John and Jim Harbaugh making their parents proud
On the day his sons earned the right to face one another in the Super Bowl, Jack Harbaugh realized once more why he raised his boys right.
And it had nothing to do with John's Ravens and Jim's 49ers making it to Super Bowl XLVII.
Jack Harbaugh, 73, was a football coach himself for 43 years. He thought back to that special day when his sons made it to the sport's biggest stage.
Just before kickoff of the Ravens' AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, Jack was watching the television in his basement in Mequon, Wis. He saw John on the sideline with his arm around his daughter, Alison, who works for the Ravens, and his right hand over his heart.
"For me, that's the moment of that game that I'm just going to remember forever," Jack Harbaugh said Wednesday. "Family and country. How beautiful that message was."
Earlier, the 49ers beat the Falcons for the NFC championship, and Jim Harbaugh called Jack around the time the Ravens were about to beat the Patriots. Jim was asking for play-by-play.
"Touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin!" Jack yelled into the phone. "We have a two-score game here. [Jim] says, 'Dad, do you realize where this thing is headed?' I said, 'I think I do.' "
It was headed for brother against brother in the Superdome. But Jim had something else he wanted to tell his dad. Something about Jim's 4-month-old son, Jack, who was brought onto the field for the celebration.
"You won't believe this, but [Jack] cut his first tooth on the field in Atlanta," Jim said. "We noticed after the game he opened his mouth, and there was his first tooth."
The Harbaughs' patriarch beamed. "Can you imagine, not talking about he and John going to the Super Bowl, but talking about Jack cutting his first tooth?" Jack Harbaugh said. "Family, family, family."
Jack turned to his wife, Jackie, offering a knowing glance to the woman who he said held the family together through 51 years and 17 moves. Like him, she doesn't consider Sunday's game the most important moment of their lives.
"I would honestly have to say that the birth of our own children and then the birth of our grandchildren are the most important to me,'' she said, "and this is like frosting on the cake for our whole family."
Terrific parents who have the unenviable task of watching their sons face one another in the biggest professional moment for both. So how do you deal with something like this?
"The one thing that both John and Jim have told us over the past week: 'Mom and Dad, please, promise us that you will enjoy this. Enjoy this experience. That's all we're asking.' "
"We're trying," Jack said. "I promise you we'll try."
They endured what Jack called a "dry run" when their sons faced each other on Thanksgiving 2011 in a game the Ravens won. They sat in a room at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, watching almost without emotion, unable to root for one against the other. Afterward, they saw the joy on the faces of John and his players and left their locker room quickly.
"You realize that you're not needed here," Jack said. "They had so much going on for them."
They walked to the 49ers' locker room and found Jim sitting alone in an office. "He was still in his coaching outfit, his head down in his hands,'' Jack said, "and you looked into his eyes and realized that this was where you're needed as a parent."
They will see their sons after this game, and they know where they'll spend most of their time. "Our thoughts will be with the one that comes up a little short," said Jack, who still isn't sure where he and his wife will sit.
The mixed emotions are understandable. They'll be ecstatic for one son. They'll be heartbroken for the other.