Sunday, February 3, 2013

Step Aside Mannings, Harbaugh Family Tree Far More Fascinating

There will be no Mannings, not at Super Bowl XLVII.

It’s brother vs. brother, certainly, a historic Super Bowl tale of opposing coaches. You could say it’s brotherly love, a moment when John Harbaugh, coach of the Baltimore Ravens, will stand across the field from Jim Harbaugh, coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday to fight for possession of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, a 22-inch glittering trophy made of stainless steel. It’s the inaugural Harbowl, the first brother vs. brother coaching duel in Super Bowl history, and having watched NFL for years, I believe we are witnesses of the most heartwarming story.

The brothers are drawing most of the attention this week, and amazingly the Harbaughs are a more compelling story to tell here in America, than the Mannings. No disrespect, but folks are delighted and amazed that two brothers will be coaching against each other Sunday. So John and Jim have inspired fans, embarking on a journey to try to win their first ever Super Bowl as two perennial head coaches in a cruel business of headaches and heavy burdens. It’s a business where if coaches are inept and can’t produce a certain amount of wins to qualify for the postseason or even make a deep run during the playoffs they get canned.

But they have not done a disservice to the franchises that employed them, giving both men a shot to expose their competitive nature and coaching acumen, which they’ve done so well by changing the culture and leading Baltimore and San Francisco to the Super Bowl. Winner takes all, and either way — that is — both will walk off the artificial turf winners come late Sunday night early Monday morning. Win or lose, the Harbaughs are victorious. If Jim’s 49ers don’t win — and trust me — he won’t jump up and down like a silly kid, he won’t charge across the field, he won’t pull his shirt up and chest-bump his brother. Hello, his brother is not Jim Schwartz.

This is family and brotherhood grows stronger every day. So whoever wins, the Harbaugh family, either way, will be celebrating on Bourbon Street as one of the brothers will be boarding the flight with the Lombardi Trophy when it’s all finished. Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, parents of the opposing Super Bowl coaches, raised their boys the right way and both men are defying every law of game planning and intensity, all the reason they’ve made it to the peak of their careers.

The Harbaughs, raised in a house by their parents to be respectful and hard-working kids, grew up around the game of football, played it and traveled around America with their father, Jack, who knew his sons had a knack for coaching and saw both of his boys nurture their talent as coaches. It’s a remarkable family reunion, a gathering among a proud family the NFL has rarely experienced. The only other family who comes to mind is the Manning family.

As unique stories, the first-time Bro Bowl is astounding enough, making America smile and rave endlessly about a sibling rivalry of two brothers who fans have grown to admire deeply, similar to the way everybody became infatuated with the Mannings. With the Harbaughs, who will likely be around the league for a long time, the Mannings are becoming have-beens and fans are speaking highly of John and Jim. The one thing all of this reveals, of course, is that football runs strongly in the family. The Harbaughs, from the father to the mother to the brothers all have fond memories of football, but the Super Bowl is more than just a family affair. It’s another football game, just like all the rest, and come Sunday the Harbaughs will be partying like Lombardi Gras.

It’s the Harbaughs’ turns to catch our attention, preach the importance of teamwork and competitiveness, the framework for winning multiple Super Bowl titles and launching a celebration of gratification and glimpsing at the beginning of an era of great promise. In the last couple of years, we’ve been glorifying Peyton and Eli, two brothers who are star quarterbacks in the National Football League. The Mannings, particularly this decade, are the sons of football while the Harbaughs are a fraternity of NFL coaches.

And as much of a cliché’ as it sounds when it comes to two brothers who fans are madly talking about, the Harbaughs have become coaching royalty in the NFL. It’s gracious and humbling, fascinating and touching, each on the brink of validating sheer greatness and on the cusp of writing the sweetest NFL family story. They are not, just because they are brothers, a mirror image. In many ways, John, 50, Jim, 48, are different, very different. As the NFL’s first coaching family, a sibling rivalry news conference Friday revealed the Harbaughs’ personality and what makes these two brothers different. They were born 15 months apart and both have proven to be elite coaches.

And to an extent, that’s about the only thing these brothers have in common. Beyond that, the other thing they obviously share is a last name, but as for their coaching styles, it is as if the Harbaughs are not related. It’s one that nobody can argue and it became clear after watching them coach their teams. This is not only as far as coaching but personality-wise and by appearance even.

In their time spent with the media on Friday, when they stood on the glittery stage and captivated our awareness with their disparity in perception and personality traits, John wore a smile while Jim stared angrily. The older brother, John, is outgoing and is gracious. The younger brother, Jim, is brusque, haughty, and snobbish and seems aloof from a large crowd. He is, however, a great guy, just like his brother, John. It’s just the way Jim carries himself, and apparently it’s good enough to make it to the Super Bowl.

He has flair and spunk, a mental approach that has turned the 49ers into an elite NFC team. These 49ers have come along way on defense under Jim and suddenly are en route to a potential Super Bowl victory, and they might be the most compelling team. When he arrived, when the York family took a risk by hiring Jim to be a savior in San Francisco, the 49ers adapted to his system and became used to his fiery, winning attitude. Long before this Super Bowl clash between these brothers, he was a famous quarterback at Michigan and greatly idolized legendary coach Bo Schembechler. Long before he began his NFL coaching career, Jim spent 15-years in the NFL as a quarterback, and then became a head coach at the University of San Diego and Stanford. And John, the older one, played defensive back collegiately at Miami of Ohio and later began his coaching pursuit, serving as an assistant at five schools before his first NFL job came as the Eagles’ special-teams coach for nine seasons and spending one season coaching the secondary.

Standing across from him on Sunday, will be his brother, John. That’s a good thing about the Harbaughs; they both are winners and were taught the importance of hard work, determination and coaching. Thanks to their father, the Harbaughs are devoted to their players and have been mentally and physically attached to the game. It’s simple to recognize that their achievements rank them among the greatest coaches of the modern era, and having experience from watching their dad as kids, helped the Harbaughs hone their craft, leading two teams that consistently play smart and tough. It’s not easy turning unpopular quarterbacks into skilled passers or taking two uninspired teams to Super Bowl XLVII, with singular stories to tell and legends being born.

And, ultimately, we’ve never seen anything like it. The Manning name, for a long time, floated around the NFL, and America celebrated the megastar quarterbacks. Both brothers, Peyton and Eli, the sons of Saints legend Archie, won Super Bowls. But at this time, I’d like to direct your attention to the Harbaughs.

When the news conference finished Friday, after holding a joint press conference at the New Orleans convention center to address the media, the Harbaughs’ parents and grandparent stood together for a family portrait, one the family will remember forever. There’s never a shortage of storylines when the Harbaughs are in the conversation, and the time would be now that everybody talks about John and Jim, who have stolen the limelight for much of the week.

Step aside, Mannings. Welcome, Harbaughs.