OXFORD, Ohio - There's a football game being played Sunday that has the unique script of two brothers coaching against each other. One is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the other is a graduate of Miami University.
More than a hundred million television viewers are expected to tune in Sunday (Feb. 3) to watch the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, and at least two of the CBS Network cameras will specifically hone in on brothers Jim and John Harbaugh.
This family affair has happened once before, on Thanksgiving Day, 2011. That one went in the favor of John and his Ravens.
"It was one like many battles between Jim and John through the years, really reminiscent of our childhood," said John, the older of the brothers. "It was unbelievable, almost surreal. The attention that it got was really hard to describe. The NFL knew what they were doing, they are a marketing machine. They played the whole family thing. They'd never admit it, but I think in the back of their minds they were hoping for a little dust-up ... that there would be a mid-field flare-up or something between two brothers. That would have made great news.
"The biggest thing I remember is winning the game and how much it seemed to mean to the players. That meant a lot. It was one of the best-played football games you'll ever see. It was in the tradition of the Cradle of Coaches and Michigan. There were very few mistakes made. There were no turnovers, there was one penalty... a huge one that my brother is still complaining about, I might add, that cost them a touchdown. It was played with great defense, ball control and tremendous execution in all three phases. And it was a game to be proud of as a coach. My dad (Jack) was pretty proud of that one. He saw it as being played in the way he grew up, in that same tradition we're talking about."
So, how did John Harbaugh originally wind up at Miami? He told the story during his visit to Oxford last spring, just prior to serving as the keynote speaker at the annual Cradle of Coaches Clinic.
"Tom Reed brought me here (to Oxford) and I'll be forever grateful to Tom for the opportunity to be part of this program," said Harbaugh. "So many of the things we do today with the Ravens is stuff we did at Miami."
Admittedly, Harbaugh says that he never became a great player.
"My senior year was the twilight of a mediocre career," he said. "I worked really hard to be the best player I could be and contributed in the best way I could. I consider it a successful career because of that."
"I had a great experience at Miami," he continued. "It's a great political science department here. I was sold on that during my recruiting trip many years ago. What Miami taught me more than anything else was how to think for myself. That's what they (Miami's political science department) taught. We talked political philosophy and about all of the great thinkers. Miami's faculty was off the charts. It was just a hugely valuable education."
Did he ever have political aspirations?
"Yeah, I had big aspirations for a lot of things," said Harbaugh. "After finishing up here, I went up to Western (Michigan University) with plans of going to graduate school and going to law school. Those were my plans. Then my dad's coaching staff said, 'why don't you come over and coach the running backs?' They had about six guys on their coaching staff back then. Well, I knew nothing about running backs and knew next to nothing about football. So I started doing just the best I could. I got to drive into work with my dad, which was incredible. (Current Michigan head coach) Brady Hoke was the defensive line coach; he was a part-time coach. He and I shared a very small office. I got the bug for coaching. It took about a half a year ... maybe a half a month. And I decided I was going to be a coach."
Harbaugh is proud to be a member of Miami's famed Cradle of Coaches.
"Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian ... then you go back further to Sid Gillman and Earl Blaik ... and then forward to Randy Walker, Terry Hoeppner, Tom Reed, the guys I played for. These guys all stood for the same coaching philosophy and mindset, and it's the same one we're using in Baltimore. To me, that's the roots of football. It's principals and concepts that stand on their own and will never change. And, to me, that's what the Cradle of Coaches means, and that's the tradition of Miami."
Harbaugh was very prophetic last spring when he was asked about the potential of this year's Ravens team.
"I think we're going to be a really good football team," he said. "I'm excited about our guys. I love our quarterback (Joe Flacco). I might be biased, but I think he's got the potential to be a top quarterback in this league. Our defense is going to be as salty as ever. We're building a young offensive line and we have some good young skill players. We've got the makings of a very good team."
And, yes, the Ravens turned out to be a pretty good team.