Jack Harbaugh has said he doesn't want to think too much about it. Archie Manning said the other day he wouldn't want to even imagine it. Ask any parent and they'd probably shudder.
As sure as a parent would find picking one child they love more than another impossible, they'd struggle watching one succeed at the other's expense. And that's in any situation, let alone the Super Bowl.
Jack and Jackie Harbaugh are two games from going through the ultimate in human drama. One son, John, will coach his Baltimore Ravens against the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game on Sunday. The other son, Jim, will lead his San Francisco 49ers against the New York Giants in the NFC championship game a few hours later.
If both win, they'd meet in the Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis and, well …
"Of course you think about it," Jack, who plans on watching the two games on television from his Wisconsin home, told the San Jose Mercury News. "It's out there on the horizon. But you can't get caught up in it."
There is no sense in dealing with it until they must. The thought of an all-Harbaugh Super Bowl has to be so frightening they just turn their mind around onto something more pleasant. Like pretty much anything.
This isn't a parent's nightmare, such as real-life things that happen every day: sick kids, tragedies. Having not one, but two ultra-successful NFL coaches is a blessing and that's what the Harbaughs have always said they focus on.
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Still, the stakes of a potential Super Bowl matchup changes everything. The two teams met on Thanksgiving in a regular-season game and that was difficult enough. While it was part celebration of the family's success – Jack was a successful college assistant and head coach – there was a game to be played.
Someone would wind up happy. The other disappointed. In this case, John beat Jim, 16-6.
Jack Harbuagh described it then as something "we just moved forward from."
That was a regular-season game. There are plenty of those. The sting of defeat can be washed away the following week – indeed, Jim's Niners rebounded to beat St. Louis 26 to zip.
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This would be different, the ultimate accomplishment in football. Winning a Super Bowl is the greatest professional moment in a football person's life. It's treasured and celebrated and serves as contentment for all the hours and all the sacrifice and all the challenges of the job.
Losing one is the exact opposite. It sticks with men forever. Even players and coaches that have previously won a Super Bowl or captured one later says the pain of the defeat never goes away. In many ways, the one that was lost overwhelms the one that was captured.
For the elder Harbuaghs, they'd have to sit and watch the greatest and worst professional moment of a son's life, only at the exact same time.
And one because of the other.
Not only that, the pride and excitement of having a son win a Super Bowl would then be tempered, if not completely ruined. Having Jim or John hold the Lombardi Trophy would, no doubt, be something Jack and Jackie would revel in. What a glorious night for a parent.
Instead they'd probably be seeking out the loser for consolation.
The whole thing would be a mess.
"I can't imagine it," said Archie Manning, who as the father of Giants quarterback Eli and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton has sat through two so-called "Manning Bowls" where they faced off. Those games came in the regular season. Both sons have won a Super Bowl (and Peyton has lost one), so Archie has been through all the emotions – except the two playing each other in the big game.
"[The Manning Bowls] were not enjoyable for our family," Archie said. "You realize that you are very lucky to have two sons in the NFL, but if you root for one then it's like you're rooting for the other to lose.
"Nobody liked it. We didn't like it."
And that was the regular season.
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The emotional roller coaster of having sons playing each other was so profound that Manning called Jack Harbaugh out of the blue in November to see if he had any questions prior to the Thanksgiving Harbaugh Bowl.
His advice was to just get through it.
The Harbaughs did.
Any disappointment felt was temporary.
It won't be if the two brothers meet in Indianapolis. No one will have any idea what that will entail.
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- Jack Harbaugh
- Archie Manning
- Super Bowl