The Harbaugh brothers made me cry on Friday at their press conference here in New Orleans.
Yes, I cried.
It wasn’t a full-out balling or anything, it was more the tears-streaming-down-your-face kind, but if you’re keeping score, it still counts as crying.
They talked about their Mom, Jackie Harbaugh.
And that – Mom – does it too me every single time.
Watching those two men walk to the microphones and conduct themselves so professionally must be one of the proudest moments the Harbaugh parents have ever had…and they’ve had a lot of them with their two sons and daughter.
They showed up the way you would expect. John, sharply dressed in suit and tie, and Jim, in a classic “coach’s outfit” of khakis and the team sweatshirt. They both wore the clothes that best suited them. I wouldn’t have expected John in sweats and I would have been shocked to see Jim in a collar and tie. This proves what we all know — they’re different. Brothers, of course, but different in personality and style.
I didn’t grow up with a brother, but I’m overwhelmed with how much pride those two clearly have for the other.
If only they wouldn’t have brought up their Mother, I wouldn’t have needed to bow my head in a small measure of shame as tears rolled down my cheeks.
My Mom passed away from cancer when I was 24.
I was, without question, in no position to deal with it when my Dad and I got the call at 2:03 am on July 21, 1987. It’s February 1, 2013 and I’m still not over it, truth be told. Just when I was starting to figure out how great my Mother truly was, she left us. When you’re 8 or 12 or even 18, you just know she’s your Mom and she cooks things and cleans your clothes and asks you if you’ve done your homework. But when you’re 24…or 34…or 44…and now, 50, you start to grasp how much love your parents surrounded you with growing up and how you had little idea about the importance of that as you navigated yourself through the trials and tribulations of growing up.
My Dad loved sports. He and I went to Orioles games, Colts games, Caps games and he was always there to encourage me to play sports and was largely responsible for drilling into me that I could do “something” in sports even if it meant I couldn’t make a living playing a game for a living.
But my Dad also worked a lot to support us and, in the car business, those hours of 9am-9pm didn’t always provide him with the opportunity to shuttle me around to games and practices.
My Mom was the one who did it all. I’m guessing most of you had a Mom who did that, too, because they’re the ones who go and support you no matter what the sport, what the score or what you did for your team on that given day.
John and Jim Harbaugh were asked in today’s press conference to talk about their Mom, because Jack – their Dad – gets most of the attention since he groomed those two to be athletes and coaches.
Jim, at the mention of his Mother, completely changed his approach. Gone was the blank face, the “I’m not smiling today because I’m a coach and we have a game to win on Sunday” look and the obvious disdain for sitting in front of 200 media people and talking about football when he would rather be with his team practicing it. When he talked about his Mom, Jim Harbaugh perked up and became a son for a few minutes.
John was equally as enthusiastic about what his Mom did for the two of them as they grew up…with a football coach for a father who probably didn’t always have the time to be there in person for their baseball games, football games and driveway games of street hockey that John remembered costing the Harbaugh’s several garage door windows when a few pucks intended for the goal they had made didn’t fall on target.
And that’s when Jim said the five words that made me cry.
As he ended the discussion about his Mom, he said, “She was just always there.”
They mentioned how competitive she was and how she was in the stands cheering and jumping up and down when something went well, but also sympathetic and understanding when the results weren’t favorable.
“But more than that,” Jim said. ”She was just always there.”
That was my Mom.
She was also competitive and always wanted to know who we played next in Little League or how the other team that we were chasing in the standings did in the game before mine. My Mom was interested in the games, the records, the names of the kids, etc. She sat with other parents, shared car-pool obligations and sewed up my hockey shirt when I tore it to pieces once at the Bowie Ice Rink — and that’s after we lost to the worst team in the league 5-1 and she said on the way home, “You should have to sew your shirt after losing to them.”
I didn’t know how to sew.
And I also figured by the time we got home, she would calm down.
Lo and behold, the next afternoon when I came home from school, the jersey was on my bed, sewed up and looking brand new.
Like always – and like Jackie Harbaugh – my Mom was “just always there.” I’m quite certain that years from now, the two brothers will smile fondly with the memories of today’s press conference and how they honored their Mom by speaking so lovingly of her on a national stage. I wish I would have had an opportunity to simply say “Thanks for everything you ever did for me” to my Mom, Lucy, but sometimes life throws you a curveball and mine came on July 24, 1987.
I wish I could have said, “Thanks for just being there…”
So, yes, I cried a little today when the Harbaugh brothers talked about their Mom. They’re lucky to still have her and she’s incredibly lucky to have those two men represent her in the way she did today.
As I walked out of the media center following the press conference, it officially dawned on me for the first time this week.
There’s no loser on Sunday night when it comes to John or Jim Harbaugh.
They’re both winners.