Ravens and Niners to clash in Harbaugh Bowl
Image: Joe Robbins/Getty Images Sport
By: Dustin Dietz
Unless one was living under a rock the past few days, one is probably cognizant of the fact the Harbaugh brothers, Jim and John, will be facing off against one another next Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans when Jim’s San Francisco 49ers play John’s Baltimore Ravens. The game has been dubbed The Harbaugh Bowl for obvious reasons, and as one could easily guess, two brothers have not yet coached against one another in the Super Bowl. The Harbaugh’s have competed on the field against one another one other time, on Thanksgiving night 2011 when Baltimore defeated San Francisco 16-6.
The Harbaugh’s descend from a football background, and grew up adoring the game their father Jack both played and coached for many years. Jack lettered in football for three years at Bowling Green State from 1957-1960, and in his junior year, the Falcons finished the season 9-0 and were crowned small college national champions. Jack would suit up for the old New York Titans of the AFL for one season in 1961 before becoming a vagabond coach. Included in Jack’s coaching stops over the years are stints as an assistant coach at Michigan, Stanford, and even working under his son Jim at the University of San Diego and Stanford. Jack was the head football coach at Western Michigan and Western Kentucky where he compiled a career record 117-94-3.
John is the older of the two Harbaugh’s and has been coaching the Baltimore Ravens the past five seasons. John did play collegiately at Miami of Ohio, but never became a professional football player like his father. Soon after his college days concluded, John began his coaching expedition by serving as an assistant for many schools. Before landing the head coaching gig in Baltimore in January of 2008, John was most recently the Philadelphia Eagles special teams coordinator for 10 years.
One might not remember John Harbaugh was not even the Ravens first choice for head coach as Baltimore offered the position to Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, but Garrett turned them down to stay with the Cowboys. For the Ravens franchise, Garrett’s rejection of the job offer led to the most fortuitous of circumstances when the team decided to offer Harbaugh the gig after New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had recommended Harbaugh to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti during the interview process. After Harbaugh accepted the job, it would be the first time he ever held a head coaching position at any level.
John Harbaugh has compiled an impressive 54-26 record and has led the Ravens to eight playoff wins in his first five years as head coach, including six road playoff wins and three trips to the AFC Championship Game. During this current five year stretch with Jason Garrett calling the offensive plays, the Dallas Cowboys have won only one playoff game, and have lost three Week 17 win and you’re in the playoffs games by double digits. While the Cowboys are a completely dysfunctional organization led by an incompetent general manager who has provided his head coach little depth, Jason Garrett has managed to only squeeze two 8-8 seasons in his first two full years as head coach of the Cowboys. Despite having little to work with in Dallas, one has to ponder how the Ravens would have fared under Garrett’s leadership.
Unlike his brother, Jim Harbaugh did play professional football for a number of different organizations. After starring at the University of Michigan for three seasons, Jim was selected in the first round of the 1987 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears, who had just won the Super Bowl a year earlier. Harbaugh played mediocre football for seven seasons under the tutelage of head coach Mike Ditka before signing with the Indianapolis Colts before the 1994 season.
Harbaugh would make a name for himself with the Colts in 1995 when he guided the Colts to the playoffs where they upset the defending AFC Champion San Diego Chargers in the Wild Card game, and then knocked off the heavily favored 13-3 Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round 10-7. Harbaugh and the Colts would fall short in the AFC Championship game to the Pittsburgh Steelers after Colts wide receiver Aaron Bailey dropped what would have been the game winning touchdown pass on a hail mary attempt as time expired.
Harbaugh would win NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 1995, make his only Pro-Bowl appearance, and would even earn a guest appearance on an episode of Saved By The Bell where he played Screech Powers’ cousin. Harbaugh also has the dubious distinction of being the last Colts quarterback before Peyton Manning was drafted number one overall in 1998.
After a few rather unremarkable seasons as a backup quarterback, Jim began his ascension up the coaching ladder by serving as the quarterbacks coach for the Oakland Raiders in 2002, a season in which quarterback Rich Gannon was named NFL MVP. Jim was then named head coach at the University of San Diego in 2004 where he guided the Toreros to two Pioneer League championships in 2005 and 2006.
The former quarterback then accepted the head coaching job at Stanford in 2007, replacing Walt Harris. Late in Harbaugh’s first season, Stanford upset then #1 USC 24-23 despite being a 41 point underdog. The shocking win was the biggest upset in the history of college football, and was the beginning of the turn-around at Stanford. Harbaugh and Stanford would eventually win the Orange Bowl in 2010, the school’s first BCS bowl win. The San Francisco 49ers would offer Harbaugh their head coaching position shortly after Stanford won the Orange Bowl, and the offer was too appealing to pass up.
In Harbaugh’s first season in 2011, he helped an underachieving Niners team have an outstanding 13-3 regular season, and would advance to the NFC Championship game before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Harbaugh contributed to quarterback Alex Smith rejuvenating his career in 2011 as the perceived draft bust yielded a quarterback rating of 90.7, while only throwing five interceptions. The Niners defense was also very formidable as they did not allow a rushing touchdown until Week 16. Harbaugh is known as a fiery, competitive, shrewd field general who will do all he can to defeat his older brother next Sunday.
The road to the Super Bowl
There is another intriguing subplot to Super Bowl XLVII besides the Harbaugh brothers in that legendary Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis has stated he will retire after the game is over. Baltimore appears to have used Lewis’ pending retirement as a rallying cry to help motivate the troops during the seemingly improbable Super Bowl run.
Baltimore went 10-6 during the regular season and won the AFC North despite not having Ray Lewis or Terrell Suggs on the field at the same time at any point during the regular season. The Ravens also experienced a tough stretch where their run defense was shredded three straight weeks in October when they allowed 180 yards or more rushing.
The run defense would improve and the Ravens would start the season 9-2 after an exhilarating overtime win in San Diego in Week 12. However, Baltimore would go 1-4 in December and appeared to be playing their worst football of the season heading into the playoffs.
After defeating Indianapolis at home in an emotional win which was Lewis’ final home game, few pundits gave the Ravens much of a chance against the 13-3 Denver Broncos in the divisional round, especially after Denver vanquished Baltimore 34-17 four weeks earlier in Baltimore. Denver possessed a top five defense and offense, but struggled to put Baltimore away as wide receiver Torrey Smith had a sensational game. The Broncos were up by 7 with under a minute to play when Joe Flacco completed an unbelievable 70 yard hail mary touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones after Denver safety Raheem Moore fell down after mistiming a leap to knock the pass down. Baltimore would eventually win in overtime 38-35 in front of a stunned Sports Authority Field.
Baltimore then traveled to Foxboro for an AFC title game rematch against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. New England had scored the most points in the NFL by a considerable margin during the regular season and had not scored fewer than 23 points in a game since Week 2.
The Ravens would fall behind 13-7 at the half, but Baltimore continued to display resiliency and held the Patriots scoreless in the second half after causing three turnovers and winning the game going away 28-13. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco continued his stellar play in the postseason by throwing for three touchdowns as the Ravens advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2001.
I have stressed the importance of rushing the passer numerous times throughout the season, and how critical pressuring the quarterback is. While the Ravens have played more games in the postseason than anyone else, they also have more sacks (6) than any team in the postseason. If your defense is able to keep the opposing QB under duress, one will have success as Baltimore has proven in the tournament.
The San Francisco 49ers finished the regular season 11-4-1 and won the NFC West for the second consecutive year. While the run defense was not quite as dominant as it was in 2011, they were still very formidable, finishing fourth in the NFL stopping the run and allowing the fourth least amount of rushing touchdowns.
Jim Harbaugh made a bold decision midway through the season after starting quarterback Alex Smith suffered an injury to begin starting the kinetic Colin Kaepernick, and the 49ers have not looked back.
Smith did not play poorly enough to lose his job, but Harbaugh felt Kaepernick provided the Niners with the best chance to win, and after watching the 2011 second round pick perform in the postseason, Harbaugh’s belief has been proven accurate.
Kaepernick adds a dynamic to the 49ers offense Smith was unable too, he can run the football as his 181 rushing yards in the divisional round proved. The astonishing total was a NFL single game rushing record for a quarterback. The second year budding superstar has had difficulty throwing the football with accuracy at times, but he displayed last Sunday against Atlanta in the NFC Championship game he has the ability to make the throws at critical junctures.
Kaepernick’s poise and clutch play frustrated the Falcons defense in the second half in the 28-24 San Francisco victory. After falling behind 17-0, the Niners tenacious defense and tremendous depth eventually wore the Falcons out. San Francisco is so deep that their first two draft picks from last April did not even play until the final month of the regular season.
49ers wide receiver Randy Moss is making his second Super Bowl appearance, and is trying to win his first title. Moss came into the league only two years after Ray Lewis, and winning a championship would cap off an illustrious hall of fame career. Like Lewis, Moss could be playing his final game next Sunday in New Orleans.
San Francisco is seeking their sixth Super Bowl title, which would tie the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most all-time. The Niners are 5-0 in their five previous Super Bowl appearances, and defeated the Denver Broncos 55-10 the last time they played a Super Bowl held in New Orleans.
Super Bowl XLVII, or Harbaugh Bowl II, should be a fantastic game featuring two excellent defenses and two balanced offenses. The subplots surrounding the game are riveting, but the fact two brothers are squaring off against one another is what makes the game most appealing.
Follow Dustin Dietz on Twitter @DustinDietz18