Jack Harbaugh, the former college football coach, is also father to the only two brothers to ever coach in the NFL and consequently the recent Superbowl. Here, Jack recounts his thoughts and mixed feelings in Superbowl XLVII from the second half on.
I couldn’t believe the run by Jacoby Jones to start the 2nd half, making it 28 to 6. During the Superbowl blackout I found myself retracing, already, the words I’d have for Jim. It wasn’t looking good for him. The joy I felt for John was outweighed by the disparity in the score. This was something I had feared.
Before the game Jackie and I had lots of interviews about how we felt having our boys at the Superbowl. I couldn’t explain it any other way but to say that it is just like any other achievement your children have, from learning to crawl on up. Jackie was excited about the whole thing. Nobody has it better than us is her mantra.
During the blackout, she asked me how many times I thought we had been on TV already. No, she wasn’t giddy about being on TV. But we learned during the week about an over-under bet in Vegas about how many times we’d show on national TV. She wanted me to place a bet on this for fun, but I didn’t. She placed a small one for $50. The blackout took so long and we were so uneasy with the score that we didn’t know what else to talk about.
“You should’ve placed a bet with me,” she said. “Think I’ve lost already?”
“I’m not a betting man, Cipiti,” I said. She smiled, but soon I also saw the worried face she had for Jim. People wanted to know how we felt about having them both in the Superbowl. I was glad when they both became coaches, but did I dream that they would face each other on the biggest stage? Maybe I did as a possibility, but it is not as easy as you may think. I even feel guilty about preferring just one to be in the Superbowl, or the “Harbowl” as people have called it. Heck, John was lucky to be here, and wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for that safety in Denver.
As we waited for the lights, I looked at Jackie again and her eyes continued to be set on the 49ers on the field. I looked down and it resembled a refugee camp of stretching big men lying in groups everywhere, with coaches walking between them shouting and talking and rallying them for war.
The lights finally came on. The unsettling fear and silence we had over the lopsided score shifted into fanatical excitement, just like with everyone else, and I allowed myself to enjoy a football game. Jackie never mentioned the bet again in her own enthusiasm. All that lost blackout energy had gone to San Francisco. There were two scores, a fumble and more scores. Suddenly what I wished earlier, for a closer game, wasn’t what I thought it would be. You can say it’s fun to be the parents of the only two brothers to coach the Superbowl, but you wouldn’t guess it looking at us. Our fortunes were too great and everything was coming at a price. I had my blazer off now and Jackie was on the edge unconsciously gripping the arm handles. With 1:50 left we had Jim knocking on John’s door down at the 5 yard line. Jackie and I held hands and I looked at her just before Colin’s final snap, and when she looked back we knew in our eyes that we had just prayed for God’s will. God’s will was with John. And Ray Lewis and a host of other Ravens and not so much with Jim and Colin.
I stood in the last minute, knowing the outcome and retracing my words again for Jim. And I didn’t tell Jackie this, but I had my own bet going in my head. Something I had wondered all along, all through the interviews and the game. Whatever the outcome, would they hug or shake hands at midfield?
Right before the end when the outcome was clear, I saw them start to find each other with their eyes shifting through the human maze of excitement and regret. One had come out on top, and God had favored he who crawled first. Jackie had subtle tears in her eyes as the confetti came down and she saw them meet, and her mouth was a quivering smile. When they met in the middle, the stadium screen showed it clear, and they hugged. As we made our way down to the field I cleared my eyes and my thoughts were on the words I knew I’d tell Jim.
Published Feb. 8, 2013. Image courtesy of the Harbaugh family.
For your reference, links to the real-life stories that inspired “The Harbowl”: The Superbowl, Ravens 34, 49ers 31, Youtube video featuring the Harbaugh parents before the Superbowl