As we close in on a half-century of Super Bowls and all the madness that surrounds it, you would think it is pretty much impossible to break new ground on any subject or experience related to the game.
But that was definitely a first Friday morning when the opposing coaches, who happen to be brothers, held a joint press conference on a stage with the Vince Lombardi Trophy they’re both trying to win.
Amazing. Just because we’ve heard a whole lot about John and Jim and the Har-Bowl this week, let’s not forget that their story is quite possibly the unlikeliest Super Bowl proposition ever. It was enough of a long-odds shot that one set of parents could produce two top NFL coaches, but there aren’t enough zeroes to calculate the likelihood of those coaches simultaneously having jobs and winning enough of the right games in the right year to land opposite each other in the Super Bowl.
But as I observed them at their press conference Friday morning, taking questions with their parents sitting nearby (John was chattier, as has been the case all week), I couldn’t help wondering how everyone in the family really feels, deep inside, in the place where their thoughts remain private.
I’m guessing they’re seriously conflicted.
On one hand, it’s hard to imagine a finer family moment, a more wondrous accomplishment. Talk about a testament to how the parents raised the boys, and what the boys have done with that foundation.
“I’d just like to say how proud we are,” John Harbaugh said as he opened the press conference.
This should be the happiest occasion imaginable, but there is a catch, a drawback, a moustache scrawled on the masterpiece. Someone is going to win the Super Bowl, but someone is also going to experience a crushing disappointment.
Quite simply, they can’t have it all.
Unlike the families of other coaches who have made it to this game, they can’t experience sheer joy as the confetti drops.
It’s a circumstance that has me thinking of one of the wisest things anyone ever told me, that there are trade-offs in everything that happens in life, no exceptions. Even if you win the lottery, you have tax issues. A gray area always exists. Does anyone disagree?
That’s certainly the case here. A football family that’s all about accomplishing and attaining wouldn’t want this to unfold any other way, because that would mean one of the teams didn’t make it this far, but still, this is all just so uncomfortable in a way, so … awkward.
For what it’s worth, Jim couldn’t get off the stage fast enough Friday morning. As soon as he and John and their parents and a grandfather posed with the trophy at the end of the press conference, he gave his mother a quick kiss and strode for the exit, head down. While John lingered to make small talk, his brother’s body language screamed “Get me out of here!”
But John has also alluded to feeling uncomfortable at times this week, such as when he admitted that he had thought about the fact that one of them was going to lose, or when he said it was “probably a little tougher emotionally” to play his brother as opposed to any other coach – a major confession from someone who normally loathes the subject of his or anyone’s feelings.
Fortunately for the game that will eventually be played (I promise) at the end of all this, the brothers are just coaching, not actually suiting up. Sisters Venus and Serena Williams have met a handful of times in the finals of major tennis tournaments, and most of those matches have been unmemorable, uncomfortable affairs the sisters seemingly just wanted to endure. I doubt that actually lining up opposite a close sibling brings out your best.
Still, each Harbaugh coach will man a sideline Sunday night and try desperately to earn football’s greatest prize, making his brother miserable in the process. My guess is they would rather it be different, yet they also wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s a perfect situation except for the part that isn’t perfect. Their family will treasure an unforgettable week of making history, then sigh in relief when it’s over.