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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/49ers

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/49ers

Posted on 05 February 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Jacoby Jones 108 yard kickoff return TD (3rd quarter)

4. Jacoby Jones 56 yard TD catch from Joe Flacco on 3rd & 10 (2nd quarter)

3. Colin Kaepernick pass intended for Randy Moss on two point conversion attempt incomplete (4th quarter)

2. Joe Flacco 15 yard pass to Anquan Boldin on 3rd and inches (4th quarter)

1. Colin Kaepernick pass intended for Michael Crabtree on 4th and goal incomplete (4th quarter)

(Ryan’s Plays on Page 2…)

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Super Bowl brilliance brings Flacco’s offseason comments full circle

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Super Bowl brilliance brings Flacco’s offseason comments full circle

Posted on 04 February 2013 by Glenn Clark

NEW ORLEANS, La. — Remember that time when I asked Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco that thing?

I’m sure you remember it. If not, I’m happy to refresh your memory…

Oh right. NOW you remember. I asked Joe Flacco if he thought he was a “Top 5″ NFL quarterback (which had been a hot offseason debate), and he responded by telling me he thought he was THE BEST quarterback in the National Football League.

I bring this conversation back up because it seemed like everyone ON THE FACE OF THE PLANET wanted to remind you of those comments every time Flacco had a moment this season that may have been slightly more “down” than “up.”

During the week, Flacco’s comments to WNST were featured prominently in the coverage NFL Network and ESPN gave in New Orleans. On Sunday, the comments were part of the pre-game package that aired on CBS.

The comments became such a prominent part of the narrative surrounding the Ravens’ fifth year starter that it almost reached the point where you couldn’t make commentary about Flacco without including them. You would either hear “sure, Joe Flacco had a good game-but let’s not forget he thinks he’s the best quarterback in football and he most certainly wasn’t today” or if he struggled perhaps you’d hear something along the lines of “when Joe Flacco plays like this it becomes more and more laughable that he considers himself the best quarterback in football.”

Instead of judging Joe Flacco on his numbers or the Ravens’ record, it became increasingly popular to judge him based on a legitimate answer to a throwaway question presented in the context of a charity radio event at a local bar.

Joe Flacco told me something else that night back in April over in Perry Hall that didn’t get nearly the same amount of publicity. It’s equally worth remembering, however. Fast forward to the 7:30 mark of the above video.

“Everybody wants to go back and forth-’we’re this kind of team, we’re that kind of team.’ Well, you know what kind of team we need to be? We need to be a Super Bowl champion team.”

Wow.

He added “I love winning and I’m going to continue to win no matter what our numbers are.”

I’m starting to think we should have taken this sentence and carved it into stone for prosperity.

Joe Flacco very much so continued to win this season after making those comments. He won double digit regular season games once again, a second AFC North title, a first AFC Championship and Sunday night capped it with a SPARKING Super Bowl MVP performance to win his first ever Vince Lombardi Trophy. Of course, the numbers in the postseason came WITH the winning, as Flacco put together a Joe Montana-esque 11 touchdown, zero interception stretch over four games. The final three TD’s came against Montana’s former team, the San Francisco 49ers, inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Sunday night in Super Bowl XLVII.

So now I put it right back to you, Baltimore Ravens fans? Is Joe Flacco a Top 5 NFL quarterback? Is he the best quarterback in football?

Or perhaps you’re really thinking to yourself “this doesn’t even matter.” That’s essentially what your quarterback is thinking.

“I’ve never cared. I don’t ever want to feel like I’m in a position to defend myself” the quarterback said after hoisting the Lombardi Trophy Sunday night. “It’s not right. I don’t have to do that. We’ll have (the Super Bowl win) forever.”

That’s the answer. It doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter in April. It didn’t matter when the season started. It absolutely didn’t matter in the postseason. It will not matter at all moving forward.

Joe Flacco is a great NFL quarterback. There’s simply no doubting that at this point. Whether that means he’s Top 5, Top 10 or the best quarterback in the game-I’ll leave that for you to decide.

The comments everyone in Baltimore and around the country should have cared much more about were the comments about needing to be the type of team that can win a Super Bowl title. The comments everyone in Baltimore and around the country should have cared more about were the comments about a guy caring much more about winning than numbers.

It shouldn’t have taken a magical postseason run for Charm City to fall in love with this quarterback. It shouldn’t have taken a magical postseason run for many national commentators to realize the guy could really play quarterback and had changed the culture of one of the more successful franchises in the league.

Perhaps Monday would be a good day for those of you in Baltimore that haven’t started fawning over your quarterback yet to start doing so. I’d stop a bit shy of “hero worship”, but I’d make your love known.

I haven’t even bothered with throwing out the word “elite” yet. That one doesn’t matter either. (But the answer is now YES for those scoring at home.)

I’m grateful Joe Flacco had the bravado to step up and tell me he thought he was the best quarterback in football last year. I think that bravado served him well in leading the Baltimore Ravens to their first Super Bowl title in 12 years.

I’m significantly more grateful that Joe Flacco always cared so much about winning. It made for an unforgettable weekend on the Bayou for this particular Baltimore native.

-G

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Perfectly imperfect Ravens show us all they were champions in end

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Perfectly imperfect Ravens show us all they were champions in end

Posted on 04 February 2013 by Luke Jones

NEW ORLEANS — Even after witnessing the most incredible month in the history of the Baltimore Ravens, it’s still difficult to believe it all happened in the hours following their 34-31 win in Super Bowl XLVII.

The Ravens have had better and more talented teams than this group that finished the regular season with a 10-6 record, good enough to win the AFC North but hardly anything to write home about. The offense and Super Bowl most valuable player Joe Flacco were exceptional at times this season but were maddeningly inconsistent as well. A defense regarded as one of the NFL’s finest for more than a decade was far from dominating due to age and a plethora of injuries, taking a significant step back as stars such as Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis missed significant time.

A three-game losing streak in the month of December that included the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron left the Ravens looking anything but “super” as they desperately searched for answers. Frankly, it was difficult to decide just how good they were — or even if they were at all.

Yet, there they stood on the on-field stage at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after winning the second NFL title in the 17-year history of the franchise. It wasn’t pretty as the Ravens nearly squandered a 22-point second-half lead, but they prevailed, earning the right to call themselves champions.

“It couldn’t end in a better way,” safety Ed Reed said. “The game was a display of the whole year. Started good, got ugly, ended great. Ended great.”

Perhaps the 35-minute power outage was the appropriate symbol of where the Ravens had been over the last six weeks. Just as a 28-6 lead evaporated as the San Francisco 49ers pulled to within two points with just under 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Ravens appeared to be knocked out in December after suffering their third consecutive loss in a humiliating 34-17 final at home against the Denver Broncos in mid-December. At that point, the Ravens looked more like a team that might not win another game before regrouping to make the incredible run to New Orleans.

A 9-2 record that stood among the best in the NFL — even if many questioned the validity of that mark after several underwhelming wins — had fallen to 9-5, with many wondering if the Ravens were bursting at the seams with dissension. However, they stuck together, insisting all their goals still stood in front of them while fans and media alike wondered if they were finished. They were the truest form of a family, at least as close to one as a professional football team could be as players shared their faith and love for one another openly down the final stretch of the season.

“We had a lot of guys injured,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “But at the same time, the camaraderie within that the locker room — this is the closest team I’ve ever been on in my life. Like I said, we came together and fought the good fight.”

Yes, these Ravens were inspired by a returning Lewis in the postseason, but it was the play of Flacco that took them to new heights as the fifth-year quarterback was the best player in the NFL during the playoffs. His play and the improved offensive line after the reinsertion of Bryant McKinnie at the left tackle position were all new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell needed to propel the Ravens to new heights on that side of the football.

That offense looked as elite as ever in the first half on Sunday night, but the 49ers regrouped in slowing the Ravens’ passing attack while the running game remained a non-factor. Meanwhile, the Baltimore defense wilted, looking tired and lacking answers for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as he led San Francisco to three second-half touchdowns and a field goal.

As they had countless times throughout the season, the Ravens appeared on the ropes with the offense sputtering and Lewis’ once-mighty defense completely exhausted. But as savvy veteran teams often do, the Ravens had enough in them to make a few more plays to finish the job.

With the 49ers having three shots at the end zone from the 5-yard line and trailing 34-29 at the two-minute warning, the old Ravens defense made its final great stand with Lewis at the helm. The unit forced three incompletions to hand the ball back to the Baltimore offense. It was vintage Baltimore defense, even if that idea will take on new meaning beginning next years as the Ravens face life without Lewis leading the way.

The final stand was the end of an era with Lewis retiring and Reed potentially playing his final game with the Ravens. And in the context of this 2012 season, it was the last example of one unit — offense, defense, or special teams — picking up the others in crunch time.

“It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t perfect, but it was us,” coach John Harbaugh said. “The final series of Ray Lewis’ career was a goal-line stand to win the Lombardi Trophy. As Ray said on the podium, how could it be any better than that?”

Harbaugh’s right. It was the only fitting way to end the perfectly imperfect season that included ups and downs, peaks and valleys, and trials and tribulations. Of course, the Ravens ended the year on the highest note of all in winning their first Super Bowl title since Jan. 28, 2001.

In a season in which we constantly asked the real Baltimore Ravens to stand up, we finally learned who they really were over the course of the last six week as Harbaugh and his team dusted themselves off from a miserable stretch in early December to start anew. They knew something the rest of us didn’t as the Ravens pulled off the unlikeliest of wins in Denver, exorcised the demons from a year ago in New England, and polished off their final act as a postseason underdog by turning the lights out — literally and figuratively — on the 49ers.

On Feb. 3, 2013, we finally figured out the only appropriate way to describe this unique football team after a season of struggling to find the proper words.

They were champions.

 

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See Harbaugh, Flacco, Lewis and more react to Super Bowl win here

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See Harbaugh, Flacco, Lewis and more react to Super Bowl win here

Posted on 04 February 2013 by WNSTV

Our WNST.net staff took some video of Baltimore Ravens players offering their reactions to the team’s 34-31 over the San Francisco 49ers Sunday for their second Super Bowl title in franchise history.

Head Coach John Harbaugh…

Super Bowl XLVII MVP QB Joe Flacco…

Retiring future Hall of Fame LB Ray Lewis…

New Orleans native and future Hall of Fame S Ed Reed (Part 1)…

Ed Reed Part 2…

WR Torrey Smith…

DL Haloti Ngata…

(We apologize for the quality of the video at times. As you can imagine, the postgame scene was mobbed and our crew was multitasking to say the least.)

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Ravens 34, 49ers 31 Final Box Score

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Ravens 34, 49ers 31 Final Box Score

Posted on 03 February 2013 by WNST Staff

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Ravens-49ers: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-49ers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 03 February 2013 by Luke Jones

NEW ORLEANS — After two weeks of preparation and buildup, the time has finally arrived for Super Bowl XLVII.

Trying to win the second Super Bowl championship in the 17-year history of the franchise, the Baltimore Ravens meet the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans in the culmination of a 20-game marathon that included tragedy, trials, and tribulations. Led by quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens have rolled off playoff wins over Indianapolis, Denver, and New England to wind up in the Super Bowl only a month after most left them for dead in the final month of the regular season.

Both teams are in excellent shape — or as well as can be expected at the end of a long season — from a health standpoint as no players were listed worse than probable on the final injury report of the week.

Six of the seven inactives for the Ravens are a repeat of the AFC Championship game, with only defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson replacing veteran cornerback Chris Johnson among the 46 active players for the Super Bowl. This isn’t surprising given the 49ers’ propensity for running the football in comparison to the pass-happy Patriots.

Baltimore owns the 3-1 edge in the all-time series as these teams meet in the postseason for the first time ever. The Ravens are looking to win their first championship since the 2000 season while San Francisco eyes its sixth Super Bowl championship and first since the 1994 season.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys and black pants while the 49ers are donning their red tops with gold pants.

The referee for Super Bowl XLVII is Jerome Boger.

Here are Sunday night’s inactives …

BALTIMORE
CB Asa Jackson
S Omar Brown
CB Chris Johnson
LB Adrian Hamilton
OL Ramon Harewood
WR Deonte Thompson
DT Bryan Hall

SAN FRANCISCO
QB Scott Tolzien
S Trenton Robinson
RB Jewel Hampton
LB Cam Johnson
DT Tony Jerod-Eddie
G Joe Looney
DT Ian Williams

Follow WNST on Twitter throughout the night as Drew Forrester, Nestor Aparicio, Glenn Clark, and I bring live updates and analysis from New Orleans.

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Ravens-49ers: Five predictions for Super Bowl XLVII

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Ravens-49ers: Five predictions for Super Bowl XLVII

Posted on 03 February 2013 by Luke Jones

Sixty minutes remain in the 2012 season for the Baltimore Ravens.

Only sixty minutes are left in the Hall of Fame career of 37-year-old linebacker Ray Lewis.

Head coach John Harbaugh, quarterback Joe Flacco, and the Ravens might call themselves Super Bowl champions after 60 minutes of play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Sunday night. To do it, they must topple the San Francisco 49ers, a team with a loaded roster and more talent than Baltimore.

The 49ers are the better overall team — or at least looked like it all season — but the Ravens have heard that story before and are fine being underdogs as we learned against the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots. Baltimore prevailed in the most-recent meeting with the 49ers last season and owns a 3-1 advantage in the all-time regular-season series.

But none of that matters now as the Ravens and 49ers play for the right to be called champions of Super Bowl XLVII.

Here’s what to expect as the 13-6 Ravens attempt to win their second NFL championship and first since Jan. 28, 2001 while San Francisco tries to win its sixth Super Bowl title and first since the 1994 season …

1. Ray Lewis will provide a solid but unspectacular effort in his final NFL game with nine tackles against the run-heavy San Francisco offense. The 49ers will have some success running the football with their read-option attack, but the presence of Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe at inside linebacker — both missed the Dec. 9 game against Washington’s similar running game — will make a major difference in preventing running back Frank Gore from having a big day. Lewis is a clear liability in pass coverage and the Ravens will be vulnerable should he need to match up with a tight end or running back at any point, but the veteran still plays the run solidly. It won’t be a performance reminiscent of Super Bowl XXXV, but Lewis’ cerebral presence will be a major asset in trying to deal with the 49ers’ pistol formation.

2. 49ers tight end Vernon Davis will be problematic over the middle of the field, catching a touchdown and 85 receiving yards to lead the 49ers. The Ravens have proven over and over they have few answers for the top tight ends in the NFL as Aaron Hernandez was the latest to have a strong game against them in the conference championship. Ellerbe and strong safety Bernard Pollard will be the ones to draw the assignment most often, but that becomes dangerous when you consider how critical each is to stopping the run against such a unique offense. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will mix it up as much as he can, but Davis will be difficult to stop and the 49ers would be wise to go to him early and often.

3. As I predicted in the AFC Championship game, the team that wins the battle in the red zone will prevail in New Orleans. The Ravens were 4-for-4 in the red zone against New England and held the Patriots to one touchdown in four trips inside the 20. It’s a simple concept, but the team that can limit its opponents to field goals inside the red zone will have a great chance to win in what should be a very close game. The Baltimore defense has employed a “bend but don’t break” philosophy all season long and just finds the ability to tighten up when opponents see the end zone in clear focus. The Ravens ranked second in red-zone defense (43.4 percent) while the 49ers were 21st in red-zone offense (50.9 percent). Meanwhile, the Baltimore offense scored touchdowns on 57.1 percent of trips inside the 20 (11th in the NFL) while San Francisco allowed touchdowns in 61.1 percent of opponents’ red-zone opportunities. The team that wins this battle will raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

4. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick will play admirably, but a critical turnover in the second half will cost the 49ers dearly. Making his 10th career start on Sunday, Kaepernick is already an incredible story as he’s found success so quickly after replacing former starter Alex Smith midway through the season. His ability to make huge plays as a runner kept Pees and the Baltimore defense awake at night over these last two weeks, and the Ravens will be careful to protect the edges and force the 49ers to count on inside runs with Gore. Kaepernick’s arm shouldn’t be slept on by the Baltimore defense, but you feel better about the thought of him dropping back to throw 35 or 40 times as opposed to letting him rush for 85 yards in open spaces continuously. As impressive as he’s been in the postseason, Kaepernick hasn’t faced a defense as hot as this one and he’ll throw a crucial interception in the fourth quarter to swing the momentum in the Ravens’ favor.

5. Continuing one of the best postseasons in NFL history, Joe Flacco shows the world it’s his time as he leads the Ravens to a 27-24 victory and is named Super XLVII Most Valuable Player. I picked against the Ravens in Denver and Foxborough, so fans may wish I were doing it again but I just can’t overlook what’s happened over the last month. The offensive line has been exceptional, the defense more dynamic, and the Ravens just have the feel of a champion at this point. This will be a close game, but I’m going to side with the team that has the better quarterback as I erroneously attempted to do in picking the Broncos and the Patriots. Flacco has been brilliant in the playoffs, throwing eight touchdown passes without an interception, and he has continued to remain even-keeled throughout this improbable run. He’ll throw for 250 yards and two touchdowns to put a bow on one of the greatest individual playoff runs in NFL history. Kaepernick might be the next big thing at the quarterback position, but Flacco and Harbaugh finally step into the limelight they deserve and Lewis rides off into the sunset with the franchise’s second Super Bowl title.

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49ers make final prep for “bright lights” of Superdome

Posted on 02 February 2013 by WNST Staff

NEW ORLEANS— The lights of the Super Bowl appeared a little brighter for 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, as the team went through 15 minutes of stretching and playing catch at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The 49ers held their final get-together, a light workout on the eve of Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens, in front of 11 bus loads of family and friends. As the coaches and players walked onto the playing field, one person in the crowd prompted the group to perform the 49ers’ traditional victory cheer. The man shouted, “Who’s got it better than us?” And hundreds of 49ers supporters replied in unison, “Nobody!”

That brought a smile to Harbaugh’s face and he applauded the fans’ efforts. Afterward, the large contingent was invited onto the field to pose for pictures and get autographs. The brief walk-through practice had a football purpose, too.

“We wanted to come over,” Harbaugh said. “And the football part of it is getting used to the lights. They looked a little brighter than the last time we were down here.”

The 49ers played Nov. 25 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a game in which quarterback Colin Kaepernick made his first career road start in a 31-21 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

Harbaugh said he wanted the players to visit the locker room and put on their game cleats to check out the playing surface with “pat-and-go” drills. Harbaugh joined the three quarterbacks in throwing passes to players at all positions.

“Also, wanted to get a stretch, get the blood moving a little bit,” Harbaugh said. “And get some new blood going. Then, afterward, enjoy it with your family. Get some pictures and make it possible for everybody to come down to the Super Bowl field.”

The most popular player on the field was Kaepernick. He was surrounded by a large circle of people seeking photos. Harbaugh said Kaepernick appears to remain unfazed by his new fame.

“I don’t see any change, one way or the other,” Harbaugh said. “He is who he is. He has been pretty steady with his demeanor.”

The 49ers are scheduled for their normal night-before-game routine of meetings at the team hotel, Harbaugh said.

“I feel good,” Harbaugh said. “The preparation has been outstanding, very focused. The players care about winning. They care about this team, and that’s complimentary to the players and the way their focus has been. And that’s not something that’s been just this week. That wasn’t just created this week. That’s been all season and the offseason. It speaks very highly of the players.”

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Ravens, 49ers look to be at full strength for Super Bowl XLVII

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Ravens, 49ers look to be at full strength for Super Bowl XLVII

Posted on 01 February 2013 by Luke Jones

NEW ORLEANS — There were no surprises on the final injury report of the week as the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers are both in excellent shape heading into Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday.

Neither team listed a player worse than probable as the Ravens listed 14 players with that designation and San Francisco listed a dozen players as probable. Baltimore’s entire 53-man roster practiced fully all week while 49ers linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith were limited in practices all week with shoulder injuries.

The only real injury concern for the Ravens last week was linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who has dealt with an ankle injury since late November. However, the fourth-year defensive player benefited from an extra week of rest and was a full participant in three practices held in New Orleans.

Both teams will hold light walk-throughs on Saturday that are closed to the media.

BALTIMORE
PROBABLE: WR Tandon Doss (ankle), LB Dannell Ellerbe (toe/back), CB Asa Jackson (thigh), FB Vonta Leach (knee/ankle), LB Ray Lewis (triceps), LB Abert McClellan (shoulder), DE Pernell McPhee (thigh), DT Haloti Ngata (knee), RB Bernard Pierce (knee/thigh), TE Dennis Pitta (thigh), WR David Reed (thigh), S Ed Reed (shoulder), CB Jimmy Smith (abdominal), LB Terrell Suggs (achilles/biceps)

SAN FRANCISCO
PROBABLE: LB Navorro Bowman (shoulder), LB Ahmad Brooks (shoulder), TE Garrett Celek (foot), S Dashon Goldson (foot), RB Frank Gore (shoulder/ankle), LB Clark Haggans (shoulder), G Mike Iupati (shoulder), RB LaMichael James (finger), RB Bruce Miller (shoulder), LB Aldon Smith (shoulder), DT Justin Smith (elbow/triceps), LB Patrick Willis (shoulder)

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Time now for “other” Harbaugh to step outside brother’s shadow once and for all

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Time now for “other” Harbaugh to step outside brother’s shadow once and for all

Posted on 01 February 2013 by Luke Jones

NEW ORLEANS — I’ll never forget my reaction upon learning the Ravens were interested in John Harbaugh as a candidate to replace the fired Brian Billick as head coach in 2008.

I wasn’t alone as many asked the same question about the Philadelphia Eagles assistant and longtime special teams coordinator of Andy Reid.

Don’t they mean Jim?

Of course, Ravens fans were familiar with former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh after his stop in Baltimore during the 1998 season, but only the savviest football fans knew anything about his older brother by 15 months. Even watching the brothers together in a press conference two days before the Ravens and San Francisco 49ers meet in Super Bowl XLVII, you get the sense the older brother is still trying to escape the younger one’s shadow.

John wore a sharp suit while the San Francisco coach wore a black sweatshirt, khakis, and a 49ers cap. It was a sharp contrast as John has embraced the media coverage of Super Bowl week — or at least tolerates it far better — while Jim has appeared disinterested in any and all questions except those about his parents and son Jay, who works as an assistant for John and the Ravens. The Baltimore head man buys into the corporate image while Jim, the accomplished former pro quarterback, looks the part of the old high school jock with nothing to prove.

It makes no difference in how either is truly evaluated as each Harbaugh brother is a terrific coach, with a combined five conference championship appearances in seven seasons between them. But John has always balanced celebrating his younger brother’s accomplishments with a tenacious desire to be as good as he possibly can despite lacking the physical tools Jim had growing up.

John played college football at Miami University of Ohio, but Jim starred for one of the biggest programs in the country at the University of Michigan. The older brother became a college coach while the younger one played quarterback in the NFL.

Even when it appeared John had finally found a way to outdo his brother by leading the Ravens to playoff victories in each of his first three seasons as head coach — including an AFC championship game appearance — Jim was hired by San Francisco and led the 49ers to the conference championship in each of his first two seasons, culminating with their teams meeting in New Orleans on Sunday.

“There are none better than Jim Harbaugh, and I mean that seriously,” John said on Friday. “There’s no better coach in the National Football League than this guy right here.”

The brothers said they would hire the other if and when the time comes that one loses his head coaching job, but the compliments flowed more freely from John’s mouth than they did from Jim, who replied to his other brother’s compliment by suggesting father Jack Harbaugh was the best coach of them all.

Being older and the more media-friendly brother, John took the lead on most questions and was asked if he still feels the need or desire to want to protect his younger brother. Even though Jim was the better athlete and became the starting quarterback on their high school team as a sophomore, it was John who smoothed things over with teammates taking issue with Jim’s cocky demeanor.

Now, however, the older brother competes directly against blood after so many battles growing up in the backyard. There’s no need to protect, even if their bond is still strong.

“No, not at all. I suspect he feels the same way,” John said. “It’s about the teams. We are fiercely loyal, there’s no doubt. We all say that. Not just of one another and we always have been. That’s definitely not ever going to change, we will continue to be fiercely loyal and protective of one another, but also of our teams.”

Perhaps the most memorable moment of Friday’s press conference was John’s description of following Jim’s 15-year playing career in the NFL while he plodded through the lesser-known collegiate coaching ranks before finally reaching Philadelphia and the NFL in 1998 — the only season his older brother played in Baltimore.

It was a glimpse into the human element of this remarkable meeting of brothers at the Super Bowl and shows how often John has been the one rooting on his younger brother, who always owned the spotlight.

“I can just remember living and dying, along with our parents and [sister] Joani, with every single snap that Jim ever took as an NFL football player, whether it was Chicago or Indianapolis, or all the other places he was at. That is how it is when you’re family.”

The time feels right for John to finally step away from his brother’s shadow and finally put to rest the notion of him being “Jim’s older brother.” We’ve known in Baltimore just how special the “other” Harbaugh is for quite some time, but Sunday will give him a chance to do what he really wants — even if he’d never admit it because of his love for his brother.

He wants to beat Jim, the man who was bigger, taller, faster, and better than him on the field despite his best efforts and many accomplishments on which he should be very proud. The sideline has become the great equalizer for the 50-year-old Ravens head coach, but one brother will leapfrog the other in that department after the Ravens or 49ers are crowned Super Bowl champions.

You can tell how badly John Harbaugh wants this based on everything he’s done throughout the week in New Orleans. He’s looked and talked the part of a champion as he has throughout his five seasons in Baltimore. He was born to be in a Super Bowl.

Both men are fantastic leaders worthy of a championship, but only one will prevail on Sunday.

“Great competitions have been won and adversity has been battled through by both teams,” John said. “For the side that comes up short, it’s going to be a bitter disappointment. That’s how football works. That’s how life is, and we understand that.”

Knowing from where they’ve come and their respective backgrounds, it’s tough not to root for John, the successful and loving older brother who never could quite do the same things his younger brother did on the field.

The timing feels right for that competition to finally swing in the opposite direction.

And maybe we’ll refer to Jim as “John’s younger brother” just this once.

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