Super Bowl is the biggest annual sporting event on the planet, but that was not enough to stop the Sunday spectacular being brought to a dramatic and shuddering halt by a huge power cut.
The incident sparked outrage over why, despite staggeringly-expensive advertising slots and record-high ticket prices, “the greatest show on Earth” could not be run without a hitch.
As the clash approached its nerve-tingling climax, the 76,000-seater stadium was suddenly plunged mid-play into near-total darkness for more than half an hour.
Spectators watching from the stands, who had paid an average of $3,000 for the privilege, were in an instant left with no football and no explanation.
Meanwhile, advertisers wondered if the 30-second commercial for which they had shelled out up to $4 million to air during the game’s closing stages would be shown at all.
Indeed, with millions of football fans in Europe and across the world staying up into the early hours of Monday to watch the game, it was unclear how much of their audience been lost to the blackout. With no idea when, if at all, play would resume, many television viewers simply gave up and went to bed.
The Baltimore Ravens had been cruising along with a 28-6 lead when the power to the New Orleans Superdome suddenly shut down early in the third quarter.
For 34 minutes, the players tried to stay loose, the fans milled about in darkened corridors, and stadium officials scrambled to figure out what went wrong.
Finally, after a nervous wait in all camps, the power was switched back on and the Ravens hung on for a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, needing a goal-line stand in the closing minutes to preserve the championship.
“It really hurt us,” Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach said.
“We had lot of momentum.”
About two hours after the game, officials revealed that an ‘abnormality’ in the power system triggered an automatic shutdown, forcing backup systems to kick in. But they weren’t sure about the source of the problem.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu called the outage “an unfortunate moment in what has been an otherwise shining Super Bowl week for the city of New Orleans”.
The outage provided a major glitch to what has largely been viewed as a smooth week for the city, which was hosting its first Super Bowl since 2002 and was eager to show off how it has been rebuilt since Hurricane Katrina.
But there is sure to be some fallout for the city and the 41-year-old Superdome – especially since New Orleans plans to bid for the title game in 2018, in conjunction with the 300th anniversary of its founding.
“In the coming days, I expect a full after-action report from all parties involved,” Mitch Landrieu said.
Escalators stopped working and credit-card machines shut down, though auxiliary power kept the playing field and concourses from going totally dark.
“We sincerely apologize for the incident,” Superdome spokesman Eric Eagan said.
Most fans seemed to take the outage in stride, even starting up the wave to pass the time.
In the absence of any concrete information about the outage, jokes began to pour in on Twitter.
Several fans jokingly blamed the outage on Beyonce’s electric – and electricity-intensive – halftime show.
A joint statement from Entergy New Orleans, which provides power to the stadium, and Superdome operator SMG shed some light on the chain of events, which apparently started at the spot where Entergy feeds power into the stadium’s lines. The problem occurred shortly after Beyonce put on a halftime show that featured extravagant lighting and video effects.
“A piece of equipment that is designed to monitor electrical load sensed an abnormality in the system,” the statement said.
“Once the issue was detected, the sensing equipment operated as designed and opened a breaker, causing power to be partially cut to the Superdome in order to isolate the issue. … Entergy and SMG will continue to investigate the root cause of the abnormality.”
The FBI quickly ruled out terrorism, and the New Orleans Fire Department dismissed reports that a fire might have been the cause.
On the CBS broadcast, play-by-play announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms went silent. Sideline reporter Steve Tasker announced to viewers a “click of the lights” as the problem. Later, the halftime crew anchored by host James Brown returned to fill the time with football analysis.
“We lost all power up here at the press box level,” Jim Nantz said after power was restored. He and Phil Simms were off the air for most of the outage.
The failure occurred shortly after Jacoby Jones returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a 108-yard touchdown, the longest play in Super Bowl history and pushing the Ravens to a commanding lead. But when play resumed, the momentum totally changed.
The Niners scored two straight touchdowns and nearly pulled off a game-winning drive in the closing minutes. They had first down inside the Ravens 10, but Baltimore kept them out of the end zone to preserve the victory.
The blackout, it turned out, became more of a footnote than a spark to what would have been the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
“It just took us longer to lose,” moaned San Francisco linebacker Ahmad Brooks.
No one could remember anything like this happening in the title game, but it wasn’t unprecedented.
Just last season, the Niners endured two power outages during a Monday night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Candlestick Park.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” San Francisco safety Dashon Goldson said.
“I just tried to keep my legs warmed up.”
The Ravens felt the delay turned what looked like a blowout into a close game. Safety Ed Reed said some of his teammates began to fret as the delay dragged on.
“The bad part is we started talking about it,” he said.
“Some of the guys were saying, <<They’re trying to kill our momentum>>. I was like, <<There’s two teams on the field>>. But once we started talking about it, it happened. We talked it up.”
A few of the Ravens threw footballs around to stay loose. Others took a seat on the bench, or sprawled out on the turf.
“I was a little stiff when I got back out there,” Baltimore running back Ray Rice conceded.
“I’m just glad we were able to finish the game and be world champions.”
Finally, the lights came back on throughout the dome and the game resumed.