Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, the parents of football’s famous coaching brothers, faced a tough call this week.
They could travel to Atlanta to watch Jim Harbaugh try to get the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Or they could head to New England to watch John Harbaugh attempting to do the same for the Baltimore Ravens.
As it turns out, this was no “Sophie’s Choice.” It was a sofa choice.
“We’ll be right here in our living room in Mequon, Wisconsin,” Jack Harbaugh said by phone Monday. “It’ll be just the two of us. That’s where we enjoy the game best.”
The Harbaughs, who have been married for 51 years, have always had a good game plan. (They spent their honeymoon attending a Giants-Browns game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium).
And they’ve learned that when they’re watching Jim and John coach, they don’t like distractions. That’s understandable this week, considering the stakes. If the 49ers beat the Falcons and the Ravens beat the Patriots, the Super Bowl will be a family reunion-the Har-Bowl.
Just don’t ask them to look that far ahead.
“I’m going to paraphrase my wife: ‘We’re going to take it one week at a time, one game at a time,’ ” Jack Harbaugh, 73, said.
The two brothers have squared off once, memorably, on Thanksgiving Day in 2011. That’s when John’s Ravens got the better of Jim’s 49ers, 16-6. Jack and Jackie attended that one in person, at M&T Bank Stadium, although they made sure to watch it in a suite so that they could focus on the action, not the hoopla.
Jack Harbaugh coached for 43 years, including a stint as Stanford’s defensive coordinator (1980-81). There were times Jack would ask his players, “Who’s got it better than us?” – a refrain that might sound familiar to 49ers fans.
And while his boys are each searching for their first championship, pop already has one: Jack was the head coach of the Western Kentucky University team that won the 2002 NCAA Division I-AA national championship.
And while Jack clearly passed along some X’s and O’s through his DNA, he said he watches his sons’ games as a father, not a coach.
“When we watch, we’re not sitting there saying, ‘They should run here,’ or ‘Why aren’t we blitzing?’ ” Jack Harbaugh said. “We watch these games understanding what the games mean to the players and to their families. We’re thinking of the people involved.”
These days, the only thing that goes into overtime is their TV. Last Saturday, for example, Jack and Jackie tuned in for a full day of family-friendly television. They watched the Ravens beat the Broncos, the 49ers beat the Packers and Indiana beat Minnesota in men’s college basketball. (Their daughter, Joanie, is married to Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean.)
“My parents are in their 70s, so that’s a lot of excitement, that’s a lot of action,” Jim Harbaugh said Monday. “That’s like going back-to-back-to-back, like three ‘24’ episodes in a row.”