SANTA CLARA, CALIF. (AP) - Jack Harbaugh has watched his sons go at it for nearly five decades.
From pounding football games on their bedroom floor to timed races up the stairs from the basement and many, many bumps and bruises in between.
That’s why he sees no need to be there in person for Thursday’s matchup _ an NFL first _ between brothers John and Jim Harbaugh when the coaches face off from opposite sidelines with their division-leading teams.
The love of competition was bred into the brothers. Sons of a football coach, living room couches were rearranged so they could dive over the coffee table and use cushions for tackling practice. Coat hangers were bent to become basketball hoops and yarn transformed into homemade nets. There were hand-written scorecards and scoreboards. The brothers devised their own games and, creatively, became announcers to introduce each other before they started.
Come Thursday night at sold-out M&T Bank Stadium, there’s no make believe about it.
“We know it’s going to be emotional, we’re just not sure what emotions we’re going to experience,” Jack said. “It’s such uncharted waters. We’ve experienced it in this business being married for 50 years and coaching 43 years myself. And football and basketball and all the other things we’ve had in our family. This is such uncharted waters to see two in our family competing at this level on this stage. We’ve just never experienced anything like it. It’s not one of those things you go into and you have anything that you can possibly measure it with or against.”
This week, Jack’s longtime catch phrase of “Who’s got it better than us? Nobody!” seems as fitting as ever for this family.
The slogan has been a huge hit out West, where 49ers players have made their own T-shirts featuring those words.
“I’m sorry that he got to it first,” said the 49-year-old John Harbaugh. “I should have thought of that before him. We should have made some T-shirts, too. I think it’s really cool.”
Aside from the game, there’s another special moment the family will celebrate: Jack and Jackie’s 50th wedding anniversary on Friday. Everything has come together in one special, whirlwind week for this sports-crazed family.
Jack and Jackie Harbaugh don’t remember a single serious fight between their sons. Sure, there were arguments, like the common debate over chores _ such as who had to mow the more challenging, sloping side of the lawn. If somebody had a beef with the boys, they would always team up. Each time the family moved as their father changed jobs, they left friends behind but always had each other.