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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Banshee's Best: Brother Against Brother

It's Super Sunday.  While it's not a holiday celebrated by Hallmark, it is one of the most anticipated days of the year in the United States.  People watch the game for all different reasons.  To keep up with chatter in the office break room.  An excuse to eat greasy food and drink beer.  To see if Beyonce lip syncs or to catch the debut of pricey new commercials.  But, for many of us, Super Sunday is a day to gather together with the people we love to watch a game that we love.  It is a time to gather with family and friends.

If you are reading a blog called Banshee Sports, then you are probably already aware that today will be an extra special Super Sunday for the Harbaugh family.  When Super Bowl XLVII kicks off, it will be the first time in major American sports that two brothers have faced each other as head coaches trying to capture their game's greatest prize.  There are two reasons why this story line has such great appeal to the American public.  First of all, it's so novel.  Think about it.  There are more than 300 million people in America.  Only two of those people will be a head coach in tonight's Super Bowl.  And this year, those two people shared each other's hand-me-downs.  What are the odds?

But more importantly, a game pitting brother vs. brother is a narrative that most of us can relate to.  Most of us can't really identify with the Ray Lewis narrative of a month-long emotional retirement after a life that included murder charges and a miraculous recovery from torn muscles.  In contrast, almost all of us can relate to inter-family competition.  If not with a brother, then with a sister or cousin or the legend of an uncle.  We all understand the basic human emotion of competition tempered by love.

So, who are these Harbaughs?  John Harbaugh is the coach of the Baltimore Ravens.  Jim Harbaugh is the coach of the San Francisco 49ers.  Both boys were born in Toledo, Ohio to parents Jack and Jackie Harbaugh.  Though never as famous as his two boys, Jack Harbaugh was a successful football coach in his own right.  John was born in September of 1962.  Just fifteen months later, Jim was born.  Little sister Joani came along several years after that.  And lest you think that Joani was a shrinking violet left out of the family passion, think again.  As a little girl, Joani helped her dad splice together game films.  Evidently, she enjoyed living in a hyper-competitive household where the mood at dinner was determined by wins and losses.  Joani married Tom Crean.  Yes, that Tom Crean, head coach of Indiana's men's basketball team.

In most families, older brother John would be the athletic hero of the family.  John played defensive back at a Division I university.  Then he followed in his father's footsteps and joined the college coaching ranks.  After thirteen years as a college assistant, John broke into the NFL in 1996 as a special teams coach for the Philadelphia Eagles.  In 2008, John was hired as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens.  And, after just five seasons, John has led his team to the Super Bowl.  Not too shabby.  But in the Harbaugh family, John is not a standout performer.

Way back in high school, younger brother Jim beat out John to become starting quarterback at Pioneer High School in Michigan.  Jim then went on to be a four year letterman at quarterback for the University of Michigan Wolverines.  While wearing the maize and blue in 1986, Jim won a Fiesta Bowl, was named to the Academic All Big Ten Team and was named Big Ten player of the year.  Jim was then selected in the first round of the 1987 NFL draft by Mike Ditka's Chicago Bears.  Jim had a fourteen-year NFL career that included a Pro Bowl selection in 1995 and an induction into the Indianapolis Colts' Ring of Honor.  Shortly after his retirement as a player, Jim joined the Raiders coaching staff as a QB coach.  After a short stint as head coach of an FCS program in San Diego, Jim has hired as head football coach at Stanford in 2007.  After four season successful seasons, Jim left the college ranks and became the head coach of the 49ers in 2011.  In just his second season as a head coach in the NFL, Jim has guided his team to the Super Bowl.

Personally, I feel a little sad for the Harbaughs on this day.  Sure, there will be a Super Bowl champion in the family when this day ends.  But, there will also be a Super Bowl loser.  It's a dilemma the Manning family never had to face since their boys never played against each other in a Super Bowl.  As an older sibling, I can really only put myself in the position of big brother John.  Born into a football family, there is no doubt that hoisting the Lombardi Trophy has been a life long dream.  But, even though he's been smaller and less physically talented than Jim for most of his life, older brother John probably still feels somewhat protective over Jim even to this day.  As for Jim, my guess would be that despite his achievements, he looks up to John.  And in some ways, I bet Jim doesn't really want to topple the person he's looked up to throughout life.  I could be way off.  And maybe the fact that I'm a girl taints this analysis, but I do find the psychology of this matchup to be interesting.

So, as you watch tonight's game and enjoy your friends and family that are gathered around, take a moment to think about what it would be like to have the ones you love the most competing against you in the most important event of your life.  Then, by all means, get back to the guacamole and wings.

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