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National Columnist

A 49ers' shocker after the blackout? We'd never hear the end of it

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Thank God the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl. Can you imagine the alternate reality we'd face today, and for the next 12 months -- hell, for the next 12 years -- if they hadn't won?

I'm talking about the blackout, of course. The blackout, followed by the fallout had the San Francisco 49ers roared all the way back from that 28-6 deficit to win our biggest annual sporting event -- an event trumped in this country only by a presidential election.

Imagine the conspiracy theories. You saw what we did when a linebacker at Notre Dame got catfished by some dude with vocal talent and time on his hands. We went nuts. For a week or more, Manti Te'o was the biggest story in the country. It was insane, and I'm not pointing fingers at you -- I contributed to it. I contributed too much to it, in hindsight, but that's a story for another day.

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That day might never come if the 49ers had beaten the Ravens. Who would have time to write about a catfished linebacker, or spring training, or the Final Four or the Masters or the NBA Finals, if we were still dealing with the fallout from the biggest NFL story of all time?

That's what a 49ers victory in Super Bowl XLVII would have been, I think: The biggest NFL story of all time. Not because of the comeback, but because of the blackout that triggered it. We freaked out over Spygate. We freaked out over Bountygate. Concussions are a big story, and getting bigger. The Junior Seau suicide was tragic, enormous, and enormously tragic.

But nothing would have compared to Blackoutgate, had the 49ers won this game.

Who pulled the Superdome plug with the Ravens leading 28-6 and about to turn the wildly anticipated Battle of Brothers into a Jim Harbaugh wedgie? We'd want to know, because we'd assume somebody did it. Somebody pulled the plug.

These things don't just happen. Not in a game as big as this. The Ravens were winning by three touchdowns in the third quarter, then the lights go out, and here come the 49ers -- all the way back for the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. And that just sort of happened? Nah, it didn't just happen.

Somebody did that.

Was it my company, CBS? We invested billions in this Super Bowl. Ratings were going to be a bonanza, and we were able to charge $3.8 million for a 30-second commercial. If the ratings took a nosedive thanks to this Baltimore beatdown, maybe we take a hit. Maybe the company has to save money and comes looking for people to lay off. The online division makes for a nice target. Does anyone know where I was at 7:36 p.m. local time Sunday? I wasn't at my seat in the press box when the lights went out. Where was I?

Nah, wasn't me. Wasn't us. But the network that will show the 2014 Super Bowl, Fox, could've done this. They'll want to charge $3.8 million for a 30-second commercial too -- truth is, they'd like to charge $4 million -- but they can't do it if nobody watched the second half of the 2013 Super Bowl. Maybe they sent somebody to snip a few Superdome wires. Slow the Ravens' momentum. Give the 49ers a chance to regroup.

Could've been gamblers, actually. A record $98.9 million was wagered in Vegas, with one person betting $1 million by himself -- on the 49ers, of course. That one bettor, whoever it was, "is the reason [the point spread of 4.5 points was] a little long on the 49ers," a Vegas casino vice president said.

But it wasn't just one gambler going all-in on the 49ers. The Wynn Las Vegas casino estimated 15 or 20 different people would wager at least $100,000 on the game. Could've been one of them. A desperate or unstable person -- who else wagers that kind of money on a single game? -- does desperate, unstable things. Had the 49ers come all the way back, and covered the spread, somebody somewhere would have wanted to know how.

How did the blackout happen? Well, Superdome officials were concerned about electrical issues a few months ago, noting in October that the dome's electrical feeders had "some decay and a chance of failure." According to a second memo in December, dome officials still were hoping "to ensure that we do not experience any electrical issues during the Super Bowl."

Baltimore won but the blackout still matters, of course. The NFL wants to know how it happened and why, but the Ravens' victory almost assuredly saved New Orleans from being dumped as a Super Bowl host city. On Monday morning NFL commissioner Roger Goodell assured city leaders, "I fully expect that we will be back here for Super Bowls."

But that was the Monday morning after the Ravens, who led 28-6 before the blackout, had held on for a 34-31 victory. What about an alternate Monday morning, one that follows a Sunday night in which electrifying 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick doesn't throw three incompletions from the 5-yard line but is instead allowed to win the game with his legs? What does Roger Goodell tell city leaders on that Monday, after a Superdome blackout caused a momentum shift that resulted in the most shocking comeback in Super Bowl history?

Who knows. Maybe Goodell tells New Orleans that it can continue its post-Katrina surge without the 150,000 visitors who come to town for the Super Bowl, leaving behind an expected $432 million economic boost.

Nobody wanted the Ravens to win 45-13, which is where this game seemed to be headed before the blackout. But I'll tell you another thing -- nobody wanted the 49ers to come all the way back and win. Nobody outside of the 49ers fan base, I mean. A comeback like that, a victory like that, a story like that ... it raises too many questions. It births too many conspiracy theories. No, almost everyone needed the Ravens to hold on and win.

Kind of makes you wonder why pass interference wasn't called when Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith mugged Michael Crabtree on fourth-and-goal ...


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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