NEW ORLEANS -- Predicting who will be named Super Bowl MVP is usually easy. Go with the winning quarterback. Or the running back. Or wide receiver.
Not this year. The MVP in Super Bowl XLVII will be a defensive player. In the previous 46 games, that has happened only seven times. It is bound to happen again Sunday.
That's not a guess. It's logic. Check the NFL statistics for the 2012 regular season. The defensive categories are wallpapered with 49ers and Ravens.
You probably have heard of Ray Lewis. He is the Ravens linebacker who will retire after this game as the NFL's most sinister-yet-admired action hero. Lewis won the Super Bowl MVP award 12 years ago in the Ravens' only other trip to the game.
My pick for the MVP, however, is someone who plays the same position on the 49ers' side of the ball: Patrick Willis. If he and his defensive teammates take a starring role against Baltimore, that would also fall squarely in line with 49ers championship tradition -- no matter how many grainy highlights you have seen of Joe Montana conquering the NFL galaxy with his light-saber arm.
Yes, Montana was fabulous. Yes, he deserves to be a football immortal, as do Jerry Rice and Steve Young and Roger Craig. But you can make a case that the 49ers' defensive unit provided the turning points in each of the team's first three Super Bowl victories:
I wondered last week if any current 49ers defenders had seen those stunning 49ers defensive Super Bowl moments.
"No, never have," said safety Dashon Goldson, adding that he's not much of a fanboy when he's not in uniform.
"I didn't even watch last year's game," Goldson said. "But look, what those guys did back then was great, and they won those games. Right now, we're trying to think about what we need to do to win ours."
Carlos Rogers, another 49ers defensive back, had similar sentiments. He was born six months after the goal-line stand. He was 3 years old when the 49ers vanquished Marino. Rogers admitted he's no football historian. That's true of most current players.
Ah, but I did locate at least one 49ers player who cares greatly about the team's defensive legacy over the decades. That would be Willis.
Two summers ago, a friend gave Willis a series of NFL Films DVDs about the Super Bowls, called "America's Game." Willis naturally cued up the 49ers' victories first.
"I remember watching those plays you're talking about," Willis said. "I saw the goal-line stand. I saw the hits. And you just say to yourself, 'Man those are amazing plays, and man, they won it all.' It's just a little bit more motivation when you're working out. I put it on the screen and watch it as I'm working out."
That's a nice image. It's hard to compare football players and teams of today with those of 30 years ago. And the 49ers' defense of 1984 was especially awesome, on paper even better than this 2012 team. But if Willis ends up on the highlight DVD of this game and the 49ers' defense plays a role in the victory, you can start talking about it being the best ever.
For the record, the Super Bowl's last defensive MVP was Dexter Jackson of Tampa Bay. He won the honor with two first-half interceptions against Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon to help trigger the Buccaneers' 48-21 rout. That was 10 years ago. So we're due for another MVP defender.
Also for the record, in Las Vegas you can get odds of 7-1 that Lewis will win the MVP in the Superdome. That's the exact same odds listed for 49ers running back Frank Gore. Meanwhile, Willis and teammate Aldon Smith are both 50-1.
I know where I'd put my money.