It had been a hard-fought game, one as crazy and captivating as anyone had ever seen, but the Baltimore Ravens were just 11 seconds away from victory holding a five-point lead with 4th down oncoming. They lined up to punt and simply had to kick the ball out of bounds and stop a hail mary to seal a memorable Super Bowl XLVII victory. But instead, the punt number happened. Ravens coach John Harbaugh instructed punter Billy Koch to simply hold onto the ball, waste as much time as he could, and then step out of bounds for a safety, ending the game because the safety would give the Ravens the opportunity to do a free kick that would elapse the rest the rest of the type on the clock. That’s exactly what happened as the Ravens won the game 34-31. Harbaugh’s top priority had to be to win the game and seal Baltimore’s championship. But the Super Bowl is more than a game- there’s an element of honor involved, and in choosing to end the game the way he did, Harbaugh went starkly against that.
Why has there never been overtime in the Super Bowl? Because even if overtime was a possibility, coaches would rather risk it all going for the win because it’s the Super Bowl and if they don’t play aggressively, they don’t deserve to win. Did John Harbaugh really doubt that that his defense could stop one hail mary? Wow, what the perfect way to end Ray Lewis‘ career, with his coach doubting his ability to stop one of the least likely plays to succeed in all of sports. This isn’t the classic situation of a team being on the opponent’s one yard line down a field goal with one second to go but decides to go for the touchdown deciding that they didn’t deserve to win the game if they couldn’t go one yard. Harbaugh and the Ravens had quite nearly blown a 22-point lead, but while they had wilted they had refused to break and were about to cap off a win they would know they deserved. Instead, he took the easy way out, taking no chances but also saying that he didn’t trust his team when it mattered most. He didn’t believe that the other team deserved a chance to see if a miracle would happen. He played it safe knowing that anything could happen in that last hail mary. But isn’t that why you play the game of football? Isn’t that why you play the Super Bowl knowing that anything can happen in one game but believing that your players can come through with everything on the line and find a way to win?
After the Ravens had received the Lombardi Trophy, John Harbaugh was asked what he said to his brother, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh when he met with him on the field after the game was through. He said that he told his brother that he loved him, and his brother responded “congratulations.” Anyone watching when the brothers actually met knows exactly what Jim said the John, in less flowery terms, “what the heck was that?” Jim had every right to be upset. John Harbaugh managed the Ravens to a five-point lead over the 49ers with 11 seconds to go. But he denied Jim those last 11 seconds, that last play which is the reason why everyone watches the Super Bowl every single year. In making that safety happen, John Harbaugh guaranteed the Ravens’ victory. However, he denied his team, denied the San Francisco 49ers, and denied every single person watching that game the chance to know for sure how the game was really going to end and the chance to see a moment- whether the face of the receiver watching the ball fall to the turf like almost certainly going to happen or the face of the defender watching helplessly as the receiver lands in bounds with the ball in his grasp as was unlikely to occur but not impossible- where the emotion of the players undermines everything else and the fact that the Super Bowl isn’t just another football game but a continuation of a tradition that has captivated the American people for 47 years now becomes more apparent than anything. Congratulations, John, on your Super Bowl victory. But those 11 seconds, that final play, is something you took away from everyone in that stadium and everyone watching on TV that they will never get back.