This evening's Super Bowl, which pits the Baltimore Ravens against the San Francisco 49ers, raises an obvious question: if a real Corvus corax fought a real 19th-century California gold panner, who would win? We talked to experts and did some research to find out.

The Matchup

It's an important thing to think about, given that this is the first bird-human Super Bowl matchup since 2009's Steelers-Cardinals game. The Steelers won the football version of this match, and it seems likely that human steelworkers could have beaten cardinals in a fight, since steelworkers are well-fed and strong and cardinals are stupid, and small. But ravens? Ravens are bigger, smarter, and more vicious; they eat meat and solve problems, while the 49ers were ill-fed and overworked.

Let's break it down.


PhotoIf a Real Raven Fought a Real 49er, Who Would Win?If a Real Raven Fought a Real 49er, Who Would Win?
OccupationGold pannerBird
NationalityAmericanNorthern hemisphere
Weight140 lbs2.3 lbs49er
Special SkillsGold panningFlightRaven
WeaponShovelTalons, beakRaven
Final Tally3249er

Seems like a clear 49er victory, given the size advantage.

And yet...

As part of our extensive research for this piece, we reached out to experts in the field, asking them to weigh in on this hypothetical matchup, and received intriguing answers like "I have no answer" (Bob Ringer of the Maryland Ornithological Society) and "I'll have to take a pass on this one" (Dr. Malcolm Rohrbough, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Iowa and author of Days of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the American Nation).

But one professional was brave enough to give us an answer: Dr. Richard Kopley, an English professor at Penn State University, who reminds us that the raven of the Baltimore Ravens is no ordinary Corvus corax but rather a literary figure, and the question requires a literary analysis, which we've reproduced below:

If ‘The Raven' is prophetic, then perhaps the Ravens will win. For Poe's raven is an emblem of "Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance," That would make the 49er the poem's sorrowful narrator, forever in the bird's shadow, to whose hopes the only word spoken would be "Nevermore." Yet we should also note that, according to the Poe scholar T. O. Mabbott, the occasion for Poe's 1849 poem "Eldorado" was the Gold Rush. If "Eldorado" is prophetic, then perhaps the 49ers have a remote chance — if they're able to "Ride, boldly ride" "Over the mountains/ Of the Moon,/ Down the Valley of the Shadow" to find Eldorado.

The winner

It's anyone's call.