‘Harbowl’ Hitting Home for Family
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh answers questions from reporters during a media availability at the team's training facility in Owings Mills, Md., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. The Ravens are scheduled to face the San Francisco 49ers in NFL football's Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on Sunday, Feb. 3. (AP Photo/Gail Burton).
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh speaks to reporters during an NFL football news conference at the team's training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. The 49ers are scheduled to play the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on Sunday, Feb. 3. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Inside the Louisiana Superdome, somewhere away from the partisans and party-goers who will make up the majority of the crowd, there will be a family section unlike any other in the history of the National Football League.
Never before have two coaches from the same family faced each other in a Super Bowl, but brothers John and Jim Harbaugh will do it on Sunday night, when the Baltimore Ravens play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
Seated in one of the boxes that ring the inside of the dome, the Harbaugh family will take in the game, wishing somehow, some way the game could end in a tie.
It will be history in the making for the two brothers, but it won’t be the first time their parents, sister and extended family have lived through the counterintuitive experience of not wanting one team to beat the other.
In fact, it was just 14 months ago that they last did it. That’s when John’s Ravens beat Jim’s 49ers, 16-6, in Baltimore on Thanksgiving Day 2011.
“These are difficult times in football when you are playing against your own brother, and a lot of brothers in the NFL have experienced that,” Jackie Harbaugh, John and Jim’s mother, said Thursday in a media conference call with her husband, Jack, and daughter, Joani. “But at the end of the day, it is still about family and your feelings for one another, and that is what came through at the Thanksgiving game.”
That first meeting came a day before Jack and Jackie’s 50th wedding anniversary.
Jack, who spent roughly four decades coaching college football, has cheered his sons on since they could first stand on their own two feet. He has congratulated them when they have won and consoled them when they have lost. They are connected both as father and sons and as coaches.
Jim served under Jack at Western Kentucky from 1994-’01, and Jack served under Jim at the University of San Diego from 2004-’06 and at Stanford in 2009. John served under Jack at Western Michigan from 1982-’86 and with him at Pittsburgh in ‘87.
When John beat Jim on Thanksgiving Day, Jack and Jackie made their way down to the locker rooms to see their sons.
“I peeked into the Raven locker room and they were ecstatic, the guys jumping up and down, and the smile on John’s face and the thrill of victory — that type of thing we hear so often,” Jack recalled. “I thought to myself, ‘We really aren’t needed here; this looks like it is pretty well taking care of itself.’
“I walked across the hall there in Baltimore and went into the 49ers’ locker room. It was quiet and somber, and finally I saw Jim, all by himself, no one around him. He still had his coaching thing on, and his hands on his head, and we realized that is where we were needed.”
Both Jackie and Joani said that the family would be wearing neutral colors on game day.
Joani’s husband is Tom Crean, the former Marquette basketball coach who is now at Indiana. He has become close with both brothers over the 20 years he has been married to Joani, and they have talked coaching philosophy many times.
Crean said he would be able to attend the game and admitted it was going to be difficult for him to see one of them lose.
“We won’t be rooting for anybody,” Crean said this week. “It’s interesting, because we have a vested interest in both. We won’t be rooting for an interception or a touchdown or a sack. It’s very different than it would be normally.”
As Jack said, it’s inevitable that one team will celebrate victory and the other feel the sting of defeat, “and we know we are going to experience that next week.”
The one thing they do know is that the outcome won’t affect the brothers’ relationship. They saw that after the Thanksgiving Day game.
“We saw Jim and all of the hugs and talked about some of our feelings, and John came out and ran down to the busses to find Jim and talk to him briefly,” Jackie said. “It just was, again, the epitome of how everyone as a family feels about each other, and all we always tried to raise one another up.”