NEW ORLEANS - The journey to this Super Bowl had many twists and turns.
It wound through bounties and replacement refs, eventually bringing the big game back to the Big Easy - with a replacement quarterback, a sibling rivalry and a grand exit for one of the NFL's greatest players, clouded by the obscure healing powers of deer-antler spray.
It is a Super Bowl of comebacks, of firsts and lasts, and - if San Francisco wins - a tie for the best.
A win over the Ravens today would give the 49ers six championships, matching Pittsburgh's titles in the Super Bowl era. Unlike the Steelers, the Niners have never lost one.
Of course, they haven't won one in 18 years, either.
"There's a tradition with the San Francisco 49ers, but I think these guys are paving their own way," said Hall of Fame receiver and three-time champion Jerry Rice. "They're playing with a lot of swagger."
Or as owner Denise DeBartolo York said, "We've come full circle, and the dynasty will prevail."
New Orleans has come full circle, too. Ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, losing a quarter of its population, abandoned by the Saints for an entire season, the city couldn't imagine hosting another Super Bowl. But as New Orleans recovered and rebuilt, it envisioned the Super Bowl returning.
The NFL agreed it was time to return. And even if commissioner Roger Goodell is despised here after slapping the Saints with suspensions and fines in the bounty scandal, the vibes from the French Quarter and Warehouse District this week have been supportive, even uplifting.
"It's also terrific for us to be back here in New Orleans," Goodell said, joking about voodoo dolls in his likeness. "Our 10th Super Bowl here, the first since Katrina, and it's clear this city is back bigger and better than ever."
There's the tale of the head coaching brothers, Baltimore's John and San Francisco's Jim, the first siblings to face off in a Super Bowl. And Ray Lewis, the pre-eminent linebacker of his generation on his self-proclaimed last ride.
"There are so many storylines to this game that make it bigger than just the Super Bowl," 49ers CEO Jed York said.
Take the quarterbacks, Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick.
Flacco is no fluke, holding the career record for road playoff wins with six. But until outplaying Peyton Manning and Tom Brady this year, he hadn't led the Ravens to the Super Bowl. He has eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in the postseason, padding a résumé that soon will make him one very highly paid quarterback: Flacco's contract expires after this game. Even if Baltimore applies the franchise tag, he would make about $14.6 million next season.
"I think when you talk about winning as quarterbacks in the playoffs," Flacco said, "I would think that all of them have Super Bowl victories. So that's really the only one that matters, and that's what we're trying to get."
So are the 49ers, whose midseason adoption of the pistol offense to best use Kaepernick's dynamic versatility added a dimension no one has been able to stop.
Kaepernick stands one victory from joining Joe Montana and Steve Young as a 49ers Super Bowl champion.
"It was tough watching this team do well and not being able to contribute," said Kaepernick, more recognized before his promotion for his collection of tattoos than for his strong arm and sprinter's speed.
The 49ers hope to take advantage in the same Superdome where they were at their most dominant, beating Denver 55-10 in 1990 in the biggest rout the Super Bowl has seen.
Rice expects San Francisco to win its sixth Super Bowl today.
"I just think we had players who played well in the big game," he said. "I think it's the same with these players."
Lewis will don the face paint, put on his No. 52 for the final time, and see if he can replicate the championship of a dozen years ago.
"You can never top the first one, because that's an unknown feeling," Lewis said before adding with a chuckle, eyes widening, "but a second one - that might be the only way you really can top it."
• What: Super Bowl XLVII, Ravens vs. 49ers
• Where: New Orleans
• When: 4:30 p.m.
• TV: Channel 13
• Radio: 1490-AM