Welcome to the 19th installment of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots' weekly matchup ... that unfortunately has nothing to do with the Patriots this week. Yeah, like that little detail of their season's abrupt ending and the residual bitterness will stop the schtick. The Ravens, who unceremoniously halted the Patriots season two weeks ago with a 28-13 win in the AFC Championship game, are 3.5 point underdogs to Colin Kaepernick and the NFC Champion 49ers in what is a fascinating Super Bowl matchup. This game should have a little bit of everything, so let's get to it.
THREE PLAYERS THAT I'LL BE WATCHING NOT NAMED TOM BRADY SINCE, YOU KNOW, HE'S NOT PLAYING, WHICH STINKS:
1. Joe Flacco: I suppose it's a backhanded compliment to say he's easily the best quarterback ever to start a Super Bowl for the Ravens, so let's just come out and admit it without a qualifier: He's really good. He's not the most charismatic leader, and he doesn't hit a particularly high percentage of his passes, but he throws a beautiful deep ball, habitually plays well in big games (eight TDs, no INTs this postseason), and really does not make many mistakes anymore. He needs to be at his best for the Ravens to win Sunday, and he's risen to every challenge so far.
2. Dashon Goldson: Man, why didn't the Patriots offer him more money? The hard-hitting Niners safety is exactly what they need in their secondary.
3. Frank Gore: Much if not most of the buzz when it comes to the Niners offense relates to dynamic second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and that's totally understandable. With a win Sunday, he'll have authored the most compelling tale of rapid ascent from relative obscurity to quarterbacking a Super Bowl champion since Tom Brady in 2001. But indications are that the Ravens will first and foremost focus on stopping Kaepernick from breaking loose in the running game, which means the unsung veteran Gore will get plenty of touches. Eight seasons and a couple of knee surgeries into his career, Gore is still a brute of a runner, and the educated hunch here is that he's the player who does the most to carry the Niners to their sixth Super Bowl victory Sunday.
1. Gets hit by Bernard Pollard so viciously he briefly wonders if he's wearing a Patriots uniform.
2. Gets pancaked blocked by Randy Moss.
3. Suffers an epiphany that his teammates regard Ed Reed as their true leader and cries for real for once.
4. Is mauled by a rogue pack of vengeful squirrels angry that he's destroyed their reputations as dancers.
5. Arrives at the stadium to find the white suit hanging in his locker.
6. Gets gored by Gore for the winning Niners touchdown. (Al or Frank. Either will suffice.)
7. Is told he's not allowed to join in any (rein)deer games (like football).
8. Tears a hamstring, two biceps and a groin during his pregame dance and can't go.
9. Spontaneous combustion, that real trick of the devil.
TWO BRILLIANT NINERS QUARTERBACKS, TWO BRILLIANT POSTSEASON DRIVES, TWO NOT-SO-BRILLIANT QUESTIONS
1. Seriously, which was the better throw, the one Joe Montana threads to John Taylor between two closing defenders, or the one Steve Young improbably if not practically impossibly sticks in there to Terrell Owens?
2. After listening to both these clips, with the great Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen on the former and Pat Summerall and John Madden equally brilliant on the latter (I love Summerall's understated calls), does it become even more evident that Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are nothing better than vanilla as far as top broadcast teams go?
RANDY MOSS IS THE TIM RAINES TO JERRY RICE'S RICKEY HENDERSON
As we were reminded again this week with his casual proclamation that he's the greatest receiver football has ever known, the NFL is a little bit more fun when Randy Moss is a part of it, and not just because there's always the chance his celebrations will cause a mortified Joe Buck to collapse on his fainting couch. Moss's unapologetic confidence -- call it arrogance if you wish -- is such that he probably thought he was the best player in the league last season, when he wasn't even in the league. There's no doubt in my mind that actually does believe he's better than Rice, and it doesn't matter one iota to him that no one agrees. Moss may be the most talented receiver ever, and the best deep threat, and maybe even the flashiest, but even his greatest feat -- catching a record 23 touchdown passes for the '07 Patriots -- is arguably less impressive than Rice catching 22 in 12 games during the strike-abbreviated '87 season. There's no contest between them as players, because there's no contest between Rice and anyone. But Moss is awesome in his own way, and I hope he scores the winning touchdown on Sunday.
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD/PREDICTION
Man, must be tough for Jim Harbaugh to coach against the team that he guided to a 5-7 record in 12 starts in 1998. The memories he must have of lighting up the sky with deep passes to Floyd Turner and Michael Jackson. Oh, right, and there's the brother thing, too. Honest question: Who would you rather have as a your coach going forward -- Jim Harbaugh, John Harbaugh, or Bill Belichick? I imagine most of us around here go with Belichick without a second thought, and I'm with those who do. But these Harbaugh fellas are damn are good. Jim seems like an uptight control freak, but he's a genuine quarterback whisperer, and he does delegate, particularly to offensive coordinator Greg Roman. John's a little more outwardly laid-back, but there's a respectful give-and-take with his players, and there is clearly real substance there to get that veteran team to consistently play for him. He's the easier one to root for. But that doesn't apply to his team. The Niners are the better team, too, but not by much. Jim will trump big brother in what very well may be the first of a couple Niners Super Bowl victories over the few seasons. Niners 35, Ravens 31
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.