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Professional

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Associated Press
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick took over as the starter midway through the season.

A pair of first-timers calling signals in big game

In less than two weeks, the club will have a new member, and just in time, because the group was beginning to look like an old boys’ network.

The Baltimore Ravens’ Joe Flacco or the San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick will soon be a Super Bowl champion, a member of the NFL’s most elite fraternity. In the last 11 Super Bowls, the Vince Lombardi Trophy has been passed around among seven different quarterbacks. New England’s Tom Brady has three and the New York Giants’ Eli Manning and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger each have two titles. Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers each have one, along with former Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson.

These are the names that either Flacco or Kaepernick will soon join, and after the Ravens and 49ers tore through the playoffs, it’s difficult to know who has the early advantage.

“He just competes like a maniac all the time,” Kaepernick’s coach, Jim Harbaugh, said Sunday, “in practice and in games. It’s always the same when I’m looking in through the facemask.”

Flacco has been criticized and questioned throughout his five-year career. Is he elite or not? Can he lead his team to greatness, or will he always fall short? Flacco was nearly perfect Sunday evening, and he’ll likely need a similar performance against the 49ers if he is to take on membership in the fraternity of championship quarterbacks.

Both men will, of course, be asked to carry a heavy burden. This is the reality of the Super Bowl and today’s NFL. One will emerge as a clutch leader, a champion who has been waiting for his day, and the other will fall short. Questions will follow the loser, and future postseason appearances will come with added pressure.

In the modern football landscape, playoff winners and Super Bowl teams score a lot of points. Defenses no longer win championships, but they give their offenses a chance to make something happen.

The 49ers averaged more than 36 points in their two playoff wins, and the Ravens averaged 30 in three victories to reach the title game.

Still, both the Ravens and 49ers have strong defenses and will hope for big plays, if not lean on them. San Francisco was third in total defense during the regular season, allowing 294.4 yards per game, and outside linebacker Aldon Smith was second in the league with 19 1/2 sacks.

Baltimore, known for years as one of the league’s top defenses, slipped this season and advanced in the postseason in spite of that. Linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed are aging, and linebacker Terrell Suggs had injuries throughout 2012.

Reed said after his team’s 28-13 victory against New England that, despite the shortcomings and setbacks, Coach John Harbaugh rallied the Ravens.

“He had a vision of working us a certain way and taking us through something, to build something, to create this moment,” Reed said. “And we believed it, but it was just something we had to go through as men and understanding each other, to understand the process together.”

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