By Larry Fine
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - The Baltimore Ravens arrived in New Orleans on Monday, a day later than their opponents for Sunday's Super Bowl, but inspired by a rousing farewell they received from their most dedicated supporters.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh was still beaming when he touched down with his team in the Big Easy and went straight to his first news conference ahead of Sunday's title game against the San Francisco 49ers.
"We had an incredible send-off down in the inner harbor today on our way to the airport," Harbaugh told a news conference.
"We had thousands, lots of thousands of people in a cold drizzle, in a January Chesapeake Bay afternoon and they were there all waiting for us and they went crazy."
Running back Ray Rice was also moved by the support the team got before making their departure for the warmer climate in Louisiana.
"It was cold and it was raining and our fans stuck through, just like they've done for us all season," said Rice, whose team lost four of their last five games before catching fire in the playoffs.
"There was gloomy days and we had nothing to lean on but our fans. It was special for them to send us off like that."
Even strong-armed Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, who operates with low-key assurance on the gridiron, was inspired.
"It was something, it was a lot of fun," said Flacco. "It was cool to see how many people in Baltimore showed up and are in our corner.
"It also gave you a sense of how cool it would be if we came down here and do the job the way we expect to. It gave you a sense of how cool it would be when we return."
The Ravens spent an extra day at home while the 49ers made the long trip from San Francisco on Sunday, to get over any jet lag.
Harbaugh said most of his preparation work was already done.
"We had a good practice this morning, we had meetings this morning and practice this morning. Things we sometimes do in the afternoon we did in the morning, so we had a normal Monday and we're going to work," he said.
"There's always work to do. They'll be working right up to game time, but we've laid out most of our plans now so we'll be fine-tuning what we're doing, trying to improve every day so that we'll be at our best on Sunday."
John Harbaugh, 50, will be going up against his brother Jim Harbaugh, who is just 15 months younger, in the first brother versus brother coaching match-up in a major North American team championship showdown.
The Ravens' Harbaugh has one little edge in having gone through the Super Bowl extravaganza once before as the special teams coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005 when they lost to the New England Patriots 24-21.
"I think going through the Super Bowl experience one time is a positive for a coach, and positive for a player," said the Ravens coach.
"You have a sense of the timing a little bit, How the week goes. You understand the potential distractions. And you understand the timing of the game.
Harbaugh said he did not carry many pointed memories away from the experience.
"I remember it was in Jacksonville and it was kind of cold that week," he recalled. "And that we didn't win. You never forget that."
(Editing by Julian Linden)