Harbaugh brothers' bond much deeper than a Super Bowl storyline
Super Bowl hype is always exhausting and overdone, but I must admit, I was astounded at how quickly people started complaining about the HarBowl storyline. John Harbaugh's Baltimore Ravens had not even finished beating the Patriots, to set up a matchup with Jim's San Francisco 49ers, when I saw tweets and Facebook posts complaining about the Harbaugh hype.
Do you realize how amazing this is? These guys shared a room together as kids, competed against each other in everything, and now they are coaching against each other in the Super Bowl.
That's one of the most incredible sports stories I've ever seen. Are we so in love with our own snark that we can't appreciate it?
Yeah, it will be written and discussed and dissected from now until Super Bowl Sunday, and even beyond that. And you will get sick of it again. I get it. But please, before it gets repetitive, take a moment to imagine what it must like to know that in two weeks, you will coach in one of the world's biggest sporting events, with tens of millions of people watching ... against your brother.
And understand this: Jim played in the NFL for many years, but even as a kid, he knew he would eventually coach. John has been coaching for most of his life. One of these brothers is going to ruin the other brother's lifelong dream. That's a hell of a thing for a family to face. But this particular family can handle it.
This is a story about a story.
It's a story about the long piece I wrote for SI in 2010 about the Harbaughs. I don't normally write about the process of reporting -- our job is to present the piece, not explain how it was made. But this story will give you a window into the two men.
(First, please read the 2010 piece.)
OK. In the spring of 2010, I sat in John Harbaugh's office in Baltimore. I had already spent two days with Jim, talking family, football history and politics and all sorts of other stuff ... but mostly family. Even though John was the one coaching in the NFL, Jim -- a longtime NFL quarterback -- had always been the more famous one. And Jim kept telling me how much he admired how John dealt with that, and how much he leaned on John for coaching advice.
So there I was in John's office. I had barely asked any questions when John delivered a long commentary, almost a speech, about how Jim had been unsung for his whole career, always fighting harder than he should have for respect.
Unfortunately, I was viciously ill at that moment -- I had some kind of food poisoning or stomach bug, and I'd been throwing up all night. But time with an NFL head coach is precious for people in my line of work, and I tried to focus as John kept talking. I took a sip of a beverage, hoping it would calm my stomach, and I realized: I have to throw up again.
But John kept talking about his brother. At the first opportunity, I excused myself and ran down the hall to the restroom. I barely made it. I would spend much of the day lying in a fog on a couch at the Ravens' facility, getting up only to do interviews and use the restroom. The low point was when I clogged a toilet and realized I had to tell somebody. That is when I discovered I'd been using the women's restroom.
That's what we call "adversity." Anyway, now that you have laughed at me, the point is that I got back to John's office and learned two things.
One, he was not at all annoyed that a reporter left his office in the middle of an interview. John Harbaugh always imagines himself as the other person in any situation -- a conversation, a press conference, a practice. His empathy is instinctive.
Two, these two guys were a lot closer than I had even imagined. John had always been seen as Jim's younger brother, even though he was 15 months older. He never held it against Jim. Jim never really lorded it over John. Even on opposite coasts, they still seemed like they'd be happy to live in the same room.
You hear a lot about dysfunctional families and resentment in the coaching business. Before the hype really gets out of hand, let me tell you: The Harbaughs are not putting on an act. These guys love each other, and admire each other, in a way that would stand out no matter what business they are in.
Will one of them ruin the other's dream? Yeah. Part of the business. They both understand it.
But more than in any Super Bowl in history, the losing coach will be happy for the winning coach. Or as their sister Joani texted me Sunday night, while politely declining an interview:
"Great faith! Team Harbaugh!"
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