NEW ORLEANS » Jack Harbaugh introduced the family chant during one of the family’s 17 moves in a 43-year coaching career. While trying to raise his three children’s spirits after yet another uprooting, Harbaugh shouted out, “Who’s got it better than us?”
“Nobody,” the entire family answered.
There is truth in that statement on Sunday.
Super Bowl XLVII, or The HarBowl as it has come to be known, features Jack Harbaugh’s sons on opposite sidelines. It marks the first time brothers have coached against each other on the sport’s biggest stage.
“All those millions of people that are parents out there, this is just a fantastic, fantastic experience and really no one has it better than us,” Jack Harbaugh said.
John, coach of the Baltimore Ravens, and Jim, coach of the San Francisco 49ers, have done their best this week to keep the focus on their teams, not themselves.
At a joint news conference Friday, a Super Bowl first, the Harbaughs said little of substance. They offered only one story about their upbringing: Once, as teenagers, the boys made a hockey goal out of chicken wire and ended up shooting all the windows out of the garage door.
“Bo Schembechler had two great sayings,” Jack Harbaugh said of the former Michigan coach, whom the elder Harbaugh once coached under. “One was, ‘If you’re going to play in the North Atlantic, you have to practice in the North Atlantic.’ The other was ‘loose lips sink ships.’ They both have subscribed to that philosophy, so no one talks to anyone. Jim is very quiet and guarded, and John is very quiet and guarded. That’s exactly the way we want it.”
Neither team would be here if not for gutsy decisions the two coaches made mid-season. John fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron after a loss to the Washington Redskins in December and replaced him with Jim Caldwell. Jim changed quarterbacks after starter Alex Smith was injured Nov. 11 and stuck with Colin Kaepernick even after Smith was cleared to return.
“The way our players have played, that is why we’re here, not because of any coaching decisions or any way that we were when we were kids,” said Jim Harbaugh, whose 23-year-old son Jay is a coaching intern for the Ravens.
In the six games Caldwell has been coordinator, the Ravens have averaged 26.2 points and 406.5 yards per game. That includes averages of 30 points and 425.3 yards in three postseason games.
“I think a change was needed,” Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta said. “I think we hit a plateau as an offense with Cam Cameron, for whatever reason. Cameron’s a great coach, but I think we needed a change. It was a bold move to make the change in Week 13 like John did, but it ended up being a great decision for us. Jim (Caldwell) has really got us to play some good football as of late.”
But the Harbaughs’ uncle, Bob Cipiti, said Jim is the bigger risk-taker of the Harbaugh brothers. Jim Harbaugh showed that by staying with Kaepernick, even though Smith was 6-2-1 in nine starts with a league-leading 104.1 passer rating.
“When (Jim) was at Michigan, what did he do before the Ohio State game? He guaranteed a win, and he got it,” Cipiti said. “John is very competitive too, but he is a little more quiet about it.”
John arrived to the Friday news conference, the last of the week, dressed in a black suit and tie. Jim wore khakis, his long-sleeve coaching shirt and a 49ers baseball cap, the same way he dressed every day during Super Bowl week.
It said a lot about their personalities.
But the one thing they share, besides parents, is their competitiveness. Jim and John won’t go easy on each other Sunday. But when it’s all said and won (or lost), they will share a hug, congratulations and condolences.
“We are fiercely loyal,” John said. “There is no doubt. We always have been. That’s definitely not ever going to change. We will continue to be loyal and protective of one another but also of our teams.
“The band of brothers will be the brothers on the sideline. It will be the Ravens sideline, and it will be the 49ers sideline. That will be the band of brothers in this competition.”
One of the Harbaughs will have it better than the other when the confetti falls.