SANTA CLARA, Calif. — When addressing his 49ers this week, Jim Harbaugh can point to the monumental miss in his 15-year NFL career: He came a Hail Mary short of making the Super Bowl. He still has an out-of-whack right pinkie and noticeable hitch in his step to show for his time in the league.
His big brother, John, never played at football’s highest level and instead might motivate his Baltimore Ravens with examples of sacrifices by military members in real-life conflicts.
The Harbaughs, separated in age by all of 15 months, took different paths to the doorstep of the Super Bowl. Now, they’re sparking talk of a “Superbaugh.”
Baltimore plays at New England in Sunday’s first game for the AFC title, then San Francisco hosts the New York Giants for the NFC crown. Their parents, Jack and Jackie, plan to watch on television from home in Wisconsin.
While the brothers have spoken during the playoffs, Jim is quick to point out they are each handling business their own way.
“Each situation is different,” he said. “There are some similarities, there are some differences. Their situation is similar in some ways, and different in others. We’re each going to handle it accordingly.”
John Harbaugh began at the lowest rung of coaching and worked his way up slowly, a former college defensive back at Miami of Ohio whose playing career ended there. He has guided the Ravens’ staunch, playmaking defense.
Jim Harbaugh was a star college quarterback at Michigan, a first-round draft pick and eventual Pro Bowler who turned to coaching much later. His thick offensive playbook featuring a version of the West Coast offense can be overwhelming, and Harbaugh has been known to mix in some twists, such as using David Akers to throw a pass on a fake field goal attempt or throwing to a nose tackle-turned part-time fullback.
In last Saturday’s 36-32 last-second win against Drew Brees and the favored Saints, Harbaugh even used star defensive tackle Justin Smith for a few plays on offense.
He gets a kick out of the game-planning process and throwing in some new wrinkles each week.
“Really enjoyable. Yeah, it’s a fun part of the job, and I think the thing that makes it fun is that the players are really stimulated by that,” Jim Harbaugh said. “And we’ve got smart guys that they want it, they almost need it. And really keeps them on a razor’s edge.”
Throughout the season, the Harbaughs talk regularly to share ideas, yet suddenly are in scouting mode with the potential for another history-making matchup next month in Indianapolis. On Thanksgiving night, they became the first brothers to face each other as NFL head coaches.
“It’s pretty neat. I’m proud of him,” John Harbaugh said. “He’s proud of what we’re doing.”
Jim considers himself a Ravens fan.
“Had a chance to watch his game, and found myself, as always, pulling very hard for him and his team. Very happy for his success,” Jim said. “[I watch] as a brother, as a fan of his team, and also as a possible opponent, yes.
John Harbaugh has a postseason-tested roster of player who have been in big games. Linebacker Ray Lewis still is around from the 2001 Super Bowl champion team. Lewis was named MVP in the Ravens’ 34-7 win over the New York Giants.