Jack and Jackie Harbaugh will once again be taking shelter from the emotional storm in the basement of their home in Mequon, Wis., this Sunday. It wont be an NFL playoffs watch-party. No friends over. Just a husband, a wife and their frayed nerves.
We share our misery with no one but ourselves, as Jack told the San Francisco Chronicle this week.
You may have heard. Sons Jim and John Harbaugh coach the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, respectively. That means football has a new First Family, one at least temporarily bumping the Mannings from the top of the genealogical marquee. It also means the Harbaughs are two victories, one by each son, from the ultimate Super Bowl:
The Bro Bowl. The Har-Bowl.
The father, himself a former longtime college coach, mentioned misery because they went through this same thing a year ago. Both sons were in a conference championship game, but neither won. Jims 49ers lost to the Giants; now its the Atlanta Falcons in the way. Johns Ravens lost to New England, the same team they face again Sunday.
Last year was completely draining, sister Joanie Harbaugh Crean recalled. Now, my stomach is already raw.
(Coincidental aside: Joanie is married to Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean, who is Dwyane Wades old mentor.)
Both coaching sons sort of prefer that the folks stay home, although a bro vs. bro Super Bowl would render that unlikely. Watching on TV Sunday will be trying enough.
My parents are in their 70s, as Jim put it this week. Thats a lot of excitement. Its like watching three episodes of 24 in a row.
John, 50, is one year older and in the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season. Jim is in the postseason a second consecutive year, proving why the Dolphins were smart to be interested in him. The brothers combined have a 87-38-1 record, which is a tad beyond phenomenal, a Super Bowl ring all thats missing.
I would also note each brother was associated with a bit of daring this season. Jim, of course, benched his successful starting quarterback, Alex Smith, in favor of inexperienced Colin Kaepernick at midseason. Less discussed, John changed offensive coordinators in mid-December, swapping Cam Cameron for Jim Caldwell. Both coaches messed with success, and succeeded.
The Harbaugh factor stands out, but interesting elements of this NFL final four are everywhere you look. Any of the four teams winning Sunday would present its own intrigue.
Lets take the finalists alphabetically:
• Atlanta Falcons: What we have left in this postseason is all beef, no filler four division champs, no wild cards but the Falcons, despite their 13-3 regular-season record, are as close to the requisite Cinderella as any team. Until a week ago, the cant-win-a-playoff-game burden hung on the franchise neck like a yoke. Atlantas only previous Super Bowl appearance was a loss in 1998, so this is the only remaining team trying to climb where it has never before been.
• Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis. Thats all you need. The half of the Harbaugh tale represented here is nice, but the overriding emotional draw left in these playoffs is that the retiring Lewis, the Hall of Fame-bound ex-Cane, is either about to play in his last game ever, or move a step closer to his storybook ending. The Ravens appeared in their only Super Bowl and won in 2000, early in Lewis career. Two more wins and old Ray goes out with the perfect bookends for his career story.