NEW ORLEANS – What happened Sunday on the world’s stage has been going on between John and Jim Harbaugh for many moons.
Jim, 50, is a little more than a year younger than John. So much of his childhood was devoted to trying to measure up to his big brother.
That’s how, in part, Jim ended up running faster, throwing the ball farther, climbing higher.
On so many days, a similar story played out for Jim.
Get knocked down. Get back up.
Take a beating. Come back stronger.
Get shown up. Exact revenge.
Somewhere along the line, two tough kids became two great coaches, but Super Bowl Sunday really was just another chapter out of that childhood.
Johnny gave Jimmy a first-half whooping. And Jimmy fought back like a champion after others had given up. He made it a donnybrook, a full-out donnybrook.
But it ended with John, the head coach of the Ravens, putting Jim, the head coach of the 49ers, in another headlock while Mom and Dad watched somewhat uncomfortably from their seats in the Superdome.
John Harbaugh accomplished his life’s mission Sunday. But he prevented his little brother from accomplishing his.
They shared the high points of their careers, then both walked away with pits in their stomach.
The postgame handshake between them was “the hardest thing” John ever experienced and he said beating Jim was “very painful.”
Said the big brother, “I told him I loved him.”
Said the little brother, “I told him congratulations, and that I was proud of him.”
Jim was always the better athlete, and he had the team with the better athletes Sunday.
But John, the man Jim says could have been anything he wanted, found a way to prevail.
The Ravens’ advantages in experience and age did not go unnoticed.
There was the fumble by 49ers rookie LaMichael James that led to a Ravens touchdown in the second quarter.
There was the overthrow to Randy Moss by second-year 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick that was intercepted by cagey veteran Ed Reed.
There was the 49ers’ illegal-formation penalty on the opening play from scrimmage that wiped out a 20-yard gain.
There was the pass-interference penalty by nickel back Chris Culliver for 14 yards, and an encroachment penalty on the same drive that led to a 38-yard field goal by the Ravens’ Justin Tucker with 4:19 remaining.
“There were some big penalties,” Jim Harbaugh said. “The 5-yard variety really hurt us in the game.”
The brothers each had their share of bold decisions in Super Bowl XLVII.
When the 49ers scored a touchdown to cut the Ravens’ lead to 31-29 with 9:57 left in the fourth, Jim Harbaugh decided to go for two. But John Harbaugh countered with an all-out blitz that forced a throwaway by Kaepernick.
Jim Harbaugh later wisely but boldly challenged a spot, won the challenge and took away a first down from the Ravens with under eight minutes remaining.
John Harbaugh got a little cute late in the second quarter. Instead of going for a 31-yard field goal, Harbaugh, the former special teams coach, called for the first fake field goal in Super Bowl history.
Tucker took the direct snap and ran left, but on fourth-and-9, Tucker was stopped after 8 yards by Darcel McBath.
The energy that was drained from the Superdome shortly after halftime seemed to be pumped into the 49ers by their coach. After the power outage, the 49ers took advantage of every opportunity the Ravens presented to score 24 of the next 27 points.
“There is no greater competitor,” John said. “There is 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.
“What they have done the last two years is unprecedented. They showed it today the way they battled back and fought right to the end. That is who he is and that is who they are. I could not be more proud of him and what he has done.”
But a sharp move by John in the final seconds helped preserve the victory. He decided to have punter Sam Koch take a safety and run 8 seconds off the clock so the 49ers would get the ball back with 4 seconds left down three.
John Harbaugh and Jim Harbaugh always brought out the best in each other through competition – hard, beautiful competition.
They did it again Sunday.