Though those in the NFL with local ties have long ago wrapped up their respective seasons, much like the rest of the world, the impending Super Bowl is still drawing plenty of interest in Glendale, La Crescenta, La Cañada Flintridge and beyond.
Within the coming week of build-up, myriad story lines will receive even more press as kickoff for Super Bowl XLVII between the favored San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in New Orleans approaches.
Rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick, with his strong arm and fleet feet, has captured headlines and victories after becoming the 49ers' starter down the stretch. But the Frank Gore-led running game and the tenacious defense centered by all-world linebacker Patrick Willis have made the NFC West champions contenders all season.
The AFC North-champion Ravens have upset the top two AFC seeds on the road, as future NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, who has announced his pending retirement, has captivated his teammates and nostalgic fans. Running back Ray Rice, having emerged as one of the best at his position, and quarterback Joe Flacco have breathed life into a once overlooked offense.
And of course there's the two men manning the sidelines, as Baltimore Coach John Harbaugh and San Francisco Coach Jim Harbaugh are set to match wits in a brotherly battle for the prestigious Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Will the 49ers win the franchise's sixth Super Bowl behind a fiery coach and a rookie signal-caller? Will the underdog Ravens bestow one of the greatest middle linebackers of all-time a fitting send-off?
The La Cañada Valley Sun staff, along with local football coaches and players offer their predications.
Grant Gordon, La Cañada Valley Sun Sports Editor: "Overall, the San Francisco 49ers are a better team. They have a phenomenal defense and a grind-it-out offense that can also make the big play. Thus, my head tells me the 49ers will win, but for some reason, my gut tells me the Baltimore Ravens. So, behind a Super Bowl MVP performance from Ray Rice and some costly turnovers from Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the Ravens beat the 49ers, 31-24."
Andrew Shortall, La Cañada Valley Sun Sports Writer: "The Baltimore Ravens have had a number of breaks so far this postseason, particularly in Denver. It looks like they might be the team of destiny this season, but the San Francisco 49ers are playing better football, especially after overcoming a 17-0 deficit in Atlanta. I don't see San Francisco's secondary letting Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco throw deep, and I think rookie signal-caller Colin Kaepernick proves yet again he's not afraid of the big stage — 49ers 23, Ravens 13."
Charles Rich, La Cañada Valley Sun Sports Writer: "Special teams plays a huge role for Ravens, who see Ray Lewis end his career hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Ravens 27, 49ers 23."
Jeff Tully, La Cañada Valley Sun Sports Writer: "With a number of upsets in recent Super Bowls, I'm almost tempted to go with the underdog Ravens. Baltimore has found a way to win in the playoffs and it has been lifted with the whole Ray Lewis motivation business. But conventual wisdom has me thinking otherwise. The switch by the Niners to Kaepernick during the season has paid off and San Francisco is just the better team. 49ers 35, Ravens 14."
Andrew J. Campa, La Cañada Valley Sun Sports Writer: "The Atlanta Falcons had a decent-enough plan to take away Colin Kaepernick's big-play running ability and force him to throw. If the Ravens can do the same, hold the 49ers to 28 or less points, they should win. San Francisco has the best offensive line in the league and has the luxury to double-team Haloti Ngata. Can Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger hit Kaepernick? That will be a big question. It should be a great game. I'm going with the Ravens, 31-28."
Jim Bonds, St. Francis High football coach: "Niners Baby! I have to go with the Niners for a few reasons. Jim Harbaugh is a QB. I met him while he was still playing for Michigan and they were prepping for the Rose Bowl at Mt. SAC. I like his approach. He is the younger brother and the younger brother is always the best! San Francisco 31, Baltimore 27."
Antonio Harrison, Flintridge Prep football coach: "My head says 49ers, but my heart wants to see Ray Lewis go out with a Super Bowl victory. Forty-niners are too good though. San Francisco 38, Baltimore 24."
James Sims, La Cañada High football coach: "I personally think San Francisco is a better team and should win it on paper, but Baltimore is riding on motivation. There's the whole deal with Ray Lewis and there's something about that confidence; you start rolling and feel like you can't be beat. … That may be enough to get them over the top, but I am a San Francisco fan. Baltimore is on an emotional high and that's hard to beat, but if I was betting man, I'd say San Francisco. It's going to be a close one, San Francisco 31-28.
Chadd Cosse, Flintridge Prep senior linebacker/tight end and All-Area/All-CIF selection: "It's a tough one, but I am feeling the Ravens on this one. Ray Lewis and all his accomplishments, him getting that ring will be the X-factor. I think it's going to be a close one — come down to a last-second field or a touchdown — but I think the Ravens pull it out, 24-21. Joe Flacco has been amazing, too."
Jared Lebowitz, St. Francis High senior quarterback and All-Area Football Player of the Year: "I am taking the Ravens winning by a score of 23-17. My team is the Patriots and my back-up team is the Ravens. … I have two Ray Lewis jerseys. I guess I'll have to bust one of those out. [I think] Ray Lewis' magic will kind of escort them to the Lombardi trophy."
Grant Owen, La Cañada defensive back and All-Rio Hondo League/All-Area selection: "I'm a Niners fan and I want to say them, but the Ravens are red hot right now and they have a lot they're playing for, but I am still going to go with the Niners on this one. The Ravens are playing inspired football right now, but I think the Niners will find a way to slow the Ravens down and Kaepernick is going to make some plays. I am thinking 27-13 Niners.
Final score: By the slimmest of margins, our team of prognosticators has San Francisco defeating Baltimore, with six votes to five.