Super Bowl story lines are easy to come by. There is the heart warming, the inspirational, the semi-musical and the bizarre (ok, this one isn’t a Super Bowl story, but imagine the media frenzy if Manti Te’o was playing in this game.) This year yields the rarest of sports stories: a first.
John and Jim Harbaugh (the former coaches the Ravens, the latter the 49ers) are the inaugural brothers to coach against each other on Super Bowl Sunday. Their collective journey even overshadows their players. Ray Lewis ending a storied career at the sport’s zenith. Colin Kaepaernick morphing from wildcat specialist, to staring quarterback, to Super Bowl champ in his sophomore year. Both hypotheticals are fine print compared to two brothers from Toledo, Ohio.
Harbaugh is a name synonymous with football, much like Manning, Ryan, Mora, Schottenheimer, and Matthews. Jack, the family patriarch, was a journeyman coach. He led Western Kentucky to an I-AA national title in 2002, and honed his trade under the legendary Bo Schembechler at Michigan.
“My boys saw the good, they saw the bad, they saw all of it, and yet they chose to follow my life’s work. They must have seen enough that was rewarding. I take great satisfaction in that,” Jack said in an ESPN The Magazine article entitled “Like Father Like Sons.”
Appearances and profession aside, the Harbaughs’ coaching styles suggest they are from different ilk. Matt Weiss, a former employee of Jim at Stanford and John in Baltimore, sums up the divergence:
“Put a brick wall in front of Jim and he’ll run through it. Put that wall in front of John and he’ll find three ways around it.”
Jim’s pugnacious, ‘kill-or-be-killed’ mentality dates back to childhood. In an article from the now defunct NFL Magazine, longtime friend Jim Minnick recalls when an altercation with Harbaugh led to a brawl. The boys’ fathers let them scrap until blood was drawn. He carried his fighting ways through a 14-year NFL career as a quarterback. In another fisticuffs moment he broke his hand by punching former quarterback Jim Kelly in the head.
John is the brainy yin to Jim’s brawny yang. John, the elder, forwent Yale University to save his parents money and attended Miami of Ohio. A middling football talent, Jim sums up his brother’s career options to Eddie Matz in ESPN The Magazine.
“I could have been a player or a coach,” Jim Harbaugh says. “My brother, John, could have been anything he wanted.” (Jim might have had a chance at acting if football fell through.)
It was reported that while John was interviewing for the Ravens head-coaching job he botched a question about time management. Instead of silver tonging his way out of it, he took out a notepad and asked owner Steve Bisciotti to explain the correct answer. He was introduced as head coach ten days later.
Sibling rivalry is a common term in sports. Sibling head coaches meeting in the same Super Bowl is the exact opposite. Kathy Ensor, a member of the American Statistical Association (ASA) and the statistics department chair at Rice University, pegs the odds at around 1 in 11,175. Imagine the payout if you put money on a ‘Harbowl’ at the start of the season.
The current issue of ESPN The Magazine. On the Zinio Newsstand now.