NEW ORLEANS – It’s unprecedented. It’s riveting. And, above else, it’s fun.
The Harbaugh brothers, Jim and John, are set to become the first head coaches in NFL history to ever face in the Super Bowl. Because of this, the football world looks at the family with amazement. It’s remarkable to see how far both brothers have come.
It’s also entertaining to get both proud coaches in the same room with cameras rolling.
That was the case Friday at the Super Bowl XLVII media center. Both brothers met the press at the same time while sitting in director’s chairs a couple of feet behind their team’s respective helmets and of course, the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
“Thanks for coming,” said John, the oldest of the Harbaugh brothers. “I just want to start by saying what an honor it is for both of us to be here with each other, no question about it. What a very exciting moment it is, but even more than that, for our families to be here. For our mom and dad, sitting right over there, Jack and Jackie and for Grandpa Joe – 97-years-old and going strong.”
After going down the line to highlight family members sitting in the front row of the press conference, John looked at his brother for an additional thought.
“I concur,” the 49ers coach said.
The room let out a hearty chuckle, the first of many during the morning media session.
The first question to the Harbaugh brothers asked about tough in-season decisions made on the offensive side of the ball. The 49ers changed quarterbacks; the Ravens changed offensive coordinators.
Jim Harbaugh explained his team’s road to New Orleans was a collaborative effort that included both quarterbacks,
“My memories of this season right now and what got us here, and how hard it was to get here,” Jim said. “Tremendously excited to be here. Looking very much forward to the game, the competition.”
The 49ers coach highlighted key moments in the season and praised the player’s who have helped him reach the Super Bowl.
John Harbaugh cleverly added, “I concur.”
The back-and-forth dynamic continued throughout the media session.
“It would be an honor to have him on the staff, he’s a great coach,” the Ravens head man said. “You always try to get great coaches, and there are none better than Jim Harbaugh, and I mean that seriously. There’s no better coach in the National Football League than this guy right here.”
The 49ers coach couldn’t take the gift, he fired back, “Well, Jack Harbaugh.”
Jack Harbaugh had Jim on his Western Kentucky staff and later worked for Jim on his University of San Diego and Stanford staffs as a running backs coach.
The Harbaugh brothers shared many stories of their past together and even discussed how they’re currently sharing the New Orleans Saints training facility this week after Ravens players complained about the hardness of field turf at Tulane University.
As much as the questions were about the brother’s past, the two men made sure to keep the focus on the people who helped the reach the Super Bowl – their family and their players.
“If you look at the Niners games their whole season, look at the Ravens playoff games and the whole season it is about the players,” John began, “It’s about the players playing well, playing their best, not just making big plays.
“Big plays are going to be a determinant of every single game, but who makes those plays those will be the memorable moments. But it will be all the little plays in between that make the difference. Guys that are in the right gap. Guys in the right place in coverage, spacing, assessing the route correctly, blocking, tackling, handoffs, quarterbacks center exchange, throwing. Every little thing kicking, covering kicks, every little thing that goes into football is going to determine the one true champion and who wins this game.”
Jim has often said this week’s game will be earned. Nothing will be given.
“It’s going to be 60 minutes of great football, because you’ve got two fundamentally very sound football teams playing whose total focus is on this one moment, this one game,” he said. “Within that plays will come. Plays will come to guys and guys will make plays. The guys that make those plays will end up winning the game.”
One unnoticed aspect of the matchup was brought to light in the press conference when John was asked about employing Jim’s son, Jay, as a coaching intern.
Both downplayed the aspect of the game as being a help or burden to either side. Jim said he’s texted his son, but hasn’t tried to over-communicate.
“I’ve sent him a few texts just letting him know how I feel about him and I don’t want to give reason for people to think I’m talking to him,” the 49ers coach said. “I’m really proud of what he’s doing, I’ve heard he’s done a great job and that means the world.”
Jay’s uncle, John, continued the praise.
“I’m appreciative that Jim allowed Jay to come out,” John said. “I’ve obviously known Jay his whole life. He did a great job at Oregon State. He was trained by Mike Riley there as a student coach for all those years. He’s far better than we’ve anticipated and I knew he would be great at what he does. The way we looked at it, we talked about the philosophical difference or whatever; I think that may well tip the scale that might be our edge, Jay. He’s really good. He’s a hard working guy. I guarantee he’s excited about the game and competing and all those things just like he should be.”
When Sunday comes, storylines will go out the window. It won’t be about brothers coaching in the same game. It’ll be about the players and which team executes best.
“There have been a lot of great Super Bowls here – you look back at the highlights of the 10 Super Bowls that have been played here,” Jim said. “Big, big games. We’re understanding it – players, coaches, and me personally. Just the enormity of it. The world’s biggest sporting event each year and what it has become – a vision of the fathers of this game and the vision they have for this spectacle. They have mastered that. We’re just proud for the awesomeness of every effect that everybody does such an amazing job. It’s great to be a prat of. Now, we want to win.”