NEW ORLEANS – Welcome to the Crescent City, a.k.a. The City of Brotherly Hype, at least for the next seven days.
In case you've been holing up in an Afghani cave, or taking up permanent residence in the Friendly Skies (and thus deprived of Wi-Fi), Super Bowl XLVII will be a battle of coaching siblings.
Sunday's Bro Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome matches the AFC champion Baltimore Ravens, coached by John Harbaugh, and the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers, coached by John's kid brother, Jim.
Wretched excess being what it is in the 21st century, with the Ultimate Game as its most conspicuously over-promoted spectacle, you'll be hearing all about the brother thing at increasing volumes, with the postgame handshake/bro hug looming as the cacophonous crescendo.
The Harbaugh Brothers' accomplishment will almost certainly be framed as one of the most remarkable in the history of siblings. According to Kathy Ensor, the statistical department chair at Rice University – and a member of the American Statistical Association, which was kind enough to email me a press release – the probability of two siblings in the pool of prospective NFL head coaches meeting in the Super Bowl is 1 in 11,175.
In other words, this is pretty damned special. Is it, however, the most exceptional sibling sports feat in history? Not by a long shot, according to the three-person panel – me, myself and I – charged with assessing such accomplishments.
With help from my crack research staff, featuring my 16-year-old, rapid-typing daughter, here's a Baker's Dozen of bodacious athletic achievements by siblings. And while I always cherish your feedback, remember that folks like the Alous and the DiMaggios, the Busches and the Allisons, the Sedins and the Matthewses were excluded from this list because a) it is finite and b) it is inherently subjective.
Consider that, even though I wrote a book featuring one of the greatest Olympic swimmers of all time, French swimming siblings and former Olympic gold medalists, Laure and Florent Manadou, couldn't crack this list.
These brothers and sisters could:
No. 12: The Bella Twins' Tricky Ways
Brie and Nikki Bella, the stage names of Mexican-Americans Brianna Monique Garcia-Colace and Stephanie Nicole Garcia-Colace, are professional wrestlers who are both former WWE Divas Champions. I have no idea what that means, and I realize that professional wrestling makes last September's replacement-official fiasco in Seattle seem legitimate, but that doesn't dampen my enthusiasm for their promotional acumen. The Bellas' compelling WWE storyline began with Brie making a habit of disappearing under the ring during matches and emerging revived – later, it was revealed that she was actually sending Nikki in her place. After that they went "above board," competing as a tag-team pair. They've appeared on the Fox reality show Meet My Folks, as Budweiser's "World Cup Twins" and in Atreyu's music video for "Right Side of the Bed." Brie once dated Richie Kotzen, former guitarist for Poison and Mr. Big. I have no direct knowledge that she and Nikki have pulled the romantic equivalent of that disappearing-under-the-ring trick, but the mere fact that the possibility exists in my mind merits their inclusion on this list.
No. 11: The Fighting Lopezes
Imagine two brothers and a sister – who three years later would be U.S. Olympic teammates – winning world championships at the same tournament. That's what Steven, Mark and Diana did at the 2005 World Taekwondo Championships in Madrid. Especially proud was the trio's shared coach: big brother Jean Lopez. If you encounter this family in a bar, engaging them in a brawl is not recommended.
No. 10: The Mahre Twins' Alpine Awesomeness
Steve Mahre was born four minutes later than his brother, Phil; he finished just 0.21 seconds behind big bro at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, as the two captured silver and gold medals in the slalom. Phil, one of the most accomplished U.S. ski racers of all time, joined Steve in establishing the Mahre Training Center after their tremendous Sarajevo feat. The pair then moved on to auto racing (both have competed in the Grand American Road Racing Koni Challenge Series), joining that sport's pantheon of famous brothers, which includes Bobby and Donnie Allison, Kurt and Kyle Busch and Speed and Rex Racer.
No. 9: The Harbaughs' Headset Magic
Jim, who instantly transformed the Niners' locker-room culture, and John, who has retained a strong aura of authority in the Ravens' uniquely challenging environment, have taken very different paths to Super Bowl XLVII, and it's tough to say which journey has been more impressive. For what it's worth, I do know which Harbaugh brother is managing to enjoy the ride to a greater degree: The big one.
No. 8: The Incredible Barefoot Harriers
A little more than a year ago in Hotwar, India, 17-year-old Baijnath Oroan and his 13-year-old sister, Geeta, showed up for the final events of the Jharkhand State Tribal Sports Competition: 42- and 14-kilometer "marathons" for males and females, respectively. Without formal training – or shoes (their impoverished family can't afford them) – the Oroans each finished first. Now please tell me that someone at Nike, New Balance, adidas or another prominent athletic-shoe company will read this, track down these siblings and send them some state-of-the-art kicks.
No. 7: The Espositos Hoist The Cup
In 1969, Tony Esposito was a backup goaltender for the Stanley Cup-winning Montreal Canadiens. He was then claimed by the Chicago Blackhawks in the "intra-league draft" and proceeded to win the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goalie for 1969-70. That same season his older brother, Boston Bruins center Phil, led the league in goals (the previous season Phil had become the first NHL player to top 100 points in a season, with 126) while sparking his team to a Stanley Cup victory. Both Espositos would earn induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. You'd think they would be unbeatable as a Sibling Ice Ensemble. Think again …
No. 6: The Kerrs Steam It Up On The Ice
You know how world-class ice dancers inevitably incorporate an element of charged sexuality into their routines? Try selling that to the audience – and to the notoriously snooty judges – when you're brother and sister. That's what Scottish siblings Sinead and John Kerr did repeatedly from 2000-11, achieving top-10 finishes for Great Britain in consecutive Winter Olympics and twice winning bronze medals at the European Championships. Whether they were pretending to make out on the ice or getting all smooch in the kiss-and-cry area, big sis and little bro were so hot, even Angelina Jolie and her brother were probably a bit creeped out.
No. 5: Miller Time In Springfield
Last summer, when former Indiana Pacers star Reggie Miller was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, his older sister, Cheryl, was one of his presenters. While you young'uns may know her as a sideline reporter, many of us who've been around awhile remember the former USC superstar as one of the greatest women's college players of all time. In fact, she beat Reggie to the Hall by 17 years. Back when I was at Cal and Reggie used to come to Harmon Gym with UCLA, we'd chant "Cheryl" in an attempt to taunt him. It didn't work – and why would it have? In retrospect, it was a compliment. No wonder Reggie got so emotional when he thanked his big sis in his induction speech.
No. 4: The MVP Mannings
In February 2007, on a rainy night in South Florida, Peyton Manning led the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl XLI victory over the Chicago Bears, earning Most Valuable Player honors in the process. A year later in the Arizona desert, Peyton watched nervously in a luxury box as his kid brother, Eli, pulled off the same feat, guiding the New York Giants to a stunning upset over the New England Patriots. Unless Jim Harbaugh comes out of retirement, takes the ball from Colin Kaepernick and quarterbacks the Niners to victory Sunday, he and his brother won't be as Super as the Mannings.
No. 3: The Baddest Brothers On The Planet
Quick, who is the heavyweight boxing champion of the world? It's Ukranian Vitali Klitschko, according to the WBC. And it's his little brother, Wladamir, according to the other five organizations who hand out gaudy belts. So, which one is the true heavyweight champ? We'll never know: The Klitschkos promised their mother they'd never fight one another and apparently meant it. The brothers are interesting men outside of the ring: They own doctorates in sports science and are fluent in four languages. Vitali has twice run for mayor of Kiev (pretty much the only fights he has lost in recent years) and has pushed for democratic reforms in the Ukraine; both brothers are involved in social and political causes. I'm actually surprised they don't get more attention – and I'm pretty sure the odds of having two brothers as simultaneous heavyweight champs are greater than 1 in 11,175.
No. 2: The Hell-on-Wheels (And Skates, And Snow, etc.) Heidens
In 1980, Wisconsin-born speedskater Eric Heiden became the most successful Winter Olympian from a single edition of the Games, winning five gold medals in Lake Placid. His kid sister, Beth (the 1979 world all-around champion), won a bronze in the 3000 meters despite skating with a bum ankle. If that were the extent of the Heidens' accomplishments, they'd still rank high on this list. However, the '80 Games were simply a slice in time that served as a testament to their ridiculous skillfulness. Both followed up their speedskating feats by carving out careers as accomplished cyclists, with Eric winning the first U.S. Professional Cycling Championship in 1985 (becoming the American road-race champion) and riding in the Tour de France the following year. In 1999 – by which point he'd launched a career as a renowned orthopedic surgeon, serving as the Sacramento Kings' team physician – he was inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame. Beth, who took up cycling as a form of cross-training for speedskating, won the 1980 world road championship, among other accomplishments on two wheels. And those were hardly her only sports: In 1975, as a high school freshman, she took to the track and set a national record for the mile at her age. In 1983, as a first-year walk-on at the University of Vermont, she won an NCAA individual championship in cross-country skiing. In 2010, at the age of 50, she entered a pair of cross-country races at U.S. Nationals and earned a pair of top-10 finishes. The Harbaughs had better hope Beth and her brother don't take up football coaching.
No.1: Game, Set, Match to the Williams Sisters
I'm sorry, but the odds of two kids from Compton, Calif., ascending to the top of a country-club sport – and, indeed, becoming two of the best women's tennis players of all time – are unfathomably astronomical. When Venus and her younger sister Serena met in the U.S. Open final in 2001, it was tense, fascinating and a bit unnerving. And then it happened again. And again. And again. … The two have met in eight Grand Slam finals, including four consecutive times from 2002-03. Think about that. Each has won five Wimbledon titles. They've combined to win 22 Grand Slam singles championships and, as a doubles team, have captured 13 more. I remember when it first dawned on me that this family might produce two simultaneous superstars, and it was an exhilarating feeling even then. Given that tennis requires its competitors to be out there alone, exposed and vulnerable, I can't imagine a set of sports siblings topping the Williams Sisters in my lifetime. Unless, of course, we delve into the world of celluloid hockey heroes for our Baker's Dozen bonus ranking …
Bonus: Absolute Greatest Of All Time
The Hanson Brothers. Yes, the trio of bespectacled thugs from the '70s movie Slapshot are impossible to top, whether they're playing with toy cars in their motel room or playing old-time hockey, like Eddie Shore. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you need to educate yourself by getting a copy of this classic comedy and watching it from start to finish – and soon. And once you appreciate the genius of Jack, Steve and Jeff Hanson (and their real-life sibling overtones), you'll want to toast them with an ice-cold soda. For the love of God, make it a grape or an orange – but none of that stinkin' Root Beer.
1. I've said it before and I'll say it again: All Super Bowls should be played in the Crescent City. Every. Single. One.
2. OK, football fans – J.J. Watt got a bloody finger, and it bled all over his Pro Bowl jersey. Now can we keep playing this game, especially given the fact that its ratings are comparable to the National League Championship Series? OK thanks bye …
3. Funniest quote of the year, from Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett to Arizona Republic columnist Dan Bickley, on why he's not really trying to steal Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron's girlfriend, Katherine Webb: "I'm not into the thinner girls, and the modeling thing like that. I like 'hood chicks. I like girls with a couple of stab wounds and bullet holes, been knocked up a few times … I like girls who have bad credit when they're 21."
4. Why do I get the distinct feeling that if the Jets do, in fact, trade cornerback Darrell Revis, he'll have an Adrian Petersonesque recovery from reconstructive knee surgery and be as good as ever in 2013?
5. If there is an NFL player who annoys me more than Lions receiver Titus Young, let him speak now or forever hold his peace. Actually, let's just skip to the forever holding his peace part.
TWO THINGS I CAN'T COMPREHEND
1. That you can get a "To Catch A Thief" app for your Android device – and that, for some reason, the company advertising this feature chose to do so with a theoretical criminal wearing a banana suit.
2. How lucky I am when it comes to Super Bowl transportation. Last year, after connecting at Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport on the way to Indianapolis, I ended up sitting next to my old friend Michael Irvin. That didn't do much for my writing schedule (and I was on deadline), but it did allow me to catch up with a guy I immensely enjoyed covering as player – and I got to tag along in the back of a luxury SUV en route to the downtown Indy hotel at which the NFL Network analyst and I were staying. On Sunday night, after connecting at DFW, I scored again on the short flight to New Orleans: Sean Payton. Given his eight-month exile from NFL circles, the recently reinstated Saints head coach and I had a lot of catching up to do. And I'm happy to report that he seemed refreshed, highly motivated and unfailingly upbeat about his return, all of which, I believe, will bode well for the Saints' prospects in 2013 and beyond. It should be noted that Payton is a lean, mean fighting machine.
He spent his time away from football immersed in a CrossFit training program that allowed him to put on muscle while dropping 20 pounds. He ran his first half-marathon (a year after sustaining a series of gruesome leg injuries following a sideline collision) and, last November, found himself joining more than 100 other workout warriors in a CrossFit competition in Dallas. "It was the only time during my suspension that I really got that game-day rush," Payton recalled. "I must have peed three times before we started. I didn't want to embarrass myself." He didn't – and, now that he's back in charge of a Saints team that went 7-9 in his absence, he'll channel that same competitive energy into his team's revival. Put it this way: When Payton returns to his newly renovated office at the team's Metarie, La., training facility Monday – and has a full staff meeting on Tuesday – a lot of people are going to be put on blast. "I can't wait to get back," Payton said as he drove a rented Mercedes past the Saints' facility Sunday night, on his way to dropping me off at a hotel near the Mississippi River. "I'm approaching this like I was just hired to coach the Saints in 2013."
OVER-THE-TOP, EPHEDRINE-LACED DIATRIBE BEFORE THE DAWN
After the New England Patriots were upset by the Ravens in the AFC championship game, we heard the familiar refrain: New England hasn't won a Super Bowl since Spygate. This is cited as some sort of proof that without the use of improperly obtained videotape of opposing coaches' signals, Pats coach Bill Belichick has been rendered powerless. To which I say: Do you really believe this crap.
First of all, it's not like the Patriots have totally fallen off since the Spygate scandal erupted in September 2007. Including playoffs, the Patriots are 81-25 (including postseason) over the past six seasons, a 76.4 winning percentage. Also, while they haven't won a Super Bowl, they've come insanely close on two occasions. In fact, were it not for tremendously difficult catches by Giants receivers David Tyree (in 2008) and Mario Manningham, New England likely would have won two of the last five championships. So, if you assert that Belichick is incapable of winning it all without visual aids, it requires a leap of logic suggesting that the presence of surveillance tapes somehow would have allowed the Pats to prevent those passes from being caught. Or, perhaps, you just regard the "haven't won a Super Bowl since Spygate" stuff as a sign of karma's existence. If that is your contention – well, while I may not share that opinion, you'll get no diatribe from me.
TEXT/DIRECT MESSAGE/EMAIL/VOICEMAIL OF THE WEEK
"Thinking about going dark this week. Can't believe the negativity out there towards us. May have to ck out on the media during this Super Bowl run we are about to go on"
– Text on Jan. 1 from John Harbaugh, who didn't go dark but did have an uncanny ability to see the future.
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