Super Bowl XLVII was setting up to be one of the dullest Super Bowls in recent history, a nostalgic throwback to the days when the Dallas Cowboys would routinely dismantle the Buffalo Bills, when something unexpected happened.
Down 28-6 to the Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had just taken a sack when the lights went off in the Mercedes Benz Superdome. A mere 34 minutes later - although it must have seemed like centuries for the TV analysts filling-in - the power came back on in New Orleans and with it returned the San Francisco offense. After scoring only two field goals prior to the power failure, the 49ers scored 17 unanswered points and looked poised to pull off the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. Suddenly, the media had its narrative: the 49ers had the momentum and it was all thanks to the power outage.
Unfortunately for those already writing their stories in their heads, and for those rooting for San Francisco as well one supposes, the "Blackout inspires miraculous 49ers comeback" headlines were not to be. Down just 34-29 with less than two minutes remaining, the 49ers were in a first and goal situation but were unable to score the necessary touchdown.In the end, the Ravens defeated the 49ers 34-31, the 49ers tacking on a meaningless-to-all-but-gamblers safety to account for the final score, leaving San Francisco fans despondent.
Now even had the San Francisco 49ers won Super Bowl 47, the idea that the blackout was a direct cause of their second half success seems a little ludicrous. The power outage was not the reason that Ravens running back Ray Rice fumbled the ball during a promising third quarter drive. It wasn't some nebulous blackout-related momentum that caused the Ravens to be called a penalty on a missed field goal kick by San Francisco's David Akers, giving Akers the chance for a successful do-over. The fact that the 49ers played better could simply be because they made adjustments during the halftime - they began their comeback on what was only their second possession of the second half - or even just mere regression to the mean. Simply put, the second half was likely to go different than the first because the 49ers were too good to be held to field goals for the entire game.
Whether or not the power outage had a concrete effect on the playing field, it was still the most memorable event of the evening. So then, why exactly did the lights go out? The initial statement from officials state that an "abnormality" in the power systems triggered an automatic shutdown, an explanation, which the Guardian's Paolo Bandini notes "says precisely nothing". How was America's biggest televised event of the year delayed for over an half-hour by something as mundane as a power failure? How could this just happen? What kind of "abnormality" could cause such an unprecedented event? Although there are no reports out yet that suggest any foul play, the situation lends itself to inevitable conspiracy theories. Certainly there is no shortage of potential suspects:
Rogue 49ers fans
The case for: Even though this writer is skeptical about the idea of blackout-driven momentum, if he were a 49ers fan he would have tried something, anything, to change his team's luck on Sunday night. Could 49ers fans, facing a large Ravens lead following Jacoby Jones's 108 yard kickoff return, have conspired to start the power outage in order to disrupt Baltimore or spark San Francisco? San Francisco residents have been known to resort to revolutionary tactics in the past. Could they have sabotaged the stadium and plunged the Superdome into darkness in a mad, possibly nearly successful, attempt to change their team's fortunes?
The case against: Did you hear that crowd? It's hard to think of 49ers diehards pulling this off surrounded by Ravens fans. Also: I'm fairly certain that the San Francisco residents who could afford the Super Bowl ticket prices were not the Abbie Hoffman-types.
Case for: Because it happened so soon after Beyonce's well-received halftime show, highlighted by her reunion with Destiny's Child, there has been thought that the amount of electricity that went into the show's razzle-dazzle had something to do with the resulting power outage.
Case against: You would think Beyonce would have had enough controversy after the last week or so. Also: even if Beyonce's show was at fault, it was the first decent halftime show in years, so she gets a pass.
Anarchist Saints fans
Case for: Fans in New Orleans are not happy with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for suspending several New Orleans Saints players, along with head coach Sean Payton, for their alleged roles in a bounty scandal. While New Orleans has expressed its dislike for Goodell in less diabolical, albeit more NSFW ways, would it be surprising if some of the more radical citizens decided to humiliate Goodell during the league's biggest game?
Case against: New Orleans, still in the process of rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, had more to lose than gain by sabotaging the Super Bowl. Plus, did anyone really want to risk the possibility that Goodell would punish the local NFL franchise by renaming them something dorky, like the New Orleans Pelicans? Heck, how embarrassed would these plotters be if they accidentally set in motion the creation of the Los Angeles Saints?
Case for: The Batman super-villain has been known to cause chaos at football games.
Case against: Bane is a fictional creation.
Case for: With an extra half-hour, CBS could have more airtime to run more ads, which means more money.
Case against: Which would make sense, except for the fact that they couldn't and didn't. The ads they already sold were for predetermined spots in the game, not to be wasted in a blackout period. The only thing CBS was able to sell during that half-hour was the CBS brand. And they did an awful job of it.
Case for: If we are to believe Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, and who is more trustworthy in matters of the soul than him, everything that the Ravens went through this year to get this Super Bowl win was part of God's plan. What could be a greater example of divine intervention than the stadium's electricity shutting down right when everything seemed to be going Baltimore's way? If you've read the Book of Job, you know that the Powers That Be aren't above throwing obstacles in the paths of the true believers, be they untimely electricity outages or news items involving deer antler extract.
Case against: Do we really really want to live in a world where God, or the Gods, actually intervene in sporting events but don't prevent deadly world disasters? It kind of sounds like a horrifyingly dark branch of gnostic theology that none of us could accept with without going stark raving mad. Come to think of it, this actually would help to explain a lot about Ray Lewis.
However the power outage came about, whether it was a mere accident or part of a larger, more sinister plot, there's no doubt that it was the most memorable part of Super Bowl XLVII. As ridiculous as these conspiracies may sound, it might be even more difficult to believe that the Super Bowl, the most thoroughly planned entertainment event of the year, could have been undone by something as commonplace as an accidental power failure. With all due respect to the Baltimore Ravens, this Super Bowl's legacy will be the moment when the year's most expensive television program was caught looking as unprepared and befuddled as the most low budgeted local broadcast.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © David Reber Hammer Photography