By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
6:00 AM EDT, September 2, 2013
I know we are not supposed to be looking back at last season's Super Bowl. We are supposed to focus on the hard road back that starts this week in Denver.
But go ahead on this last holiday of the summer and enjoy one last, great, TV wallow in Super Bowl glory at 9 tonight when the NFL Network presents "America's Game: 2012 Baltimore Ravens." It's the NFL Films documentary on the champion's Super Bowl season. And like last year's Ravens, it's a winner.
Beyond the stunning photography and deft editing we've come to take for granted from NFL Films, what I like best about this documentary on the journey to Super Bowl is that it does chain itself to the convention of strict chronology that such documentaries on a team's season often do. You know, Game 1, Game 2, Game 3 ....
Instead of opening in pre-season camp or the kickoff of last year's first regular season contest, "America's Game" opens in the playoff game against Denver. And what a fitting warm-up that is for Baltimore fans with a Thursday night re-match steeped in Mile-High anger, resentment and Ravens hate only a few days away.
The filmmakers get it right from the beginning, giving viewers the voice of WBAL Ravens play-by-play announcer Gerry Sandusky saying, "The Ravens need help from above. There are no timeouts, and the clock is running ...."
And then, the screen fills with that fabulous pass to Jacoby Jones that put an end to Peyton Manning's comeback season and put Baltimore on the road to New Orleans.
And right there, the filmmakers stop the narrative to cut from an image of Joe Flacco throwing the bomb against Denver to a younger Flacco in a similar pose throwing in college. Norton tells the story of Flacco transferring down from the University of Pittsburgh to the University of Delaware where he would get more playing time.
And then we get John Harbaugh talking about Flacco coming into the league with a "chip on his shoulder" and how that helped define last year's Ravens.
Great stuff. Right down to archival film in the Flacco family living room when the young quarterback was drafted by the Ravens -- with some more commentary by Flacco and Harbaugh about the maneuvering the Ravens did to get him.
Ray Lewis pops up on camera as the narrative advances to Flacco's first training camp. Lewis said he had some concerns about having a rookie quarterback until he saw Flacco throw.
"This kid has a cannon," he recalls thinking at the time.
Don't worry, the filmmakers do get back to most of the high and low points of the season.
One of my favorite segments involves the near team mutiny after a wretched loss to the Houston Texans and a bye week.
The filmmakers let Harbaugh lay down his spin as to how he had everything under control during a tense, angry 30-minute confrontation behind closed doors between players and coaches.
"It was challenging. It was tough," Harbaugh says. "A bunch of strong-minded men. But the good news was they had a strong-minded head coach standing in front of them. So if there was going to be a fight, let's have a fight."
Harbaugh talks about the session as being the most productive 30 minutes of the year and makes it sound as if it was part of his "open mike" strategy for managing the team.
Flacco kind of sidesteps what happens without denying that it got ugly.
"People get crazy every now and again," he says in the film. "Guys get in arguments, and that is what happened."
But Lewis, who was away from the team at the time with an injury, shares the report on the meeting that he got from Terrell Suggs.
"Sizzle was like, 'You need to get back. Everything is out of order.. As soon as the General leaves, it is all messed up. I have never had a meeting like that in my life.'"
The interviews with Lewis are something to behold.
At another point, he shares his belief that the power outage during the Super Bowl was a conspiracy.
"I'm not gonna accuse nobody of nothing -- because I don't know facts," Lewis says in the film.
Not letting a lack of facts stop him, however, he then goes on to say, "But you're a zillion-dollar company, and your lights go out? No, no way."
But he's only warming up.
"If you grew up like I grew up and you grew up in a household like I grew up, then sometimes your lights might go out, because times get hard. I understand that. But you cannot tell me somebody wasn't sitting there and when they say, 'The Ravens (are) about to blow them out. Man, we better do something.'"
OK, that sounds a little wild, but give the filmmakers credit for getting Lewis to open up and share his view of how the NFL and the world work.
In the end, probably the best recommendation for "America's Game" is the backstage access NFL Films gets. But they don't rest on that. They push for great pictures and revealing audio like the interviews with Lewis, Flacco and Harbaugh. And some of the sideline audio is even better -- Flacco telling Harbaugh, "get off my back." Flacco complaining about the conservative plays being called and saying they will never get to the Super Bowl with that kind of offensive game plan.
We all know how it ends -- happily in New Orleans. But for all the Ravens video and TV I've seen in the last month, this is my favorite TV ride. Don't miss it at 9 p.m. tonight on the NFL Network.
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