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Late For Work 12/23: Untold Story Behind Super Bowl Blackout


Untold Story Behind Super Bowl Blackout

You know most of the big names featured in Super Bowl XLVII – Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco, Jacoby Jones, Michael Crabtree,  Colin Kaepernick and, of course, the Harbaugh brothers – but there is a lesser-known name you should know:

Doug Thornton.

Thornton has run the Superdome since 1997 and is the executive vice president of stadiums and arenas for SMG, a venue management company. He's also the focal point of Sports Illustrated's latest edition in a series of untold Super Bowl stories they're rolling out as we countdown to Super Bowl 50 in February.

Super Bowl XLVII will forever be remembered for the bizarre 34-minute blackout near the beginning of the third quarter, and it still haunts Thornton. He wishes he could just forget the whole thing ever happened.

"In the aftermath, Thornton struggled to sleep," wrote SI's Greg Bishop. "He felt angry and depressed. He felt responsible for what had happened, for the longest 34 minutes of his life."

"It was like somebody punching you in the gut,"* *Thornton told Bishop. "And even though it wasn't our fault, it became our problem. That was the headline: BLACK EYE FOR THE CITY, BLACK CLOUD FOR THE SUPER BOWL. The whole thing bothered me for months."

For several weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, Thornton couldn't shake an ominous feeling in his gut. He couldn't figure out why the bad vibes, but they swirled in his stomach.

About 18 months before the nation was watching the championship game between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, representatives from Entergy, the company that supplies power to the Superdome, wanted to replace the switchgears in the venue's switchgear vault located a quarter of a mile from the stadium.

These switchgears supply power to two thick cables that run underground and feed into the Superdome. There's an A and B feed, each suppling power to one half of the stadium. Along with the new switchgears, Thornton approved installing two new copper cables. Together, the whole project cost* *about $5 million.

Thornton originally didn't want to replace the cables but an Entergy representative convinced him by saying, "we want to avoid the Candlestick moment," referring to two power outages in San Francisco in 2011 during a Steelers-49ers game.

Turns out, the same fate wouldn't be avoided.

The first half and the Beyoncé half-time show ran smoothly, and then during the third quarter, Thornton was sitting in the NFL Control room and he looked at his phone as his emails vanished.

"The hair on the back of my neck stood up," he says. "I had this eerie feeling."

60 Minutes Sports was doing a feature story at the time, and was in the control room when the lights went out and caught the moment on cameras. It was notably calm as they tried to diagnose the problem in the video below.

Thornton announced feed A went out, leaving half the stadium lit by feed B, and would take 20 minutes to restore.

Even after power was restored, nobody knew exactly what happened, not even Thornton. He couldn't even promise that it wouldn't happen again since he, nor Entergy representatives, could figure out what went awry. He couldn't give answers to NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell himself.

It wasn't until an investigation was done later that we learned this:

"In an incredibly nerdy nutshell: The switchgears installed by Entergy in preparation for the Super Bowl contained a device called a relay that was supposed to shut down the power supply if either feed reached a certain amperage," wrote Bishop. "The problem: The factory settings were too low. When the relay shut down the A feed on the night of the Super Bowl, it did, Thornton says, 'exactly what it was supposed to do.' The Superdome could have handled more power than the factory settings had allowed for."

What's crazy, based off these findings, is that Thornton realized what would have happened had they switched all the power to B feed like he suggested amidst the chaos of the blackout. Because of the faulty factory settings in those switchgears, feed B would have gone out too.

"Had that happened," Thornton said, "we would have had no lights."

For much more behind-the-scene details behind the blackout, check out Sports Illustrated's full 4,000-word feature.

Brandon Williams Is Ravens' Biggest Pro Bowl Snub

Congratulations to punter Sam Koch and guard Marshal Yanda for their Pro Bowl bids this year.

It marks Yanda's fifth Pro Bowl, putting him in elite Ravens company:

This marks Koch's first Pro Bowl invite, and it was a long time coming. He is the Ravens' 19th "homegrown" (either draft pick or undrafted free agent) Pro Bowler in the team's 20-year history.

But one person noticeably left off the list was defensive tackle Brandon Williams, who has been a defensive bright spot during a rough season. ESPN's Jamison Hensley listed Williams as a Pro Bowl "snub."

"In his second season as a starter, Williams is quickly establishing himself as one of the emerging interior defensive linemen in the league," Hensley wrote. "Williams, Detroit's Ndamukong Suh and Dallas' Nick Hayden are the NFL's only defensive tackles with at least 30 solo tackles, two sacks and two passes defensed this season. He's the anchor of the line that has held teams to 3.8 yards per carry, which is tied for fifth best in the league."

Brandon Williams was certainly deserving of Pro Bowl honors, shocked he didn't get a nod. Not even as an alternate. #Ravens — Brian Bower (@sportguyRSR) December 23, 2015

Marlon Brown Mystery

As the Ravens' list of players on injured reserve continues to grow (with the addition of tight end Crockett Gillmore it's ballooned to 19, tying a record high under Harbaugh), The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec wonders why one other person has yet to be added:

Wide receiver Marlon Brown.

"I'm sure the Ravens have a legitimate reason for not putting wide receiver Marlon Brown (back) on injured reserve by now, but it's been a little mystifying to me," wrote Zrebiec.

"Brown has missed four straight games and hasn't practiced in a month. Meanwhile, in the past two weeks, the Ravens have waived running back-kick returner Raheem Mostert and offensive guard Kaleb Johnson, two young players who Harbaugh said the organization liked and wanted to keep. The Cleveland Browns claimed both of them."

How Much Can Injuries Be Used As An Excuse?

There's no doubt that the Ravens have lost a chunk of their roster to season-ending injuries, including key offensive starters. The 19 players on injured reserved doesn't even count tight end Dennis Pitta, who hasn't played all year and is technically on the physically unable to perform list.

But WNST's Luke Jones doesn't think the injury excuse should be overemphasized when trying to explain the Ravens' 4-10 record. He points out that when the Ravens were 1-6 heading into the Week 8 matchup against the San Diego Chargers, there were still plenty of starters playing.

That list included quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Justin Forsett, wide receiver Steve Smith, center Jeremy Zuttah and Gillmore.

"My point?" asks Jones. "Injuries are certainly part of the story — particularly the early losses of Terrell Suggs and Perriman — but don't let anyone fool you into thinking that's the only — or even the most — significant explanation for the team's failures this year.

"It was apparent early in the season that a number of problems unrelated to injuries contributed to this nightmare season."

Disappointing Stretch For Givens

With mounting injuries at wide receiver, the Ravens traded for Chris Givens in early October to help fill the need to stretch the field. Since then, he's moved up to the No. 2 spot.

With ample opportunity to prove himself, Zrebiec feels Givens hasn't taken advantage of this time to show he deserves a roster spot next season.

"I]t’s been a [disappointing stretch for Givens, who has one catch or fewer in three of the past four games. Over the past two games, Jimmy Clausen has targeted Givens 10 times and completed just one pass," Zrebiec wrote.

As Zrebiec says, Givens has been in tough spot. He's had to learn a new offense and the quarterback position has been in flux ever since Flacco went down. But with so many receivers competing and standing out, including Kamar Aiken and Jeremy Butler, and others scheduled to come back from injury, the roster spots will be scarce.

"It's going to be tough for Givens to find his place in that group," wrote Zrebiec.

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