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Casual-fan guide to Super Bowl XLVII

Published: Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 8:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 8:45 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — Don't know your pistol from your wildcat? Confused over whether Ricky Jean Francois is a defensive tackle or a Louisiana pirate? Not sure which of the 49ers' three Davises and three Smiths you should be watching?

Relax.

The Super Bowl is to casual sports fans what Easter service is to a lot of secularists — an annual ritual that lets you feel a little more connected, in all its mystery and pageantry.

So thaw some chicken wings, plant a few cold ones in the ice chest and use this handy primer to bone up on today's game between the 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens.

And yes, it's OK if you watch the commercials more closely than the game.

Oh, brother: The No. 1 story of Super Bowl XLVII (the 47th for those of you without NFL pretensions) has been the first brother-vs.-brother coaching matchup in the history of the series. John Harbaugh is head coach of the Ravens. Jim Harbaugh, 15 months his junior, is head coach of the 49ers. Their teams met once before, in a Thanksgiving Day game last year that John's Ravens won 16-6. Today's contest puts the Harbaughs on a much larger stage.

Expect no noogies or wedgies, but perhaps a hug before the game and certainly an embrace afterward. If you're wondering, parents Jack and Jackie Harbaugh will be watching from the NFL commissioner's suite, wearing neutral colors. In true parental fashion, they will console the loser before congratulating the winner.

The Wunderkind: When Jim Harbaugh announced Colin Kaepernick as his starting quarterback on Nov. 28, the move was controversial. Previous starter Alex Smith had been playing quite well (in the game and a half before he was knocked out with a concussion, he had completed 25 of 27 passes), and was popular with teammates.

Besides, players aren't supposed to lose their jobs through injury.

But Kaepernick not only won games as Smith's replacement, he seemed ready to revolutionize his position. In the 49ers' playoff victory over Green Bay, the Packers dared Kaepernick to run and he set an NFL record for quarterbacks with 181 rushing yards. The next week, the Falcons dared him to throw in the NFC championship game, and he completed 16 of 21 throws for 233 yards. All eyes will be on the poised second-year player in the Super Bowl.

Ray-Ray's farewell: On the Baltimore sidelines, it's middle linebacker Ray Lewis who will command much of the attention. The only other time the Ravens were in the Super Bowl, in January 2001, Lewis was named the most valuable player — a rare trick for a defender. Big, strong and brimming with passion for football, Lewis is a surefire Hall of Famer.

But this has not been one of his stellar seasons. Lewis tore his triceps muscle in Week 6 and did not play again in the regular season.

The Ravens reactivated him for the playoffs and, true to form, he leads all NFL players with 44 tackles during the postseason. Lewis has announced that the Super Bowl will be his final NFL game.

Niners' sore leg: David Akers was the best placekicker in the league last year when he scored 166 points, an NFL kicking record. This season, Akers' reliability has abandoned him — perhaps along with his confidence. Harbaugh brought in another kicker, Billy Cundiff, to compete late in the season, but Akers retained the job. Then he missed his only field-goal attempt in the NFC title game, doinking it off the left upright from a modest 38 yards.

If this game comes down to a final kick for all the marbles, 49ers fans will be very, very nervous.

Let's get technical: During the telecast, you'll probably be hearing two phrases ad nauseum: “pistol offense” and “read-option” (sometimes called the “zone-read option”). Do not feel obligated to know what the heck they're talking about.

But if you're interested, the pistol is a formation that positions the quarterback for a shotgun snap (i.e. the center hiking the ball through the air, rather than directly into the QB's hands) and puts one halfback directly behind him. It's effective because it makes moving to the left or right equally viable for the offense. The read-option is a play wherein the quarterback puts the ball into the runners breadbasket while at the same time “reading” the intent of an outside defender. If the defender stays outside, the quarterback gives the ball to the runner heading up the middle. If the outside defender crashes in toward the runner, the quarterback keeps the ball and runs to the outside. Oh, yeah. He also can drop back and pass.

All you really need to know? Kaepernick has been running the system to perfection.

Crescent City miracle: Locally, this game is viewed as another triumph on New Orleans' road to recovery after Hurricane Katrina. The Super Bowl has been played here nine times previously, but not since 2002 — the longest drought ever for the city. In 2005, Katrina heavily damaged the site of today's game, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and the stadium was further trashed when it served as an evacuation center for thousands of refugees.

Many called for the Superdome to be demolished at the time. Now it's back at the center of the sports universe, ready to host Super Bowl XLVII.

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