John would not have done that. Or would he? Let's go back—way back. To that tree.
Jim could throw it over the tree, and John could not. Jim's superior athleticism sent him off in one direction, and John went off in another—and ever since, Jim has been known as the brash athlete and John the reserved thinker. But both say repeatedly, We're a lot more alike than you think. "We had the same mind-set," John says, "but the difference was he was a lot better. That kind of dictated his path."
Jim talks about how John handled sitting on the bench in college and says with admiration, "It didn't hijack him. That's a real winner, a real champion. We'd rather be underestimated by people. It's a strength, almost a strategy. Underestimate him, he will eventually find a way to beat you."
John, unprompted, gives a 10-minute speech about how Jim was underappreciated his whole career, and says, "He will let you think he is kind of this hardheaded guy. But he's really smart. He's got a great feel for people. He is real empathetic. He'd love for you to underestimate him that way."
They don't know exactly what would have happened if John had thrown it over the tree and Jim hadn't. They don't know if John would go for two when up by 27 and say he bows to no man—or if Jim would avoid comparisons and always say the right thing at the right time. What they do know is that while those differences seem to matter to the public, they don't mean much to the Harbaughs.
Once in a while, Jim Harbaugh asks his Stanford players to name the one thing you have to do to make an NFL team. The answers come quickly: You have to be talented. You have to work hard. Nope, Jim says. A lot of guys are talented and work hard and never make it. "The one thing you have to do to make an NFL team," he says, "is take another man's job away from him. And those men really like those jobs."
It is a ruthless world, and the Harbaughs love it that way: There is no faking success, none of what their mother called "mediocrity—let's not let anybody be better than anybody else." John, whose Ravens are 4--1 and leading the AFC North, keeps a plastic armadillo in his office because he thinks people need thick skin, and he often asks his players, "You got your baby-deerskin on today? Or do you have your armadillo skin?"
He tells unhappy players, "You can bitch all you want, as long as everybody can hear you. If you've got something you want to change, make a case. If it's best for the team, we'll do it."
Sometimes it feels as if Jim and John are running two branches of the same organization: the East and West Coast operations of Harbaugh Family Coaching Inc. When graduate assistant Matt Weiss finished working for Jim in Palo Alto, he transferred to Baltimore, where he works for John. When Jim needed a defensive coordinator, he plucked Vic Fangio off the Ravens' payroll.
Jim has a sign in his office that says, STANFORD FOOTBALL IS HUSTLE. CONSTANT HUSTLE. HUSTLING ALL THE TIME. John saw it and lit up. "I love that sign!" he said. Outside John's office now is a sign that reads, RAVENS FOOTBALL IS HUSTLE. CONSTANT HUSTLE. HUSTLING ALL THE TIME.