NEW ORLEANS — Anyone who still thinks God forgot to give Jim Harbaugh a sense of humor must have missed his Monday afternoon press conference at the Marriott Hotel. In his second meeting with the media since arriving in town Sunday night, the San Francisco 49ers coach was Jerry Seinfield in a ball cap. He didn’t spend his entire 20 minutes in front of the microphone doing a standup routine, but he managed to sprinkle a lot of levity among the serious football talk.
For example, when someone asked him for his reaction to President Barack Obama’s comments that if he had a son he might not allow him to play football because of the dangerous nature of the game, Harbaugh seized the opportunity to talk about a future gridiron star.
“I have a four-month-old, almost five-month-old son, Jack Harbaugh, and if President Obama feels that way, then there will be a little bit less competition for Jack Harbaugh when he gets old,” Harbaugh said. He went on to point out that Jack is a “really big kid” and has “an enormous head.”
“We don’t have a 40 (time) on him yet, but his wingspan is plus one and once he grows into that head he is going to be something. It’s early, but expectations are high for young Jack.”
Harbaugh also told the story of when he landed his first head coaching job, at San Diego University in 2004. He called Bo Schembechler, his old coach at Michigan, thinking that he would be congratulated.
“Tell me you’re going to have a tight end that puts his hand on the ground on every snap,” Harbaugh said, recounting the conversation in his best Schembechler voice. “Tell me you’re going to have a fullback that lines up directly behind the quarterback, and a tailback in the I-formation.
“Yes, Coach, we will have that,” Harbaugh said.
“Good,” replied Schemblecher. “Congratulations on getting the job.”
It will be interesting to see if Harbaugh maintains his loose demeanor throughout the week as the second-year coach of the 49ers prepares his team for Sunday night’s Super Bowl XLVII, a game many pundits have labeled “HarBowl.” The 49ers will play the Baltimore Ravens who, as everyone surely knows by now, are coached by Jim’s older brother (by 15 months), John.
In fact, that was a subject brought up at John Harbaugh’s Super Bowl week opening press conference two hours later at the Hilton Riverwalk Hotel, shortly after the Ravens arrived here following a memorable sendoff by several thousands of fans who showed up in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor despite a cold drizzle.
Someone asked John how long it would take before his “baby” brother, who isn’t necessarily known for his affection for the media, has a meltdown answering the same questions day after day.
“Take your shots. Keep asking them. It’s OK with us,” said John, whose response drew laughter.
Asked how long he could stand being asked the same questions, John said, “I will not crack. You can ask me the same question time and time again. You’re just going to get the same answer.”
John Harbaugh then turned the tables on the questioner. “How long can you last if you get the same answer?” He then added about his brother: “He’s going to be fine. He’s going to be OK.”
Monday’s media conferences were just the beginning for the Harbaughs, who, in addition to fine-tuning their game plans, holding daily practices and trying to make this as normal a week as possible will meet the press again Tuesday during Media Day at the Mercedes Superdome, Wednesday and Thursday at their team’s hotels and, finally, on Friday morning at the New Orleans Convention Center, where they will hold their final pregame state of addresses and pose with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, which one of them will be gleefully clutching come Sunday night.
The Harbaughs definitely are the first family of football this week. Jack and Jackie, the brothers’ parents who live in Mequon, Wis. — and predictably will be torn in two directions on Sunday — will even hold their own press conference this week. John, 50, and Jim, 49, learned football at the feet of their father, who was a longtime football coach himself.
After playing for Schembechler at Michigan, Jim forged a 14-year NFL career as a quarterback for the Bears, Colts, Ravens (in 1998) and Chargers. He nearly led the Colts to the Super Bowl after the ’95 season, earning the nickname “Captain Comeback” for his efforts. Following his playing career, Jim was an assistant coach at Western Kentucky, under his father, and a quarterbacks coach for the Raiders for two years before getting the San Diego job. He then coached Stanford from 2007-10 before becoming coach of the 49ers in 2011. In two seasons, he has compiled a 24-7-1 record (.714) and led San Francisco to the NFC championship game each year.
John played college football at Miami of Ohio but not professionally. After making coaching stops at several colleges, he joined Andy Reid’s staff in Philadelphia, where he was the Eagles’ special teams coordinator from 1998-2007. He became the Ravens’ head coach in 2008. In five seasons in Baltimore, he has compiled a 54-26 record (.675) and has taken the Ravens to the playoffs in each of his five seasons. Only two other NFL coaches, Chuck Knox and Bill Cowher, accomplished that feat in their first five seasons.
Now these two brothers, who shared a bedroom growing up, will share the NFL’s biggest stage Sunday night when they stand on opposite sidelines in the Superdome. And watching them from their seats will be their parents, Jack and Jackie, whose hearts will experience one big dose of ambivalence. At the end of the night, they know one son will be riding high while the other son will be feeling low.
This won’t be the first time the brothers Harbaugh have faced off in an NFL game. On Thanksgiving night in 2011, the 49ers and Ravens met in Baltimore, where John’s Ravens beat Jim’s 49ers 16-6. You can bet the turkey didn’t digest well for Jack and Jackie that night.
A few years ago, the brothers were in a similar yet different situation than their parents. In 2002, they watched their dad coach Western Kentucky to the NCAA FCS national championship. Jim, who then was living in Oakland and coaching with the Raiders, was asked on Monday what he remembers about that game.
“It was the best football game I’ve ever watched on TV,” he said. Because his dad team won a national title, right? “Because I remember telling the people I was with that it was the best football game I’ve ever watched on TV,” he deadpanned.
Jim Harbaugh, ladies and gentlemen. He’ll be here all week.