Ray Rice hands a football to his daughter, Rayven, during Saturday's informal practice. (AP)
NEW ORLEANS — It should come as no surprise, with all the talk about the Harbaugh family this week, that the final walkthroughs for both the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers were full of family activities. That included Ravens running back Ray Rice getting in some quality time with his young daughter Rayven, an appropriate name given that it combines both her father's name and the team he plays for.
Both teams practiced at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to get a feel for what game conditions will look like, but informal was the word of the day. John Harbaugh's Ravens bussed in about 600 team family members for their 15-minute go-round, which, according to CSN Baltimore, "more resembled a pep rally and backyard social than a serious walkthrough the day before a game."
Harbaugh, who took the field with daughter Alison, said that the feeling was totally appropriate. He and brother Jim, coaching the 49ers, cut their teeth on the game based on the football acumen of father Jack, a longtime coach.
“That has been the whole story line of the whole week,” Harbaugh said. “In a sense that's how we did it growing up, when we were kids. We grew up around dad's teams.
"Most of the time in the NFL it's not that way. Most of the time there is the separation of families and it's considered to be a distraction. I just think the opposite. For me, it's a distraction when people are more worried about their families not being allowed to be a part of it. When the families are included, the kids get to the know the players, and I think guys have a better sense of well being. I think this is a good example of it right here.''
Per the Saturday pool report written by Brian Allee-Walsh, Ravens players were footloose and fancy-free. Cameras, video cameras and cell phones worked overtime capturing the big picture for posterity," Allee-Walsh wrote. "Running back Ray Rice playfully tackled his mother, Janet, on the sideline. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin went through his paces wearing an Orioles cap. Guard Marshal Yanda sported a video camera attached to the top of his Ravens' cap."
It was only at the end of "practice" when things got serious: Safety Ed Reed led the team through a few conditioning drills, and the party was over.
To conclude, Harbaugh said that his team will be on point before and after the Ravens' Saturday evening team meeting.
"That will be us being us. We have great Saturday night meetings. I think the message we deliver will tie together the season, it will tie together where we've been and we'll also make a statement about where we're going in this 60-minute football game.''
Jim's 49ers did very much the same -- 11 busloads of family and friends took the Superdome field later in the day for San Francisco's walkthrough.
CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco, the pool reporter for the 49ers , was the only media member allowed in, which is customary for Super Bowl week practices. The Pro Football Writers of America elect one or two pool reporters for each team. Jim Harbaugh, Maiocco wrote, had the same family feeling as did his brother.
"[We] 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."
Harbaugh, as he often does, threw a few balls during the "pat-and-go" drills.
The 49ers have played at the Superdome this season -- it was Nov. 25, it was quarterback Colin Kaepernick's first NFL road start, and the 49ers beat the New Orleans Saints, 31-21. That said, Harbaugh was glad to get back down here and get his team re-acclimated to indoor conditions. Kaepernick has started three games in domes -- the Saints game, an overtime loss against the St. Louis Rams the following week, and the NFC Championship win over the Atlanta Falcons. In indoor conditions, Kaepernick has completed 54 of 88 passes for 702 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions.
"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."
Well, the bright lights are part of the occasion. No surprise, though, that Harbaugh's team has been focused on the ultimate goal all week.
"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."
Not to mention the coaches, those two brothers, who have combined football and family in some very intriguing ways this week.
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