The two brothers who have led their National Football League teams to the Super Bowl this year are carrying on a family tradition of coaching that started with their father, and their parents couldn’t be prouder.
Just don’t ask Jack and Jackie Harbaugh to take sides.
While the NFL has other famous pairs of competing brothers, the Feb. 3 Super Bowl showdown between San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and John Harbaugh, who coaches the Baltimore Ravens, is unprecedented.
For their father Jack, the game is in some ways the culmination of his own lengthy career as a football coach, which included stints as head coach for Western Michigan University and Western Kentucky University.
The family moved 17 times in the course of his career, and both Jackie and the children were regular attendees at practice, family members said in a conference call today.
Younger sister Joani Crean recalled splicing training films for her father on the weekends.
“Luckily, as parents, they involved their kids in their professional life,” Crean said. “That’s how we saw Dad in the afternoon; we went to his coaching practices. That’s just how we passed time.”
The family has worked together on several occasions as adults, as the brothers moved up the ranks in their fields. But despite their immersion in the sport from an early age, Jack Harbaugh said he never pushed his sons to pursue a playing or coaching career.
He took great pride in their choice, however.
“They loved sports, they had a real passion for sports, they enjoyed being around the game,” Jack said. “I think the greatest joy in my life is that after seeing all of the ups and downs in my life and profession, that that is something that they would want to do.”
Jim Harbaugh played college football at the University of Michigan and was an NFL quarterback from 1987 to 2000. He was head coach at Stanford University from 2007 to 2011 before becoming the 49ers head coach in 2011.
John, meanwhile, spent about 13 years as a college coach before being hired by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1998. He moved up to defensive-backs coach with the Eagles before signing on as head coach with the Ravens in 2008.
While fans and media are busy talking up the brotherly competition, their family members resolutely refuse to take sides.
“I’m going to be neutral in that game,” Jackie Harbaugh said. “I know one of them is going to win and the other is going to lose, but I would really like it to end in a tie.”
The family already experienced brotherly competition when the Ravens and 49ers played on Thanksgiving Day. The Ravens won, and Jack noted that on that occasion, it was the losing brother who most needed the family’s support after the game.
“We went to the 49ers locker room and found Jim all by himself, no one around him, and realized that was where we were needed,” Jack said. “I think that’s what we’re going to experience next week.”
Jack and Jackie declined to make comparisons between their sons, saying they see mostly similarities in the brothers’ love and passion for their families and their work. And Jack said that he won’t be analyzing body language or following the game from a coach’s perspective on Feb. 3.
“I think more as a parent than as a coach now,” Jack said.
While the media has had fun throwing around nicknames for this Super Bowl such as “Bro Bowl” and “Harbowl,” the proud parents declined to embrace either.
“For me it’s the Lombardi Trophy, because I go back to the beginning of when this great classic originated,” Jack said.
“I prefer it to be called the Super Bowl,” Jackie said.
Sara Gaiser, Bay City News