Imagine coaching in the NFL Super Bowl. Then imagine coaching against your brother in the Super Bowl. I tried but I couldn’t imagine the effect of such a game on my relationship with my sibling Randy moments, days, weeks, months and years after the game.
Obviously, the Super Bowl is anything but a win-win situation for opposing coaches and teams. One team is euphoric, and the other squad goes down. One team finishes the game as a winner; the other squad is a loser.
When my kid brother, about three years my junior, and I competed against each other in basketball, baseball or tennis, the competitive juices flowed. We often became angry at each other, shouted at one another and once in a while threw fists. One of us whacked the other with a tennis racquet once.
As the older brother, I hated it when Randy outgrew me and became decidedly better in every sport.
Most of these competitive flare-ups happened in one-on-one events in our backyard. We had a homemade basketball court there. We played catch with a hardball, sometimes (usually) thrown with all our might. And, well, we flailed away with tennis racquets. We each on occasion earned spankings from our parents; often both of us were ordered to lean forward and observe a disciplinary whack or double-whack.
It looked to me like Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco 49ers) and his brother John (Baltimore Ravens) handled themselves a bit more maturely than Webb brothers. They should. They are well-paid adults and they stood on the world’s largest stage. When Randy and I squared off, not a TV camera was anywhere in sight. We hope there were no tape recorders either.
As the Super Bowl progressed, I confess to wondering how the losing brother might take the loss, especially if it was a proverbial thrashing. As San Francisco quickly and dramatically closed the gap in the second half, I wondered how John Harbaugh would feel if his team blew a big lead. In football, no team wants to be remembered as a “choker,” especially in the Super Bowl.
When the final horn sounded, Baltimore claimed a down-to-the-wire 34-31 victory. It was probably good for the Harbaugh clan that it at least ended up a tight game. It could have gone either way. Small consolation for Jim, the 49ers and their fans.
I watched the brothers make their way across the field for the customary handshake. They appeared to greet each other cordially – and briefly. Reporters said Jim congratulated his victorious brother. No anger was apparent. No shouting back and forth. No punches thrown.
Now I wonder what the mood might be at the next Harbaugh family reunion. Or the first one after John receives his gaudy Super Bowl ring. Will Super Bowl passions resurface? Will the coaches revert to adolescent competitive habits? Will they speak to each other?
My advice would be to lock up the tennis racquets.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.