NEW ORLEANS -- The Baltimore Ravens won their second Super Bowl because they took a chance, and I don't mean taking Joe Flacco in the 2008 draft or their patience this season with an injured Ray Lewis. I'm talking about hiring John Harbaugh.
That was in 2008, when the Ravens did the improbable and offered a coach who basically was a special-teams coordinator an opportunity as a head coach. It was unexpected, it was a gamble, and it was a success.
In five years on the job, Harbaugh accomplished what nobody ... nobody ... has over the same time frame. Not only did he reach the playoffs every season; he won at least one playoff game every season, too. Furthermore, he's been to the conference championship game three of five years and just won his only Super Bowl appearance.
All that from someone nobody would hire as a head coach ... until, that is, Baltimore took the leap.
"I came in No. 2 for the UCLA job," Harbaugh said, "but they gave it to Rick Neuheisel. I got close on a couple of other job [openings], but with other jobs you couldn't even get an interview. It was funny because the UCLA thing didn't work out, but it wasn't a great fit for us. It would've been a great thing, but then a week later [Ravens GM] Ozzie [Newsome] calls about the Ravens.
"To me, it goes to show you that in life you just can't look at it like you've got to push things professionally or whatever. God's got plans and things -- that's why I keep saying it; at least that's my experience -- beyond your own ability to even dream or imagine what could happen. I can't even believe we're having this conversation, in all honesty."
But we are, and it's thanks to Baltimore's vision. The Ravens didn't see Harbaugh as a special-teams coach. They saw him as someone who had the discipline, confidence and imagination to take them to the next level, and they were right.
It was a bold move, and it was one that Harbaugh at the time hoped would open the door to more special-teams coaches. It hasn't, and maybe NFL owners should start thinking like the Ravens.
"For [Ravens owner] Steve Bisciotti to hire me ... I mean, who else would've done that?" Harbaugh asked. "To me, Steve Bisciotti is just a different kind of thinker. He doesn't look at things the way everybody else does. You sit down with him for five minutes, and you can see that. That's why he's been so successful."
Bisciotti had faith in Harbaugh, and Harbaugh had faith in himself. Put the two together, and you have the Baltimore Ravens at the top of the league for the first time since 2000. Granted, Bisciotti turned to Harbaugh after then-Dallas assistant Jason Garrett pulled out of the competition, but the fact is: He did it. He took a flyer on a long shot, and it paid off.
The Ravens are 63-30 under Harbaugh, 9-4 in the playoffs.
His best job, however, might have been this year when he pulled his team through a near midseason mutiny, a fourth-and-29, a change of offensive coordinators with three games left and Rahim Moore in Denver. Yet somehow, he overcame the odds -- and, yes, I mean that literally -- to get where he and the Ravens are now.
"[It's about] faith and trust," said Harbaugh. "Trust goes so far in one another. The ball could've bounced the other way. You could call it luck if you want, and probably a lot of people will. But I think adversity pushes teams, and people and families together or apart. And it pushed this team together."
Tough times certainly brought the team together in Super Bowl XLVII, and Harbaugh had some things to say about what happened then, too, as the Ravens held off the surging 49ers, coached by -- stop if you've heard this before -- brother Jim. For instance:
• On his anger after the lights went out: "The whole blackout thing ... I way overreacted. It wasn't anything to do with the blackout. The blackout had nothing to do with the game. The 49ers just outplayed us there for a stretch, and they played great. And we did not for a stretch in the game. I was just concerned about some things that had to do with the headsets and coaches in the press box and if we had to bring guys down. It was just stuff that was never going to be an issue because they handled it so well. It was just an overreaction on my part. I feel bad about it. It's the one thing I look back in the game, and I'm disappointed in myself about it because I didn't have very much poise in that moment."
• On if he was surprised not to see Colin Kaepernick carry the ball on San Francisco's last three snaps from the Baltimore 5: "Not at all. Because we didn't let him do it. We ran heavy run-defense on first down. Then we ran progressively more all-out blitzes on second, third and fourth downs. They would've run into a brick wall if they'd run the ball. We were bringing everybody."
• On how close he came to burning one of his three timeouts before the two-minute warning: "We had the conversation, and I wasn't sure it was the right thing. It was kind of a 50-50 deal. It turned out to be the right thing to do."
• On his players holding while punter Sam Koch took a safety to kill the clock: "That's the way it's taught. You're taught to hold and grab everybody. That's the way the play is done. You just have to get off the block and go get to him."
• On defending the read option: "We weren't perfect at it. We didn't do as good a job on the dive as we would've liked to. [Colin Kaepernick] slid outside a couple of times. A big part of that is that you've got to be able to dominate the guards up front, and their guards are so good. They can block your tackles. So your tackles can't get enough push, and that makes it tough on your linebackers. If they get the push up to the 'backer on a dive scheme, the back can run away from the 'backer a little bit. That's the interesting thing about the scheme. But how many times can you run that play? Because if you're going to hit the quarterback every play, which is what our goal was, you know ..."
He didn't have to finish. We get the idea. Harbaugh demonstrated he was as big as the moment by regrouping his team after a near 35-minute power outage and by making all the right moves at the end to keep players together when it appeared the Ravens were doomed.
Nevertheless, he didn't talk about those decisions afterward. Instead, he spoke about his brother as "the best coach in the world," something he reiterated Monday at a morning news conference. But Jim Harbaugh isn't 2-0 against his brother. John Harbaugh is. And Jim isn't the Harbaugh who just won a Super Bowl. John is.
So what does that say about him?
"I'm second-best," John said. "Look at the record."
That's my point. The Baltimore Ravens got it right when they took a chance on John Harbaugh. Maybe it's time that more teams follow their lead.