Jack Harbaugh usually breaks down game tape for his sons, Jim and John Harbaugh, prior to their NFL contests each week, just to give them an extra set of eyes. But as the brothers prepare for their meeting in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3, the eldest Harbaugh is tossing away his coaching hat.
This year’s Super Bowl between the 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens is loaded with compelling story lines: Ray Lewis’ last game, the emergence of Colin Kaepernick and the Red and Gold’s return to glory.
But when the teams collide at the Superdome in New Orleans next week, millions of viewers from across the globe will be gripped by the sibling rivalry between the two coaches, the sons of Jim and Jackie Harbaugh.
The parents insist that they aren’t choosing sides.
“I’m totally neutral,” Jack Harbaugh said, adding: “I think more as a parent now than I do as a coach.”
The Harbaugh boys grew up as football’s version of army brats. They shuffled around the country as their father hopped from gig to gig — Bowling Green, Iowa, Michigan and so on. Jack Harbaugh coached for 43 years and, as a result, he and his wife moved 17 times.
The Harbaugh’s were a tight-knit bunch. Despite the rigorous hours, Jack and Jackie lived according to a family-first philosophy and the attitude extended into the locker room.
Jackie Harbaugh said the influence is evident in how her sons lead their respective teams.
“Through all of this, the many lessons have been about family and making their team part of their own family and bringing their teams together as a family,” she said. “That’s what really makes me proud.”
Jim and John Harbaugh squared off in the first-ever HarBowl on Thanksgiving last year. Jack and Jackie watched the game alone in a private office inside Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium, away from the public eye.
“I’ve never seen Jackie experience that in a ball game, she was nearly comatose,” Jack Harbaugh said. “She just stared at the screen. There was no facial emotion whatsoever, just a blank stare into the screen. Not a word was spoken.”
After the Ravens defeated the 49ers 16-6, Jack Harbaugh said the parental instincts kicked in. He peeked into the Ravens locker room and the guys were jumping up and down. A smile was glued to John Harbaugh’s face.
“I thought to myself, we’re really not needed here,” he said.
Then, he went into the 49ers locker room. It was quiet and somber and Jim was alone in his office.
“That’s where we were needed,” Jack Harbaugh said. “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat and we know we’re going to experience that next week.”
But when Jackie Harbaugh sits down to watch the game next week, she’ll be pulling for the biggest underdog in Super Bowl history.
“I know one is going to win and one is going to lose,” she said. “But I would really like it to end in a tie. Can the NFL do that?”