Jackie Harbaugh said there was a "great, great feeling of joy" last weekend when her two sons, Jim and John, won their conference championship games and advanced to Super Bowl XLVII.
It was a day of pride and euphoria for the entire family, a chance to revel in the accomplishments of the two boys who grew up separated by 15 months and spent most of their childhoods sharing everything from a bedroom to the back seat of the family car. Now they were sharing this thrilling experience.
But pretty soon, it became clear that the sharing would have to end. The Ravens and the 49ers had reached football's ultimate game, but only one team -- only one son -- would come out of it fulfilled. Only one son would have the words "Super Bowl champion" forever affixed to his name while the other, at least for the time being, would have to endure the misery of coming so close to the title.
"I know one is going to win and I know one is going to lose, but I really would like it to end in a tie," Jackie said on a conference call Thursday. "Can the NFL do that?"
She knows that's not the way it works. As does her husband, Jack, who coached at numerous college football stops for 42 years and most notably won a Football Championship Subdivision national title in 2002 as the head coach at Western Kentucky. He experienced many highs and lows during his career, but only once did he experience them in the close proximity he will next Sunday at the Superdome in New Orleans. That was last year, on Thanksgiving Day, when his two sons faced each other for the first time and he spent the moments after the game toggling between them and their emotions.
"I have such a recollection of the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory," he said. "You did it as a coach for all those years but you either won or you lost. It was that moment. But to experience that same emotion just by walking across the hall, it's something that I remember and am not looking forward to next Sunday."
In last year's meeting, the first and only one in NFL history between two head coaches who are brothers, John's Ravens beat Jim's 49ers, 16-6, in Baltimore.
"The thing I remember most about the game is Jackie and I were in a little office with a TV and we watched the game," Jack said. "I'd never seen Jackie experience that in a ballgame. She was nearly comatose. She just stared at the screen, there was no facial emotion whatsoever. Just a blank stare into the screen, not a word was spoken. At the end of the game it was over and we took the elevator downstairs."
That's where they came face-to-face with the diametric experiences of their sons.
"I peeked into the Ravens locker room and they were ecstatic, guys jumping up and down and a smile on John's face," Jack said. "The thrill of victory, that type of thing that we hear so often. And I thought to myself: 'We're really not needed here, this looks like it's pretty well taking care of itself.'
"We walked across the hall and went into the 49ers locker room and it was quiet and somber," Jack continued. "Looking into some offices and finally I saw Jim all by himself, no one around him. He still had his coaching things on and his hands were on his head. I realized that that's where we were needed. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. We know we're going to experience that next week."
Jackie said one of her favorite memories of that experience came after the game was over, when John came running down to the 49ers' busses to say goodbye to his little brother.
"It just was the epitome of how everybody in the family feels about each other and always tries to raise one another up," she said. "These are difficult times in football when you're playing against your own brother . . . but at the end of the game it's still about family and your feelings for one another. That's what came through in the Thanksgiving game."
And more than likely, no matter which brother wins and which loses, it will come through in this Super Bowl. Unless, of course, there's a tie. A mother can certainly dream.