It's 1972: Brothers and future Super Bowl 2013 opponents Jim Harbaugh and John Harbaugh are sitting in the back of their father's car with their hats over their ears. They're unhappy. the boys are heading to elementary school. The family is living in Iowa now – they would move 17 times in their lives – and it's winter. Their dad, Jack Harbaugh looks back at his boys and sees their faces, their sad, sad faces, he says.
So Jack Harbaugh, then an assistant coach at University of Iowa, gives them a pep talk.
"Our thing was, 'We'll attack this day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind! And don't take any wooden nickels,'" he bellowed on a phone call with reporters today, before breaking character, lowering his voice and adding, "I don't know what a wooden nickel is, but it sounded good at the time.
Did the sibling rivalry, which in the weeks preceding the Super Bowl has resulted in smug word mutations like "Harbowl" and "Superbaugh," begin there in that car over who would give the most effort.
No, the Harbaugh brothers' father, mother, and sister said. There is no rivalry.
Though the boys competed with one another, they were not raised to be combatants. (But that didn't stop John from pranking the conference call and, introducing himself as "John from Baltimore", asking: "Is it true that both of you like Jim better than John?" Jacki Harbaugh, who insisted she was a neutral party, grabbed her husband and started toward the phone, but their daughter could tell it was her brother's voice and identified him.)
Jealousies stemming from parental comparisons – such as Jim is a better athlete, or John is much smarter – did not happen because Jack and Joani Harbaugh made a conscious decision not to pit their boys against each other
"To make a comparison demeans," Jack Harbaugh said. "We choose to look at them similarly."
This Super Bowl will be the first coached by two men from the same family, but it's not the first time Jim and John Harbaugh have stared at one another across the field. The brothers met in a Thanksgiving game in 2011, in which John Harbaugh's Ravens beat the 49ers. After that game, Jack Harbaugh and Joani walked to the locker rooms and victorious John Harbaugh celebrating with his team, felt they weren't needed there. So the parents walked across the hallway to check on losing 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. He was sitting by himself, still wearing his headset.
Jack Harbaugh said that, in that moment, he felt he thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,
"One is going to win, and one is going to lose," Jacki Harbaugh said when asked about the upcoming Super Bowl. "But I'd like it to end in a tie, can the NFL do that?"