It’s Friday afternoon. An unseasonal sun bakes the city with a gratifying if alarming tropical malaise. Tiny birds sing in the trees. There’s a case of frozen corn dogs in the freezer and half a bottle of 80-proof Romanian mouthwash beneath the bathroom sink. I have no place to be and no one to lie to. For a brief moment the liberating truth of my situation doesn’t just invade my consciousness, it jumps up and down on it with spiked heels, beats it with a ballpeen hammer, stabs it with the splintered pine shards of a Marco Scutaro broken bat single to right. The fact that I am aware of my bliss, and also aware of my awareness, does not obscure the truth: I am the happiest man on earth.
My contented eye lands, butterfly-like, on a book by the remote control: a violation of strict rules forbidding unwanted distractions in the TV room. The mystery tome is opened with a nonchalant flick to a quote from Matisse: “When we speak of Nature it is wrong to forget that we are ourselves a part of Nature. We ought to view ourselves with the same curiosity and openness with which we study a tree, the sky or a thought, because we too are linked to the entire universe.” Hmm.
The next page reveals a confession from someone named Rembrandt: “I envy the poet. He is encouraged towards drunkenness and wallows with nubile wenches while the painter must endure wretchedness and pain for his art.” Nubile wenches? Yes, please!
Hoping for a lurid sketch, I turn the page only to be confronted by a quote from former negro and weirdo extreme, Michael Jackson: “Children show me in their playful smiles the divine in everyone. This simple goodness shines straight from their hearts and only asks to be lived.” Even from the wintry gloom of his cybernetic ice chamber does his white glove manage a quick and brazen grope! My violated flesh recoils in horror, chaste coffin robbed from the graveyard of my childhood innocence. And through confused tears do I recognize that Rembrandt painted the world as it really is: a little light, but a lot of darkness.
And thus the false canopy of sunshine collapses faster than a paedo rock star can sing “Beat It!” A total eclipse from the start, we are coughed from the jaws of our mothers’ dim shade, storm briefly as lightning in the night, before returning to ruinous dusk more hopeless and punch drunk than ever.
In other words, certain things are beyond comprehension: Log Cabin Republicans, the controlled demolition of Building Seven, and the inability of the 49ers to score from first and goal on the Baltimore seven yard line. Like Iraqi Oil and candy from blind babies, San Francisco Super Bowl Win Numero Six-O was there to be stolen, lassoed, and lorded over like an abused honey bear at a roadside zoo. Even two weeks removed I can close my eyes and feel the delicious lather created by ten million parched Niner fans whipping the Bedouin pony of our collective bloodlust toward the green oasis shimmering on the dusty plain.
The game began perfectly. San Francisco received and, boom, Kaepernick threw a laser to tight end Vernon Davis for twenty yards. The scouting reports said that passing routes could exploit the aging Ravens linebacker corps, and I almost fainted with joy to see Coach Harbaugh kick ’em where it hurts: this was going to be an old-fashioned bar room brawl. But then a yellow flag for the slot receiver lined up in an illegal formation. This was the worst of sacrilegious profanities to start a Super Bowl. Instead of first and ten on the enemy forty, it was first and twenty from somewhere south of Bakersfield. The next play Frank Gore slipped after taking the handoff and suddenly the Ravens had the momentum. Like the clever scavenger birds they are, Baltimore spent the first two quarters capitalizing on 49er nerves and its woeful secondary. When the luridly unwatchable half-time show finally climbed up the stripper pole, SF was down 21-66, which felt insulting not insurmountable.
For good luck I spent half-time jogging around the sofa and crank-calling random Domino’s Pizza outlets in Maryland via Skype’s virtually untraceable voice-over-internet-phone service. Technology is my friend. When Beyoncé was mercifully disassembled and carted back to the robotic crypt from which she sprang, I prayed to Joe Montana and Shamash, Babylonian god of sun and justice, to destroy the Baltimore infidels with mighty thunderbolts, locust plagues and the occasional quick slant. We could regain upper ground by holding the Ravens to a three and out, then score the golden touchdown and open hell’s floodgates. But Jacoby Jones (named for a Little Rock accountancy) took the kick-off 108 yards for the score. A cold dagger to the nutsack. Blood and anguish all around. Just as we tried to decipher what cruel and reckless wretch had betrayed our kingdom, the lights went out. Literally. This being New Orleans, anything was possible. For 34 minutes the players stretched, chatted about their favorite after hours clubs, and tried not to think about Katrina and/or the impossibility of true love in an age of nuclear proliferation.
When the fluorescent glare was at last restored, the good guys found themselves squinting into the business end of a barnacle-encrusted crab pot. On the negative side, we were 22 points down and were playing like Daly City after a ten-year binge (see: Colman). On the other hand, there was the entire second half to be grabbed and strangled with the steely hands of honest longshoremen, and riding the dignity and courage of organized labor, the magic happened. We pinched and clawed back, and slugged Daddy Warbucks in the nose. First Crabtree broke two tackles and scored on a 31-yard catch. Our defense held and Ted Ginn returned the punt 32 yards, setting up a 6-yard TD ramble by Gore, enabled by beautiful trap blocking. When Ravens back Ray Rice fumbled at his own 24-yard line, such was my ecstasy that I had to take a shower. But instead of punching in another six points, we were forced to settle for an Akers’ field goal. A little vomit crept into my mouth. But when SF legend-to-be Kaepernick sprinted past Baltimore defenders for a 15-yard score, a little vomit slithered back down the gullet. After missing the two-point conversion on a puzzling pass to Randy Moss, we were down 31-29. The tension was thicker than the noxious cloud of lies and greed spewing from Diane Feinstein’s mouth every time she breathes, speaks or giggles when briefed on the Afghan war.
Being the rude guests they are, Baltimore refused to leave quietly, and added a field goal to make it 34-29 with 4:19 remaining. Summoning the ghosts of Bill Walsh and the Zodiac Killer, the 49ers took the subsequent kick-off and rammed up right up Ravens’ happy land. When Gore weaved for 33 yards on SF’s dangerous zone-read, made possible by the threat of Kaepernick’s own running brilliance, it was first and goal on the Baltimore seven. The Ravens’ sideline was disconsolate. The Niner bench was a tumult of grins and HGH fist pumps. San Francisco had never lost a Super Bowl, and we weren’t about to start now.
On first down Coach Jim Harbaugh stuck with the zone read. Why not? On five times previous calls, the offense had gained nine, seven, 21, eight and 33 yards. This time however Gore was out for a breather, and LaMichael James was held to two yards. On second down it was a pass/run option that went nowhere. Where was the zone read? Third down was either an ill-conceived or ill-executed play that ended in an incomplete pass to Crabtree (who was short of the end zone regardless). Where was the zone read? Now it was fourth down. Surely Harbaugh would run the zone read or a beautifully sinister variation and allow Kaepernick’s supernatural wheels to dash into the promised land. But instead it was a peculiar fade route to Crabtree on a Ravens all-out blitz that forces a quick throw. A pass play SF didn’t use all season to one of our shorter receivers. The Baltimore defensive back mauled, mugged and held Crabtree to such a blatant extent that it would be called in any other game but the Super Bowl. But this was the Super Bowl (and the bed sores from enduring the 12-hour pre-game show proved it). As the 49ers’ last gasp sailed untouched to the artificial turf, the dream ended in a nightmare.
Despite outgaining Baltimore by a hundred yards, SF was a measly 2-9 on third down, while the Ravens were a superb 9-16. The numerous costly penalties suggested that the Niners were wound too tight, perhaps a reflection of Coach Harbaugh’s endearing kamikaze/Dr. Strangelove style. On the other sideline, Jim’s older brother John did a magnificent job getting his team ready and keeping them loose. As the great Crow warrior Two Leggings said to his white biographer in 1919, sadly recounting the last enemy scalp he had taken decades earlier, and after the plains Indians were overwhelmed by American expansion: “Nothing happened after that. We just lived. There were no more war parties, no capturing of horses from the Piegans and the Sioux, no buffalo to hunt. There is nothing more to tell.”