Ah, Thanksgiving. A day for family and food. Toss in a competitive board game or a pick-up game of backyard football and you have all the makings of a great American holiday.
Oh, if it were only that simple. After catching up and reflecting on the year passed, the games begin… and out come the horns. Backyard football was never a favorite option among my family, my sisters in particular. We used to play Sequence, a strategic board-and-card game. Combating a relentless turkey hangover, we’d sit, and we’d battle. Dignity, pride and bragging rights on the line. Intense. Well, it was for us! But not compared to the Thanksgiving Day competition that one particular family has planned this year. Their backyard Turkey Bowl will include over 70,000 screaming fans, grown men chasing each other like hungry neanderthals, and a spot in the history books.
The subjects of this Turkey-Day extravaganza: John and Jim Harbaugh, the first brothers to be NFL head coaches. Sons of long-time college football coach, Jack Harbaugh, these two have continued the football bloodline. While John and Jim were growing up, the Harbaugh family moved 12 times as Jack took new coaching jobs. As you can imagine, the brothers grew very close. Of course with that statistic, they didn’t have much of a choice BUT to be friends! After high school both Harbaugh boys played college ball, John as a defensive back at Miami University (Ohio), and Jim as a quarterback at the University of Michigan. Jim continued playing in the NFL where his career spanned from 1987-2001.
With football resumes like that, the competition has probably been simmering between these two turkeys since their births (just one year and three months apart)! I should point out, I use the term “turkey” here with no disrespect :). I am certain, however, that both men have made each other better at both playing and coaching football throughout the years. John was very supportive of Jim’s decision to take the San Fran job. “He loves competing at the highest level, and the NFL’s the highest level of football. […] he’s built for the job and I think he’s the right guy for the job,” the eldest Harbaugh said of his brother earlier this year.
The other brothers who can closest relate to the Harbaughs’ situation today are Rex and Rob Ryan. Rex, the head coach of the New York Jets, and twin Rob, a defensive coordinator now with the Dallas Cowboys, tend to handle their sibling rivalry a little less gracefully. Basically, they (especially Rex) use press conferences to bicker with each other like two elementary-age girls who have unfortunately been given microphones. Their nit-picking knows no boundaries. Rex has even gone far enough to dress up as Rob for a press conference before the Jets took on Rob’s then-team, the Browns. Maybe that’s why Rob felt it acceptable to openly address Rex’s foot fetish with the media? Hard telling.
Fortunately, the Harbaughs have steered clear of the Ryan brothers’ path of mutual humiliation thus far. Of course, they haven’t played each other just yet. When asked of a face-off with Jim shortly after he was hired in January, John said, “It’ll be fun (to face each other). It’s not going to be new for us. We’ve been doing it for quite a long time. We shared the same bedroom for 18 years, so we’ve been wrestling around for quite a long time. It’ll be fun to get back at it in this way, whenever that comes up.”
Well, it’s finally come up. Jim’s squad made the three-time zone leap to Baltimore yesterday, which makes for a quick game-day turn around in this short week. Jim has this to say on the long trek to the east coast,”I definitely think it was very considerate of the NFL to reunite the brothers on Thanksgiving. I think that’s going to be very difficult for our team. There’s no question that we drew the short end of the straw on this one.”
Sibling translation: “NOT FAIR!” 😉
“Harbowl” aside, I’m loving this matchup. The Ravens are perched atop the AFC North with a 7-3 record, while the rookie, Harbaugh, has led his 49ers to a 9-1 tally. That’s impressive, as is. It’s even more impressive considering that they haven’t had a winning season in 8 years!
My guess is that this will be close and low-scoring. Both squads boast impressive defensive units, with the Ravens holding a slight edge. Turnovers will prove costly and I wouldn’t be surprised if this comes down to special teams play.
My pick? I’m going to go with Jim & the Niners!! While John has the coaching experience in the NFL, Jim has 15 years as a player, which definitely helps. Jim is a little more animated, and I love his energy and intensity. I think the 49ers will play with the same urgency shown by their coach. San Francisco gets the victory and evens up the head-to-head record with Baltimore at 2-2!
Another interesting tidbit to this story line is that Jim and John’s parents, Jack and Jackie, will mark their 50th wedding anniversary on Friday. How’s that for two major milestones in two days?! Not too shabby, Harbaugh Family!