For years now, I've written this column as a public service to those people who might be watching the Super Bowl but don't know which team to support.
Usually, it's aimed at the casual fan or the party-goer who perhaps hasn't watched any playoff games - or football games period - and doesn't much care what happens between the commercials. But this year it could be harder for more attentive fans too, thanks to a mix of apathy and potentially negative feelings toward the teams involved.
With plenty of exceptions, Mid-Ohio Valley residents generally support the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns or Cincinnati Bengals. Those teams are all division rivals of one of the contenders in Super Bowl XLVII, the Baltimore Ravens. There's no love lost between the Ravens and Steelers, but the Browns' rivalry runs even deeper, since the Ravens used to be the Browns until they moved to Baltimore, leaving Cleveland without a team for a while.
Some Cincinnati fans
may still have a reflexive disdain for the Ravens' opponent Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers, who defeated the Bengals in both of their Super Bowl appearances. Sure that was more than 20 years ago, but sports fans can hold long grudges.
But if you, like me, find it hard to remain neutral while watching a football game, or just don't know which side of the room to sit on and lack a coin to flip, here is my five-point test to determine which team you should back. If you disagree with my assessment, score the criteria your own way.
And with brothers John and Jim Harbaugh coaching the Ravens and 49ers, respectively, perhaps this also could be useful to their parents as an objective method to pick who to root for when push comes to shove.
GEOGRAPHY: You can always adopt a "home" team for the evening by picking the one closest to you. I could call this without consulting MapQuest, but, hopefully, the numbers will make me sound smarter: Baltimore is about 330 miles from Marietta, while San Francisco is more than 2,500 miles west.
RAVENS 1, 49ERS 0
COLLEGES: Even if the teams are from outside the region, some of the players might have played at colleges with a local following. How do the teams stack up in terms of Ohio State, Ohio University, West Virginia and Marshall alumni?
No Mountaineers or Bobcats are on either squad, there are four Buckeyes and four Thundering? um, Herd members. And six of them are on one team.
The Ravens have backup linebacker Albert McClellan and reserve safety Omar Brown from my alma mater, Marshall. Four Ohio State players - starting guard Alex Boone and safety Donte Whitner, along with punt returner Ted Ginn Jr. and backup linebacker Larry Grant - are on the 49ers, along with a Marshall contingent of back-again wideout Randy Moss and reserve safety C.J. Spillman.
49ERS 1, RAVENS 1
UNIFORMS: Which team is more aesthetically pleasing? Years ago, the Steelers, Raiders and Saints were the only teams sporting black uniforms, but now more and more clubs feature it, along with darker colors. I give the nod to San Francisco's classic red and gold over the Ravens' purple and black.
49ERS 2, RAVENS 1
STORYLINE: Another method of determining allegiance is figuring out who would be the heroes if the game was a movie.
An argument can be made for the 49ers, with their relatively quick ascension from mediocrity and outright ineptitude since Jim Harbaugh arrived last season, plus quarterback Colin Kaepernick's rise from near-obscurity to potential superstardom.
But I think the Ravens have a slight edge here. Even if you throw out linebacker Ray Lewis' much-ballyhooed impending retirement (which some celebrate and others deride due to his involvement in a murder case in 2000, for which he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice), Baltimore has other elements working for them.
They defied experts' predictions to even reach the Super Bowl and are once again underdogs on Sunday. Plus, quarterback Joe Flacco also has a chance to silence a lot of doubters about his ability, not unlike how Eli Manning proved himself "elite" in last year's game.
RAVENS 2, 49ERS 2
MASCOT: So it all comes down to this, and at first glance, it's a push. The 49ers take their name from the folks who headed west during the gold rush years. The Ravens' moniker was inspired by Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote his poem, "The Raven," while living in Baltimore. Both are original and appropriate to their cities.
The next test of mascots: Which one would win in a fight? Hey, it's a physical game. I'll take the stereotypical crazed prospector with a pickaxe over the bird, no matter how creepy it might be.
49ERS 3, RAVENS 2