Today will be a day of celebration and disappointment in the Harbaugh household.
For the first time in any of the four major professional sports leagues in the U.S., two brothers face off as opposing coaches in a postseason game as John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens meet Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers for the National Football League championship in New Orleans.
Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. New York time at the Superdome, marking the 10th time the game has been played in New Orleans. While Jackie Harbaugh has joked it would be nice if the Super Bowl could end in a tie for her sons, the reality is that the Harbaugh family will experience a full range of emotion when the final seconds tick off the clock.
“We both want to desperately win and be a part of a championship,” Jim Harbaugh, who at 49 is 14 months younger than John, told reporters. “The great thrill of winning is there, but we understand the other side of that. We’ll do everything in our power to not let that happen.”
The 49ers are 3 1/2-point favorites to win their record-tying sixth title, according to Las Vegas oddmakers, who have predicted the winner in 32 of the previous 46 Super Bowls.
San Francisco is 5-0 in the Super Bowl, with the franchise’s last appearance after the 1994 season. The Ravens won their only previous trip in 2001 and have only one player left from that team, All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis, who has said he’s retiring from the NFL after this season.
Jim Harbaugh is in his second season with the 49ers and his 27 wins are tied for the third most for any coach over his first two seasons in the NFL. John Harbaugh’s eight postseason wins with Baltimore are tied with Tom Flores for the most by a coach in his first five NFL seasons. The brothers held a joint news conference in New Orleans, another first for Super Bowl coaches two days before the title game, which has received nicknames such as the “Harbowl” and the “Bro Bowl.”
“Anybody who has a brother, especially one that’s close in age, gets it,” John said this week. “You just grow up fighting for everything. You fight for the extra hotdog. You fight for girls. You fight for everything. We both got our girls, but we both want a victory this week.”
The Harbaughs last year became the first brothers to face each other as opposing coaches in a regular-season NFL game, with John and the Ravens emerging with a 16-6 win in Baltimore on Thanksgiving Day. After the game, their father Jack said he first looked in on the Ravens’ celebration and then went into the 49ers’ somber locker room to console his younger son, saying it was “where we were needed.”
“To experience that same emotion, walking across the hall, is something that I remember and am not looking forward to,” Jack Harbaugh, whom the brothers credit as the biggest influence on their coaching careers, said on a conference call.
Jack Harbaugh, 73, was a college football coach for 42 years, completing his career as a running backs coach for Stanford University in the 2009 Sun Bowl when Jim was the head coach for the Cardinal. The elder Harbaugh spent the 1961 season as a defensive back and quarterback for the New York Titans of the American Football League.
Family members have said they’ll wear neutral colors at the Superdome today, and some online sports books have set betting lines on how often “Harbaugh” will be said by CBS Corp.’s broadcasters during the telecast. The over/under for total number of mentions is 22.5, according to Las Vegas-based Pregame.com.
“It’s going to be fun,” John Harbaugh said. “But it’s two teams going against each other. It’s the players, those are the guys that really deserve the attention. Those are the guys who have really won the games to get here.”
Both Super Bowl coaches took in-season personnel risks that proved successful.
In Baltimore, the Ravens had a 9-4 record and held a two-game division lead when offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was fired and replaced by quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell. The Ravens, who had the league’s 18th-ranked offense before the change, have averaged 30 points a game in playoff wins against the Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots.
“We needed a little bit of a spark, I think we were starting to level out maybe a little bit,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. Caldwell “has done a great job in transitioning and making it as clean and crisp as possible.”
In San Francisco, the 49ers made a more drastic change, staying with second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith after the former No. 1 overall draft pick recovered from a concussion.
While Smith had completed an NFL-high 70.2 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns and five interceptions in the 49ers’ 6-2-1 start, Kaepernick’s playmaking ability as a passer and runner has reshaped San Francisco’s offense. Kaepernick, who rushed for an NFL quarterback-record 181 yards in his second playoff start, now joins Hall of Fame players Joe Montana and Steve Young in guiding the 49ers to a Super Bowl.
“The NFL is a business and you have to take advantage of the opportunity when you have it,” Kaepernick said.
Although only two other Super Bowl quarterbacks have made fewer regular-season starts than Kaepernick, he’s been listed by online sports books as the favorite to win the Most Valuable Player award. With an estimated $10 billion projected to be wagered on the game worldwide, according to Pregame.com, bookmakers have even set a line on how long the postgame handshake and hug between the Harbaugh brothers will last. The over/under is currently six seconds.
Regardless of which brother’s team wins, John Harbaugh said they won’t be consoling each other after the game.
“The other guy wouldn’t want to hear it anyway, just move on to the next one,” he said. “We’ll probably get a good golf game going sometime in the offseason and that will be good revenge for somebody.”