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After flicker of doubt, Ravens and Baltimore shine bright as ever

Chalk it up to the "Ray Lewis Effect" if you want. Call it destiny or some other overused term for that which defies logical explanation. The only thing that matters now is that you can call the Ravens the undisputed champions of the football world.

The journey everybody has been talking about in the Ravens locker room for the last month officially came to an end at 10:44 p.m. Sunday with their arrival at the mountaintop. Three straight times, the oddsmakers said it couldn't be done only to have newly minted Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco and the Ravens prove them wrong every time, finishing with a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

What exactly did you expect to happen when they got to the Big Easy and everything they had worked so long and hard for was finally within reach?

Did you really think Flacco was suddenly going to stop piling up playoff touchdown passes when he got to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome?

Did you seriously believe that Lewis would play the last game of his terrific 17-year career and walk off the field with the same number of championship rings he came with?

"How else do you say 'thank you' to your teammates and the people of Baltimore who believed in you?'' Lewis said. "We're going to take the trophy back to them. There's just no better way to go out."

Of course, Lewis couldn't have stayed out of the spotlight if he had tried — and he didn't — but this night belonged to Joe Cool, who has spent this postseason setting records and poking a football in the face of everyone who ever questioned whether he belonged among the NFL's elite quarterbacks.

That conversation should have ended when he dispensed with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the previous two playoff rounds, but it was Super Bowl week, and he only had to answer the "elite" question about a hundred times. It doesn't have to be asked ever again.

Flacco threw for three touchdowns in the first half and Jacoby Jones seemed to put the final nail in the 49ers with a 108-yard touchdown return to open the second half, but nothing has ever come that easy for this Ravens team.

Moments after Justin Tucker kicked the extra point and put the Ravens up by 22 points, the cranky electrical system in the Superdome decided the plot line for the 47th Super Bowl needed to be, well, a little more electric. The lights went and put the old stadium in twilight for 34 minutes before all the necessary components could be reactivated.

What happened after that was just as otherworldly. Somehow, all that pent-up electrical energy seemed to flow right out of the Ravens and into the 49ers. The momentum shifted so fast that San Francisco was threatening to tie the score before the end of the quarter. It took one more big red zone stand in the final two minutes of the game and a strange voluntary safety with 12 seconds left before the celebration could finally begin.

The confetti was still floating over the field a half-hour later.

"We don't make it easy,'' Flacco said at the trophy presentation. "That's the way the city of Baltimore is. That's the way we are."

That makes two Lombardi Trophies during the Ravens era to go with two NFL championships and a Super Bowl title for the old Colts. The title puts a cherry on top of the five-year John Harbaugh era that has included a playoff run in every season, though nothing like this.

"Thank you, Baltimore fans, for sticking with us, for believing in us,'' Harbaugh said. "We all did it together. I'm talking about the fans, the players and the coaches and the organization, all the little kids wearing purple on Friday, all the little kids at Johns Hopkins Hospital that sent that video, thank you."

What a year it has been. The Ravens survived a string of significant injuries and a dramatic late-season coaching change to stage an inspiring surge that started with a resounding regular-season victory over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants and featured that stunning divisional round upset of the top-seeded Denver Broncos.

The Broncos probably were the best all-around team in the AFC, but Flacco's miracle throw to Jones in the final minute of regulation set up a heart-stopping overtime victory that propelled the Ravens into an AFC title game rematch with the New England Patriots. This time, they got it right, and all the stars seemed to be aligned for something even more special in New Orleans.

Who could possibly have doubted that after Lewis announced his retirement leading into the postseason and led all defensive players with 44 tackles during the Ravens' first three playoff victories? Who could question the karma when all-everything offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden won election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Super Bowl Saturday?

Think about it. The first thing anyone can really remember about this season was the devastating Achilles tendon injury suffered by 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, which should have been enough to scuttle a promising season once you considered the strength of the Ravens' 2012 schedule.

If anyone had told you they'd lose Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb to regular-season-ending injuries in the same game and then fire offensive coordinator Cam Cameron with four games to play, would you have been willing to bet a nickel on a winning season, must less one that ended up on the NFL's greatest stage?

What a year it has been for Baltimore sports fans of every stripe. The Orioles already had lifted our spirits with their amazing playoff run after a summer that also was highlighted by another record-setting performance by history's most decorated Olympian — Michael Phelps. It really doesn't get much better than that, but it just did.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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