Ravens fans had waited 12 years for another Super Bowl victory, and they packed the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, dwarfing 49ers rooters in both numbers and volume.
They about blew the roof off the stadium when Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco flicked his first touchdown pass as the team began its march to a commanding halftime lead. Then Baltimore — the team and its fans — held on for dear life.
Down by 22 points early in the second half, the 49ers staged a furious comeback that fell just short as the Ravens held on to win, 34-31.
"How could it be any other way?" Ravens coach John Harbaugh said on the field afterward. "It's never pretty. It's never perfect. But it is us."
It was a wild night on the field and off. The power inexplicably went out at the Superdome in the third quarter, plunging the cavernous arena into semi-darkness and delaying the game for more than half an hour.
Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones, a son of New Orleans, set a Super Bowl record with an electrifying 108-yard kickoff return, not long after hauling in a bomb of a touchdown pass from Flacco.
And Flacco delivered a performance that will put him just behind Johnny Unitas in the memories of Baltimore fans, tossing three touchdowns in the first half and earning Super Bowl MVP honors.
"We don't make anything easy," Flacco said. "It was a hard-fought game on both sides. I think we gave the country a pretty good game to watch. Not to our liking necessarily, but that's the way it goes sometimes and that's the way we do things."
After the win, celebrations erupted in the French Quarter and in Fells Point, where some people swung from light posts as drivers blared their horns. Fans will have another chance to fete the Ravens on Tuesday with a parade set to start at 11 a.m. from City Hall, city officials said.
The victory put an exclamation point on the unparalleled career of linebacker Ray Lewis and gave special bragging rights to Harbaugh, who faced his younger brother, Jim, in the first fraternal coaching match-up in Super Bowl history.
Lewis played in the Ravens' debut game at Memorial Stadium and after 17 years of controversy, strutting dances and brilliant defensive play, he ended his ride on the biggest stage in football. He was the only player left on the field Sunday who also played in the Ravens' previous Super Bowl victory in 2001.
"How else would you finish that off but with a goal-line stand?" Lewis said of preventing the 49ers from scoring a touchdown in the final minutes. "And we finished that off. We kept them out of the end zone on the two-yard line. That is championship football."
The Harbaugh brothers shared a bedroom for 16 years, their lives divided by a piece of tape that bisected the space. Jim was always the superstar, playing quarterback in the NFL and zooming up the coaching ranks while John doggedly accumulated experience over 24 years as an assistant.
But in the Superdome, it was John who beamed amid falling confetti as Jim left the field in defeat, sure to be consoled by his father, Jack, a longtime college coach and role model for both brothers.
As time expired, fans began celebrating in the Superdome stands. "Our heads are about to blow off," exulted Shawn Marvel, 47, of Nottingham, alongside his girlfriend Katie Halen, 45, of Lewes, Del.
Silver confetti streams and purple lights seemed to mirror the thrill of Ravens fans, who saw the team's dominant early lead stall during a 34-minute power outage, and the 49ers nearly come back when power and play resumed.
"We're just glad to be part of a game with Ray Lewis. We love him. We love the whole Baltimore Ravens organization," said Marvel, a food company salesman. "There is love all over the universe for the Ravens. We're so happy to be here."
The game's dramatic finish nearly wiped out James Bond, 47, a Towson native who lives in Washington. He went from clutching his heart in the final seconds of the game, unable to talk to his friends, to throwing his arms in the air with a big shout — "Yea!" — when the Ravens won.
"It stopped beating a little," said Bond, tapping his chest underneath the Mardi Gras beads hanging from his neck. He was hardly the only one barely able to watch the final, heart-stopping minutes. "He was 37 when he walked in here, and he had a full head of hair," Bond joked about his friend, David Raszewski, who is in fact 47 and has less than a full head of hair.
Outside the stadium, the party had begun long before the game even started.