NEW ORLEANS — John Harbaugh had to wait to truly celebrate his first Super Bowl championship.
Even as the clock ran out and the Baltimore Ravens jumped around and embraced each other, the winning coach strode toward center of the field hurting for his brother, Jim, as much as he was pleased for himself.
The short embrace between the Baltimore and San Francisco coaches on the floor of the Superdome, in which Jim briefly touched John’s face, “was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, ever been associated with in my life,” John said.
“Jim is a great competitor,” John Harbaugh added. “I just love him, obviously. I think anybody out there who has a brother can understand. I just believe in him and I have so much respect for him. I admire him. I look up to him in so many ways and I am hurting for him in that sense.”
It even seemed as though the triumphant Harbaugh brother was happy in some way that the Niners nearly overcame a 22-point deficit in a thrilling 34-31 Ravens victory on Sunday night.
“I just knew with Jim Harbaugh being on the other sideline and all of those years we have been together that game was going to be a dog fight right to the end,” John Harbaugh said. “Those guys were coming back. There’s no greater competitor and no greater coach in the National Football League or in the world, as far as I’m concerned, than Jim Harbaugh. The way that team played proves it. … That is who he is and that is who they are. I could not be more proud of him.”
John Harbaugh said he simply told Jim, younger by 18 months, that he loved him, and that Jim congratulated him.
One thing was clear: The Harbaugh family threw a Super party. Their parents, Jack and Jackie, had delighted the media with their gracious, outgoing manner leading up to a game that had more than its share of excitement.
“It was a heck of a football game,” Jim Harbaugh said, adding that he told his brother he was proud of him.
Jim Harbaugh indicated he was still upset about a couple of decisions by officials — particularly the Niners’ last offensive play, a fourth-down incompletion intended for Michael Crabtree — but asserted, “We want to handle this thing with class and grace.”
With their parents watching from a private suite in the Superdome, the Harbaugh brothers put on a championship game to remember. First it was the Ravens who raced to a 28-6 lead after Jacoby Jones returned the second-half kickoff a Super Bowl-record 108 yards for a score.
Then came a power outage, which delayed the game for 34 minutes. With the players sitting on their benches waiting for play to resume, Jim Harbaugh went to work.
His 49ers went on a surge of their own, and younger brother Jim had John on the ropes. The 49ers closed to 31-29 in the fourth quarter, but just couldn’t come up with one more play to pull off what would have been the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
After the game, Jack and Jackie stood nearby as John took the interview podium as the winning coach. Neither parent smiled much, clearly dealing with mixed feelings, although they looked proud.
“I knew it was going to be a hard-fought game and very, very competitive,” Jack Harbaugh said. “I’m so proud of John. We talked about where he started at Western Michigan University as a graduate assistant, and then to stand on this stage with the ultimate prize, I’m just so proud of him — and so proud of Jim. … I knew he was coming back. He was going to fight back and he did and made it a great football game, maybe one of the great games in Super Bowl history.”
After watching John Harbaugh address the media, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh made their way across the ground level of the Superdome to the 49ers locker room, where Jack spoke with Jim behind closed doors. The Harbaugh parents had predicted that their thoughts would likely be more with whoever lost the game, because they figured that son would need them most.
The leadup to this game was all about the Harbaughs — the first time siblings had coached against each other in the championship game. Every day for nearly two weeks, the two were asked about each others’ careers — John was forthcoming, Jim not so much. Even their parents got in the act with their own news conferences.
The Harbaugh family theme was: “Who has it better than us?”
Certainly no family in the NFL.
“I’m just happy it was such a great game,” Jackie Harbaugh said. “I’m happy for John. I know how much Jim wanted this game, too. That’s the way they are. It was right down to the bitter end, really. It’s all in the family, so that’s nice, and after this day’s over, they’ll go back to work.”