Friday 24 November 2017

NFL: Sibling rivalry adds unexpected twist to Superbowl XLVII

Ian Parker

SUPER BOWL XLVII would be the ultimate family gathering for the Harbaughs in New Orleans this weekend, if only one of them did not have to lose.

John Harbaugh will coach his Baltimore Ravens against younger brother Jim and his San Francisco 49ers, with parents Jack and Jackie, and sister Joani, trying to keep their emotions in check from the stands.

It promises to be a sibling rivalry unlike any other.

"Anybody who has a brother, especially one that's close in age, gets it," John said.

"You just grow up fighting for everything. You fight for the extra hotdog. You fight for girls. You fight for everything. We both got our girls, but we both want a victory this week."

Only one year separates the brothers in age, but John has been Ravens coach since 2008 and has reached the play-offs five times.

Jim is in his second season with the 49ers and although he also has a 100 per cent record of reaching the post-season himself, he is happy to defer to his elder sibling.

"He's a great coach," Jim said. "He's very talented. I've said it many times, I think I'm half the coach that he is but I'm trying. That might be a little bit generous. I have less than half the experience he has, less than half the play-off appearances, wins, etc. We know the task ahead of us, we know the great challenge ahead of us."

Told about the remarks, John did not take the bait.

"He's just trying to soften me up," he said.

The brothers grew up with football in their blood thanks to father Jack, who was a coach all his life at high school and college level, even briefly coming out of retirement to work as an assistant to Jim at Stanford University for one game in 2009.

During endless games in the back yard, nobody ever imagined it would one day lead to this.

"We had our fights, we had our imaginary games more often in the back yard," John said. "We were never coaches, I could tell you that. We were the quarterback and the receiver, we were the stars, we were the players.

"The truth of it is that's what this game is going to be decided by. It's not going to be about the coaches. It's about the guys playing the game and making the plays, like it always is. That's how it always plays out."

There is no question which of those players is attracting the most attention.

Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, a Super Bowl winner in 2001 and a 13-time Pro Bowler, will be playing his final professional game.

His trademark dance will be performed for the final time and the Ravens will hear the last of his inspirational pre-game speeches - at least the last delivered as a player.

If he can end his career by defeating Jim Harbaugh, things will have come full circle for Lewis, whose first career sack was of then Indianapolis Colts quarterback...Jim Harbaugh, back in 1996.

Harbaugh insists he remembers nothing of the play, but he knows plenty about Lewis.

"Ray Lewis is one of the greatest players to ever play the game," he said. "He's a fine person, he's a great football player, and a man I truly respect."

While the Ravens have come this far relying on a veteran core and the dynamics of no-huddle offence led by Joe Flacco, the 49ers have been riding the hot arm of young quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

He was thrown in at the deep end in mid-season when Alex Smith, at the time leading the league at his position, suffered a concussion in week 10, but impressed so much that Smith has not had a look-in since.

How the 25-year-old copes on the big stage could prove decisive in the game, although Jackie Harbaugh - mother of the two coaches - has another idea.

"I would like it to end in tie," she said. "Can the NFL do that?"

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