Mixed emotions await the Harbaughs in Super Bowl XLVII
In each of the 46 previous Super Bowl games, the head coach has had the feeling. The unbridled joy, unparalleled excitement and ultimate thrill when the game clock strikes zeroes and they walk onto the field as a champion -- not only at that moment, but forever.
That will not happen Sunday.
One head coach will be immortalized, yes, but that feeling undoubtedly will be tempered during the short walk from the sideline to midfield, where he will greet his opponent. Where he will greet his crestfallen brother.
John and Jim Harbaugh and their entire family have handled each and every step of this Super Bowl build-up with class and aplomb, acting as if they get together like this every year. Sunday evening, their parallel paths will diverge as one team wins and the other loses. One coach will be a champion and one coach will be an also-ran. One brother will be at the pinnacle of his profession, handed a shiny silver trophy and a new hat and T-shirt to commemorate the moment. And one brother will not.
No one has ever been unhappy about winning a Super Bowl. No one has ever been glad to lose one. But until Sunday, when the Ravens and 49ers finish their duel at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, no one has ever had to coach against his own brother and swallow hard the mixed emotions. It truly will be a day of firsts.
"Yes, you do think about that," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of the devastation that will come with losing. "Obviously, in any game, that's something you think about. But it's not really about how we're going to feel. Every coach, every player, everybody in the organization, when you win, it's jubilation. And when you lose, it's just bitter disappointment. So much goes into it, and it will be no different in this game.
"For the side that comes up short, it's going to be a bitter disappointment. That's how football works. That's how life is, and we understand that."
The Harbaughs say they have not considered what they will do after the game as they approach each other on the field. A handshake? A hug? Tears?
Their parents already have a plan of action. They will head directly to the locker room of the losing team. They will console before they celebrate.
One person who might have some idea of what the Harbaughs will feel is Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Twice in his NFL career, he has played against a team quarterbacked by his big brother Peyton. Both times he has lost.
Eli said there never is any bragging about those games, even in his ultra-competitive family. "We really are trying to help each other and it's supporting, it's not a rivalry where you're going to be giving each other a hard time about it," he said.
The Harbaughs would seem to be of that same mind-set. But for three hours or so Sunday, they will put those feelings aside, that love and respect and ferocious instinct to protect. Instead, each will do everything in his power to destroy the dream of the other.
In a game that will feature the final performance for one of the sport's all-time great players in Ray Lewis and a chance to see what the future of the quarterback position could look like in Colin Kaepernick, the focus will be on the brothers.
The drama is downright Shakespearean.
That may be why Jim Harbaugh has memorized and has referenced the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V, in which the king eloquently calls his troops to battle. It's the ultimate pregame speech, and it imparts a description of the soldiers that has been used throughout the years but takes on an odd twist Sunday: A band of brothers.
For he today that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile.
"It's about the teams," John Harbaugh said. "We will continue to be fiercely loyal and protective of one another, but also of our teams. Jim had mentioned earlier in the week, he talked about the band of brotherhood, the brothers that will take the field . . . The band of brothers will be the brothers on the sideline. It will be the Ravens' sideline. It will be the 49ers' sideline. That will be the band of brothers in this competition."