Dan Shaughnessy

Harbaughs make family history in Super Bowl

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Ravens coach John Harbaugh.
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

NEW ORLEANS — We’re talking brothers.

It’s the theme of this Super Bowl.

John Harbaugh coaches the Baltimore Ravens and his younger brother Jim Harbaugh coaches the San Francisco 49ers. Super Bowl XLVII in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is where the sibling bedroom brawl goes global.


Not many folks outside of football were aware of the Harbaugh brothers before this week. Sunday night, everything changes.

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John and Jim Harbaugh move into the Brothers Hall of Fame alongside the DiMaggio brothers, the Wright brothers, the Alou brothers, the Kennedy brothers, the Ripken brothers, the Smith brothers, the Bulger brothers, Ringling Bros., the Smothers Brothers, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Brothers Karamazov.

It is an irresistible story line. There is a universal truth of parenting that holds, “You’re only as happy as your saddest child.’’ Jack Harbaugh — the dad of John and Jim — spoke to this adage last week when he said, “All the millions and millions that are parents . . . they know that our thoughts will go to the one who comes up a little short.’’

There it is. The dad of the Super Bowl coaches is telling you that if Jim and the 49ers win the Super Bowl, the first instinct of the Harbaugh parents will be to feel bad for disappointed John.

You are only as happy as your saddest child.


Both brothers seem capable of handling defeat.

They look a lot alike, but folks who work with them know the brothers to be quite different from one another. John is 15 months older, taller, smiles more, and works overtime to put people at ease. Jim has some Bill Belichick in him. He’s intense. He stares. He doesn’t smile much. He looks like he could fly into a rage at any moment. He has enemies. Just as Bill Belichick has Fredo Mangini and Charley Casserly, Jim Harbaugh has Pete Carroll and Jim Schwartz.

There was great entertainment at the New Orleans Convention Center Friday morning when the Brothers Harbaugh participated in a joint press conference, sitting in director’s chairs, flanking the Lombardi Trophy. No one could remember another joint presser involving rival Super Bowl coaches. Close your eyes and try to envision Belichick and Andy Reid on stage in Jacksonville two days before the Big Game.

Dapper John wore an anchorman suit to the morning session. His kid brother was in coach attire — black fleece, khakis, white tennis shoes, and Niners ball cap (the NFL reportedly requested that both coaches wear suits).

John delivered a welcoming statement: “Hi. How are you guys doing? Welcome and thanks for coming. I wanted to say what an honor it is for both of us to be here, with each other, no question about it. What an exciting moment it is. But even more than that for our family to be here, for our mom and dad, Jack and Jackie, for grandpa Joe, 97 years old and going strong. And Chad our cousin. Any other family members out there?’’


John went on to deliver thanks to the city of New Orleans and folks at the local practice facility, and just about everyone else in Louisiana. Then he paused, set down the microphone, and looked over at Jim who said, “I concur.’’

It reminded me of Mickey Mantle sitting alongside Casey Stengel before a Congressional antitrust and monopoly subcommittee in 1958. Seconds after Casey delivered a convoluted and hilarious ode to baseball, Mantle was asked for his opinion and offered, “I guess I pretty much agree with Casey.’’

Thanks for playing. There were 15 questions in the unusual session Friday.

According to the Worldwide Leader’s stat gang, John Harbaugh spoke for 11½ minutes, Jim for seven.

Mom and Dad sat and watched the whole thing. Just as they will Sunday night.

Think the president has a tough time choosing sides at the Army-Navy game? (The Commander-in-Chief switches sides at halftime.) Imagine the plight of the proud Harbaugh folks.

Jack Harbaugh coached at various college whistlestops, winning a Division 1-AA championship at Western Kentucky in 2002.

He says the family moved 17 times during his 43-year coaching career. His boys grew up watching all-22 film. It is the same way Belichick was raised (Hoodie’s dad was a longtime coaching assistant at the Naval Academy).

Jim went to the Rose Bowl as a Michigan quarterback and played 14 seasons in the NFL. He was once sacked by Ray Lewis. There is famous footage of Bears coach Mike Ditka ripping into quarterback Jim Harbaugh after an interception.

John Harbaugh was a defensive back at Miami of Ohio and never played professional football.

They share the ability to take chances. Jim replaced a perfectly good starting quarterback (Alex Smith) because he thought Colin Kaepernick would take him to a higher level. John fired his offensive coordinator (Cam Cameron) Dec. 9, replacing him with Jim Caldwell.

They faced one another on Thanksgiving night in 2011. The Ravens won, 16-6. But that was nothing compared with this.

This is the Har-Bowl.

Is there any competitive advantage to matching wits with your brother? Can your brother read your mind?

“No,’’ said Jim. “I’m worried about a lot of things, but I have not noticed that he has any clairvoyant powers.

“There’s no question that it’s very exciting playing against my brother,’’ he continued. “The thing I also think about is the San Francisco 49ers, our players. They’re my brothers. For he who sheds blood with me today shall be my brother. I feel that about our players.

“This game is about them playing with their brothers. I know the Ravens feel the same way.’’

Big brother John remembers when the boys built a hockey goal out of chicken wire and “shot all the glass out of the garage windows.’’

“Playing any sport with Jim growing up was a test of will for all of us,’’ said John. “Jim was ahead of his time.

“We played seven sports when I was in seventh grade. For one year, we played them all. Whatever sport was in season, we were at practice.’’

The Harbaugh parents, Jack and Jackie, are in their 70s and live in Milwaukee. Jack says he’s wearing all black today. Jackie will also choose neutral colors.

The boys remember what their dad would tell his teams before any big game.

“We will attack this day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.’’

That’s the theme of the Har-Bowl.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at