Super Bowl: Emotional day for the Harbaugh brothers
NEW ORLEANS -- Super Bowl XLVII was slipping away, draining most of his pride, much of his purpose and all of his joy. And Jim Harbaugh, powerless to stop the slide, reacted as emotional men do when witnessing the demolition of their best work.
He paced the sideline and tugged at his cap. He pulled on his sleeves and wiped his mouth. He grimaced and bit his lip and put his hands on his hip.
He shouted and screamed and demonstrated penalty signals.
Nothing had any effect on the performance of Harbaugh's 49ers or that of the officials. His team was losing to the Baltimore Ravens, 34-31, and he was losing to his big brother.
Even John Harbaugh, the winning coach, the fraternal superior on Sunday at the Superdome, wished there were a way to console his brother.
``The meeting with Jim in the middle (of the field) was probably the most difficult thing I have ever been associated with in my life,'' John Harbaugh said.
``It's tough. It's very tough. It's a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be.'' Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh was the enduring storyline of this game for two full weeks. Never had two brothers opposed each other as head coaches in the Super Bowl. Never had two parents, Jack and Jackie, been in the impossible position of rooting for both teams and, therefore, rooting against both teams.
Yet there it was, unfolding quickly and so incredibly lopsided in John's favor. With 71,024 bipartisan fans roaring, the Ravens raced out to leads of 21-3 and 28-6.
This was not the team that Jim Harbaugh had spent the past two seasons charming and cajoling and transforming into a contender. Their fundamentals were coming apart, their smarts were shrinking and their muscles were shriveling.
With the stage at its biggest and the stakes at their highest, nearly everything we had seen and gotten to know about Harbaugh's 49ers suddenly disappeared. San Francisco may have missed more tackles on Sunday than it had in the previous two months.
And then, after a 33-minute power outage in the third quarter, Jim and his team rallied.
"When it was 21-6, I knew he was going to fight back,'' papa Jack Harbaugh said.
If John is the more cerebral brother with slightly thicker skin, Jim has always been the wolverine, the physical kid chafing at every little slight, fighting to prove himself not only more athletically gifted — he was — but also more relentlessly competitive. Jim was the bigger star, the big-time QB at Michigan who enjoyed a good NFL career.
Winning meant so much to Jim he barely enjoyed it. This may be true even now.
So he would not let himself be embarrassed by his brother in front of his wife and parents and sister and the usual gigantic global TV audience.
Moreover, Jim was not about to let all his labor -- the offensive makeover, punctuated by the midseason quarterback switch -- result in his team being humiliated in public.
So the Niners awakened to narrow the score to 28-20 in the third quarter and 31-29 with 9:57 left to play. Any realistic possibility of victory, however, ended in the final three minutes when they had first-and-goal on the Baltimore 7 and failed to score.
All of which precipitated Jim Harbaugh's sideline apoplexy -- symptoms of which persisted as he sat for the postgame news conference griping about the officiating.
He railed against a pass interference call against cornerback Chris Culliver that appeared to deserve the flag.Harbaugh conceded that his team hurt itself with penalties but wondered how every official could have missed several Ravens openly holding while taking a safety in the final seconds.
"I realize I'm on the side of the 49ers,'' he said. "I'm the coach of the 49ers. I probably have some bias there. In my mind, I thought it was obvious.''
It was. But that's not why the 49ers lost to the Ravens and it's not why the younger Harbaugh son lost to his elder.
Officials missed some calls; they always do. The 49ers lost the turnover battle; they rarely do. AndJim Harbaugh may have felt the weight of perceptions. His team had come so perilously close to this game last year and it was, in this game, the betting favorite.
No coach, certainly not Jim Harbaugh, wants any part of reputation as the coach who can't quite finish.
But his team tried to pile dirt on itself from the start. Harbaugh's 49ers looked like they had not been coached since the Jan. 20 NFC Championship game in Atlanta. From bad tackling to painful penalties to mental errors to careless clock management, they spent the first 30 minutes serving up a dizzying display of dreadful football.
It was clearly evident that John Harbaugh's Ravens were better prepared, much more focused and appreciably sharper.
That's why Jim Harbaugh wound up being forced into a postgame handshake during which he squeezed out the last message he wanted to deliver.
"I told him congratulations,'' he said of his brother, "and that I was proud of him."
And it's why the better coach on this day felt twinges of conflict even after being showered with confetti and raising the Lombardi Trophy.
"I look up to him, admire him to much,'' John said of his brother. "And to know that he's over there (in the losing locker room) I'm hurting for him in that since.''
This result will cling to the Harbaughs for the rest of their lives. John will enjoy it when he's around his team and accept it when he's near his brother. Jim, well, may need a few days or even weeks or even years before he can get past it and enjoy a good meal.