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Top Seven Things to Watch at the Super Bowl


According to the U.S. Census, about 69,089 people live in Turlock.

That means roughly 138,178 Turlock eyes – two per person, remember – will be tuned to Super Bowl XLVII this weekend, watching hometown hero Colin Kaepernick quarterback the San Francisco 49ers.

And, of course, all of those eyes have watched every play the 49ers and their opponents, the Baltimore Ravens, have run this year.

But for those who may have missed a game or two, but still want to enjoy the Super Bowl, we've compiled our list of the Top Seven Things to Watch at the Super Bowl – the seven in honor of Kaepernick's number, naturally.

#7) The Brothers

Jim Harbaugh coaches the San Francisco 49ers. His older brother, John Harbaugh, coaches the Baltimore Ravens.

In most years, this would be a breathtakingly interesting storyline. Brothers have never before coached opposing Super Bowl squads.

But neither John, nor Jim, nor father Jack have much interest in talking about the family ties. And with no one talking, there's not much to this story beyond the obvious.

Here's what we do know: Jim is the strong, stern, mostly-silent type. Brother John is a crowd pleaser, always quick with a quote and conversation.

Jim is a former NFL quarterback. John played some college ball, but was no standout.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Har-Bowl storyline is this: what will happen during the traditional post-game coaches handshake?

#6) The Linebackers

Arguably the greatest linebacker of all time, Ray Lewis, will start for the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday. Win or lose, it will be Lewis's final game; the 17 year veteran announced his retirement will come at the close of this season.

Lewis might not be as dynamic of a player as he once was, but he's perhaps the greatest motivator of men to ever play the game.

On the other side of the ball, Patrick Willis, arguably the best linebacker in the game today, will suit up for the 49ers. Since 49ers quarterback Alex Smith was relieved of his duties mid-season, Willis has stepped into that motivational role for perhaps the first time in his career.

On Sunday, these linebackers will fight two contests: who will be better on the field, and who will be better in the locker room? The results could determine the Super Bowl victor.

One wrinkle in the discussion: a Sports Illustrated report this week said that Lewis used a banned performance enhancing drug, found in deer antler velvet, to speed recovery from a torn triceps injury in time for this year's playoffs. His recovery took 10 weeks; most athletes take 6 months before returning to action.

Lewis has denied the claims, and refused to talk about the accusations further.

#5) The Controversial DBs

Each team sports a defensive back who said something he probably shouldn't have last week.

49ers cornerback Chris Culliver became a lightning rod when he said he did not believe there were any homosexual players on the 49ers, and that, if there were, they should quit the team. The remarks drew considerable criticism from the media and the public alike, as well as an outright rejection by the 49ers

Culliver has since apologized for his comments, stating he would welcome a gay teammate.

Ravens safety Ed Reed, an all-time great, said that he has experienced memory loss, which he attributes to his NFL career. Another Ravens safety, Bernard Pollard, said he believed the NFL might not last another 30 years due to safety concerns, specifically regarding brain trauma.

The comments have been swept mostly under the table by NFL officials, but the league faces a serious problem with concussions and player safety, especially following Hall of Famer Junior Seau's suicide last year. If anyone is injured during the game, the comments will come right back to the surface.

Which DB will be able to overcome the controversy best?

#4) The Runningbacks

Who's better: the Raven's Ray Rice, or 49er Frank Gore?

Gore is older, at 29, while Rice is 26. Both have seen considerable success in the league, but neither has received the widespread media attention they are arguably due.

As both the 49ers and the Ravens rely heavily on the run game, either Rice or Gore could easily end up as Super Bowl MVP.

So who will, at long last, make their indelible mark? The three-time Pro Bowler Rice, with 5,171 career rushing yards to his name, our four-time Pro Bowler Gore, with 8,839 yards?

#3) The D-Linemen

Can the 49ers stop Haloti Ngata? And will Justin Smith and Aldon Smith play like they did during the regular season, or as they have in the playoffs?

Ngata is one of the most dominating defensive ends in the league. The 49ers will likely have to double- or triple-team the 330 pound behemoth, potentially creating gaps in the offensive line that other Ravens can take advantage of.

49ers defensive end Justin Smith is a behemoth in his own right, one who manhandled opposing offensive lines all season. His outstanding play opened holes for Aldon Smith to rush through, putting Aldon Smith on track to break the all-time single-season sack record at one point.

But then Justin Smith injured his triceps, missing the end of the regular season. He returned for the playoffs and while reportedly “not hindered” by the injury, he didn't quite look the same. And Aldon Smith hasn't gotten a sack since Justin Smith's injuries.

If the 49ers can handle Ngata, it will go a long way toward winning the Super Bowl. Similarly, if the Ravens stop the Smiths, giving quarterback Joe Flacco time to find the open receiver, the 49ers could see the score run up against them.

#2) The Formations

These days, it's all about the pistol – an en vogue offensive formation used by the 49ers.

Essentially, the pistol lets the 49ers threaten several avenues of attack. Kaepernick can hand the ball off to Gore, he can fake the hand-off and pass down field, or he can keep the ball himself and run. It's nearly impossible to defend every angle, so one option will be open.

Kaepernick played a pistol-based offense throughout his college years at the University of Nevada, Reno, and does it better than anyone in the league. The 49ers offensive coordinators have added new wrinkles to the attack, taking the formation far beyond Kaepernick's Reno days.

The 49ers rode a pistol-based offense to great success in the first two rounds of the playoffs. If the Ravens can stop the pistol, forcing the 49ers to play a more conventional game, it could make it tough for the red and gold to score.

#1) The Quarterbacks

What else could be #1?

The Kaepernick vs. Flacco matchup is a clash in styles if there ever was one.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is a veteran, conventional pocket passer. He's quiet. His own dad has called him boring.

But Flacco's inconsistent performances are anything but boring. One week he'll be the hottest man on the field, and the next he struggles to make simple completions.

Kaepernick is covered in flashy tattoos, and often sports a stylish flat-brim cap, but is a deeper man than the bling might suggest. Those tattoos are of bible verses. And you can't run too hard with a pet tortoise.

Kaepernick, outside of a rough showing in Seattle, has looked good so far. But will the pressure get to the young quarterback, playing in the Super Bowl in only his tenth NFL start?

So which Flacco will show up on Sunday? Will Kaepernick be Kaepernick?

We'll find out at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

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