When you grow up with siblings, it is a natural instinct to compete with them. For young boys, these competitions often take place in the backyard or the driveway.
The dream of facing off in the biggest game on the biggest stage with you on one sideline and your brother on the other was fulfilled this year. Jim and John Harbaugh, only separated by a mere 15 months in age, lived out this fantasy last weekend on Super Bowl Sunday. We all know what happened as John’s Ravens were victorious over Jim’s 49ers, 34-31, but this is not about that game. This is about two brothers whose dream of being in the Super Bowl started in the backyard and landed in New Orleans.
Jim and John are the sons of Jack Harbaugh who was also a successful coach at the college level, leading Western Kentucky to the NCAA FCS National Championship in 2002. The Harbaugh family got so much publicity in the two weeks leading up to the Big Game, their parents held their own press conference.
Let’s start with the older brother, John Harbaugh. John was often on defense growing up, playing collegiately at Miami University. His playing days as a defensive back ended with his college career, but his coaching career was just beginning.
He started out at Western Michigan in 1984 and moved from one college program to another through 1997. Most coaches specialize in either offense or defense but John showed his tremendous knowledge for the game in coaching running backs, linebackers, tight ends, and special teams as well as the secondary. His stops included four years at Western Michigan, one at Pittsburgh and Morehead State, eight at Cincinnati, and a single year at Indiana before the NFL came calling.
The Philadelphia Eagles hired John in 1998 and spent nine years as the special-teams coordinator under head coach Andy Reid. In 2007, his request to move up the coaching chain was fulfilled when he became the Eagles defensive-backs coach. A year later in January of 2008 the Baltimore Ravens came calling and John’s first head coaching job was finally attained.
In his first five seasons at the helm, John Harbaugh enjoyed tremendous success. He recorded five straight winning seasons, compiling a 54-26 career record, and doing something that had never been done before in winning a playoff game during each of his first five seasons.
While John Harbaugh jumped right from college into coaching, his younger brother, Jim, enjoyed a little more success as a player. He went to the University of Michigan to play quarterback, leading the team to the 1987 Rose Bowl in his senior year. He played in the NFL from 1987 to 2000, for various teams including the Bears, Colts, Ravens, and Chargers. For eight of those seasons, Jim served as an assistant coach under his father at Western Kentucky on top of playing on Sundays.
In 2002, he joined the Oakland Raiders coaching staff as the quarterbacks coach. He got his first head coaching gig two years later when he spent three years at the University of San Diego. Next he swapped Southern California for Northern California when Stanford hired him, where he stayed until the 49ers swayed him to the NFL four years later.
As I am sure you know, both Harbaughs came within one game of meeting last year when the Ravens fell to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game and the 49ers lost in overtime to the Giants in the NFC Title Game.
Had both the Ravens and 49ers won those games it would have marked the second time in three months that the brothers squared off. On Thanksgiving Night, the two led their respective teams into a nationally televised contest that was anything but a traditional family gathering. John’s Ravens got the best of Jim’s Niners in a defensive struggle, 16-6.
This time around, the brothers stole all the headlines from Baltimore to San Francisco for two weeks, with both classily dismissing any notion that the game was about the two of them; they instead turned the focus towards their players.
With the game’s result still fresh in everyone’s minds, both coaches admitted to the difficulty in having to coach against one another with one being the victor and the other defeated. John, the winning coach, expressed his feelings perfectly following the game.
“It was total elation and total devastation at the same time.” When the two met at midfield as the final second ticked off the clock, John said three words to his brother, “I love you.”
I think as time passes, the brothers will begin to appreciate the accomplishment of both getting to the Super Bowl. At the end of the day who else would you rather be coaching against in the Super Bowl than your very own brother?
Jackie and Jack Harbaugh enjoyed the ride, a point they made clear at their press conference leading up to the Super Bowl. They expressed how proud they were of both sons and even came up with a family theme that described their viewpoint on the whole thing.
“Who has it better than us?”
Riley Wallace is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a journalism minor. He can be reached at RW718681@wcupa.edu.