The NFL sure knows how to ruin a holiday family reunion.
Jackie and Jack Harbaugh, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on Friday, will be leaving the stadium before kickoff Thursday so they can privately agonize over their sons’ Thanksgiving coaching duel.
Meanwhile, most every other football fan will be choosing sides in this fascinating spectacle of big bro’ meets
Heightening the intrigue of the league’s first-ever sibling sideline showdown is a matchup of potential Super Bowl opponents and the unusual bond of Jim and John Harbaugh. The brothers are pure Americana, embracing adventure and each other like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Until Thursday, of course, when they will mentally re-enact those notorious boyhood scuffles where duct-taped boundaries in a shared bedroom never stopped either from trying to get their way.
True to form, Jim griped that the 49ers got the “short end of the straw” because they are the first team forced to travel three times zones to play a Thursday game since the league expanded to a 16-game season. John countered by saying he wished he borrowed their dad’s favorite line, “Who has it better than us? … Nobody!” which has become Jim’s locker room victory cry.
The Ravens coach also claims Jim co-opted his phrase, “players should have Armadillo skin, not deer skin.” But in the next breath, John says, “Jim was the most underrated quarterback in the league. He was a special, special player, but I am more proud of him now as a father, husband and coach.”
So proud that the elder brother is buying tickets for all the family and friends attending the game. Speaking of friends, John said don’t believe it when Jim says he has none in football, “He’s clever, personable and very funny.
He’s got lots of friends.” I’m sure Jim has a lot more friends now that the 49ers have won eight straight. But unlike John, whose cool and calm leadership has the Ravens poised to make the playoffs for a fourth straight season since his arrival in Baltimore, Jim is more fiery and brash. How else does a younger brother make his way?
Coaching demeanor aside, their teams look as similar as the brothers do. Both the 49ers and Ravens rely on a ball-control offense (each is scoring 25.6 points per game) and a punishing defense, No. 1-ranked San Francisco is giving up just 14.5 points per game while No. 3 Baltimore is surrendering 17.6 ppg.
Aside from knowing we’ll see a fierce, hard-fought game, when it’s over I can guarantee there won’t be any, “What’s your deal?” or “How did you like that?” heavy handshake and back slap. Mom and dad will be watching.
KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.