He described himself merely as a caller from Baltimore, and Jack and Jackie Harbaugh couldn’t believe the nerve of his question.
Jack and Jackie are parents to John and Jim Harbaugh, who are about to become the first brothers ever to coach against each other in the Super Bowl. And they’ve always remained fiercely neutral regarding any competition between their boys.
So they couldn’t believe their ears when this guy from Baltimore asked if it was true that they’ve always liked Jim better.
“John?” asked Joani Crean, the sharp-eared kid sister of the brood. Sure enough, it was Ravens coach John Harbaugh, playing a little prank on his parents as they fielded questions about the Super Bowl on a national conference call on Thursday.
“Mom was ready to come through this phone,” said Jack Harbaugh to his eldest son. “I’m so happy that Joani recognized your voice.”
For the record, the Harbaughs pledged to maintain absolute neutrality when they watch Super Bowl XLVII, Feb. 3 in New Orleans. They don’t know exactly where they’ll be during the game, but Jackie assured reporters she would love a tie if that were possible.
“We are neutral in the Super Bowl, and we are just excited that they’ve brought their teams to the pinnacle of sport,” she said. “The Super Bowl is the ultimate accomplishment for them and their teams.”
Crean joked at one point that she would wear black to the game so as not to betray any bias for John’s Ravens or Jim’s San Francisco 49ers.
The tone of the call was generally lighthearted, but the Harbaughs acknowledged the emotional difficulty of watching their sons coach against each other, something they did once before on Thanksgiving night 2011.
“The thing I remember most is that we were in a little office with a TV,” said Jack Harbaugh of the game at M&T Bank Stadium. “And I’ve never seen Jackie like that. She was nearly comatose, just staring at the screen with no emotion.”
The Harbaughs went downstairs to greet both sons after the game, won 16-6 by the Ravens, and Jack was overwhelmed at the contrast in emotion between the two locker rooms. “That’s something I remember and something I’m not looking forward to at the Super Bowl,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it was still about family,” Jackie said. “That’s what came through at the Thanksgiving game.”
Jack was John and Jim’s first role model, a longtime college coach who always urged them to tag along in the locker room or on the practice field. He called it “the greatest joy I’ve gotten in my life” to watch them follow him into coaching.
Both Harbaugh brothers have downplayed the family angle, saying it shouldn’t overshadow the players and strategies of the season’s biggest football game. Their parents followed suit, with Jackie saying she wants the game described simply as the Super Bowl, not the Harbaugh Bowl.
She did say, however, that last Sunday, when both brothers coached their teams to victory in conference championship games, was a “joyful moment for our whole family.”
By CHILDS WALKER