Focus all on brothers for epic Harbaugh Bowl
On Thanksgiving night, after the NFL world already has had its fill of two other Turkey-day games, the much-anticipated Harbaugh Bowl finally will commence on the biggest of stages with one of the league's top inter-conference games so far this season.
Although it's a very important game for the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens (7-3) and the NFC West-leading 49ers (9-1), John and Jim are clearly the bigger story.
And that might be the only reason why John, who coaches the Ravens, and Jim, rookie coach of the 49ers, are thankful it's a short work week.
John and Jim participated separately in national conference calls Monday, with Jim's national call coming right after his weekly session with Bay Area media.
Few of the questions in either news conference centered upon Xs and Os.
Rather, they were asked about themselves.
Both recalled the last time they were on opposing teams (an American Legion baseball game when they were in high school). Everyone wanted to know what it was like growing up with a father who's a football coach. One reporter even asked John about the treatment their younger sister received (''She pretty much had the run of everything,'' John revealed).
This much is certain: It's going to be a one-of-a-kind Thanksgiving for the Harbaugh clan.
''All the extended Harbaughs will have a great time, one way or the other,'' John said. ''There will be one Harbaugh side that will be really happy, and there will be another Harbaugh side that will be really, really disappointed. And then Mom and Dad will be torn. That's how I think it will go.''
The sellout crowd at M&T Bank Stadium will include plenty of Harbaughs, and John will be footing the brunt of the bill.
''I'm the one who's had to get the tickets. That's been kind of an expensive proposition,'' John said. ''I haven't heard from Jim. I haven't really gotten an offer. I was surprised about that.''
Told about John's concern, Jim said, ''I'm not keeping score on that. We'll just keep score of the ballgame.''
The 49ers can clinch the NFC West title with a win Thursday and a loss by the Seahawks on Sunday, and the Ravens are looking to maintain their perch atop the AFC North.
But even the Harbaughs realize the significance of this game is in the matchup of John, 49, and younger brother Jim, 47.
''It's an amazing thing. To say that you're not thinking about it probably wouldn't be real,'' John said. ''It's a historic thing, it's very special. I couldn't be more proud for our parents or for Jim. I just think it's really neat.''
Jim Harbaugh would probably have a warmer regard for the matchup if he didn't have to bring his team from San Francisco to Baltimore just three days after playing Arizona, a game the 49ers dominated 23-7 while stretching their winning streak to eight consecutive games.
''As far as the nostalgia of it, I think it's very considerate of the NFL to fly us out there,'' Jim said. ''I haven't seen him on Thanksgiving in I don't know how many years.''
Just in case his sarcasm wasn't evident, he added: ''There's no doubt we got the short end of the straw on this one, but we'll see if we can make history – it's the first two brothers that have coached against each other, and the first time an NFL team has traveled three times zones to play a Thursday night game after a Sunday game since the league went to a 16-game schedule.''
It really won't be much of a family gathering. Jim and the 49ers will head back to the West Coast after the game, and John isn't even sure if their parents, Jack and Jackie, will watch the game at the stadium.
''They're talking about coming pregame and being out there on the field and then sneaking away and watching it on TV,'' John said. ''I think they're kind of torn and conflicted about that.''
The similarity of the brothers was evident by their answers to identical questions. Asked if the Harbaughs are the first family of football, John answered: ''I would never even go there.''
Jim responded: ''I don't have an opinion on that.''
The inevitable comparison between the brothers veered way off target when a reporter asked John: Is Jim cockier than you are?
The answer: ''That's the most ridiculous question I've ever heard.''
During John's conference call, the topic drifted briefly to football when someone wondered whether standout linebacker Ray Lewis would be available Thursday after missing Sunday's win over Cincinnati with a toe injury.
John had no desire to give his brother – or anyone – a clue about the status of the team's defensive leader.
''Is that something I really want to share right now?'' he said. ''Would there be any value in doing that?''
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