SANTA CLARA, Calif. >> These days, Jack Harbaugh stays away from game-planning chatter or strategy sessions with his Super Bowl-bound coaching sons. Baltimore’s John Harbaugh and little brother Jim of the San Francisco 49ers have been doing this long enough now to no longer need dad’s input.
Yet, they still regularly seek it. And, their father does offer one basic mantra: “Get ahead, stay ahead.”
“Probably the greatest advice that I’ve ever been given and the only advice that I’ve ever found to be true in all of coaching, I think we mentioned it to both John and Jim … the coaching advice is, ‘Get ahead, stay ahead,'” Jack Harbaugh said.
“If I’m called upon, I’ll repeat that same message.”
His boys still call home regularly to check in with the man who turned both on to the coaching profession years ago, and the mother who has handled everything behind the scenes for decades in a highly competitive, sports-crazed family — with all the routine sports clichés to show for it.
The Harbaugh brothers will become the first siblings to square off from opposite sidelines when their teams play for the NFL championship Feb. 3 at the New Orleans Superdome.
John Harbaugh watched the end of Jim’s game from the field in Foxborough, Mass., as Baltimore warmed up for the AFC championship game. Jim called his sister’s family from the team plane before takeoff after a win at Atlanta and asked how his big brother’s team was doing against New England.
The improbable Super Bowl that has quickly been nicknamed “Harbowl” or “Superbaugh” features a set of brothers known around the NFL as fierce competitors unafraid to make a bold move during the season.
In fact, each one made a major change midseason to get this far — John fired his offensive coordinator, while Jim boosted his offense with a quarterback switch from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick.
Leading up to Sunday’s games, proud parents Jack and Jackie said they would wait to decide whether to travel to New Orleans if both teams made it or stick to what has been working so well — watching from the comfort of their couch in Mequon, Wis.
“We enjoy it very much. We get down in our basement, turn on the television and just have a fantastic day watching outstanding football,” Jack said last week. “We share our misery with no one but ourselves. Not only the misery, but the ups and downs, the ins and outs of an outstanding professional game.”
And, no, the Harbaughs weren’t looking ahead to a potential big trip to the Big Easy.
Jack insists his wife is quick to pull out that old sports cliche: “It’s one game at a time. I think it’s very appropriate,” he said.
The brothers, separated in age by 15 months, have taken different paths to football’s biggest stage — years after their intense games of knee football at the family home.
Jim never reached a Super Bowl, falling a last-gasp pass short during a 15-year NFL career as a quarterback. John never played in the NFL.
“We can’t put into words what it means to see John and Jim achieve this incredible milestone,” their brother-in-law, Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean, said on Twitter. “We talked to Jim (before) his team plane left. All he wanted to know was how was John doing? How were they playing? One incredible family who puts the care, well-being and love for each other at the forefront like most families do. Again, we are very proud of them. Going to be exciting to watch it unfold.”