lewis.
The 49er offense can’t get caught in Lewis’ antlers or wrapped up by his bionic arm. He is the heart and soul of the Ravens, and as he goes, they go, especially this postseason. Lewis is leading the NFL in postseason tackles this season with 44 and makes that defense believe it is what it once was.
He is the Ravens’ fire, their rally point and most effective player. You take out the heart, and the rest will crumble. It’s never proven easy before, and it won’t be Sunday either.
2. Can’t stumble out of the gate.
It’s the biggest game of these players’ lives, but the 49ers can’t let their nerves get the best of them. If they fall behind 17-0 early like they did against the Atlanta Falcons, there will not be a comeback. The Ravens defense is too good and too experienced to fold in a game of this caliber. The Ravens only lost one game this season when entering the fourth quarter with a lead, and that was against the Steelers Dec. 2 when Lewis was on the bench.
3. Keep the Ravens receivers in front.
The 49er secondary can’t get beat deep. As good as Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson are at helping against the run and lowering the boom on receivers running underneath routes, they need to be weary of the deep ball. Torrey Smith has proven he’s a bonafide deep threat, Anquan Bolden is more of a possession receiver but still has big play ability, and Jacoby Jones, playing in his hometown, is capable of breaking a big one. Just ask the Denver Broncos.
4. Run 49ers, run.
If Colin Kaepernick has a monster game, 100-plus rushing yards and 200-plus passing yards, the 49ers will be in good shape, but more is better. They also need Gore to push 100 yards and taste the end zone at least once, and 30 to 50 yards from LaMichael James couldn’t hurt. It has been the 49ers’ calling card all season, and if they get to hoist the Lombardi Trophy Sunday night, it will because they ran all over the Ravens’ defense.
5. Leg don’t fail them now.
Points will be at a premium Sunday, and the 49ers can’t afford to squander scoring opportunities. San Francisco needs the David Akers from a season ago to show up, not the most recent version. In 2011, Akers hit 44-of-52 attempts — just under 85 percent — and he hit nine from beyond 50 yards. This year, the usually reliable Akers led the league in missed field goals (13) and has turned a routine attempt into a nerve-racking, will-he-or-won’t-he episode.
The 49ers have never lost a Super Bowl and have rolled to wins in their last two attempts. In the 1989-1990 season, they beat the John Elway-led Denver Broncos, 55-10, the most lopsided Super Bowl ever, and in the 1994-95 season, they walloped the San Diego Chargers, 49-26. 49er fans shouldn’t expect a blowout Sunday, but if they accomplish the five things set out in this column, they should be dancing in confetti and popping champaign by night’s end.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.