By PHIL BARBER
Jim and John Harbaugh held their previously scheduled press conference this morning, billed as a first-time-ever event at the Super Bowl. The two coaches fell neatly in line with preconceived notions.
John wore a dark suit, striped tie and shiny brown dress shoes. Jim wore his “uniform”: black 49ers sweatshirt, khakis and sneakers – though for some reason he went with non-pleated khakis, a fashion departure that, for Jim Harbaugh, is the equivalent of most people wearing a helmet with Viking horns.
Popular perception paints John as outgoing and mild, Jim as high-strung and a little weird. Neither did much to dismantle those constructions this morning.
John is so smooth, in fact, that the event had no host or moderator. The older brother introduced them and began with a monologue. Their opening statements say volumes about their public personalities.
John: “Welcome, thanks for coming. I just want to start by saying what an honor it is for both of us to be here with each other, no question about it. What a very exciting moment it is, but even more than that, for our families to be here. For our mom and dad, sitting right over there, Jack and Jackie. And for Grandpa Joe – 97 years old and going strong – grandpa Joe Cipiti and Bob Cipiti, our uncle, and Chad, our cousin. Any other family members out there? Thanks for being here. And just as far as our team goes, we will be doing a normal Friday practice. We’re going to head over to the Saints facility, which Jim has been great about, and the Niners organization, giving us an opportunity to get over there and take advantage of that facility, which has been good for us. We’ll be early, a little earlier than normal, and we’ll be long gone before they get over there. It will be a normal Friday practice with things we do on Friday, and we’ll be moving on from there.”
Jim: “I concur.”
How freakin’ classic is that?
Jim sort of alternated back and forth between entertaining and tight-lipped, while John almost invariably went out of his way to accommodate. I don’t mention this in an attempt to argue that “John is a nice guy and Jim isn’t,” or anything like that. I just find it interesting to watch them conduct their business so differently.
Not a lot of new ground was broken during the press conference, especially for 49ers fans who have been following this story ever since the Niners and Ravens played on Thanksgiving in 2011. The most interesting moment came when Jim Harbaugh was asked how he was shaped by playing under Mike Ditka with the Bears.
Jim discussed the highs and lows he experienced in Chicago, though he did not go into detail. He didn’t talk about getting into a shouting match with Ditka on the sidelines, or how the coach bench his quarterback after a big interception.
Then John added his own memories of the era.
“I can just remember living and dying, along with our parents and (sister) Joanie, with every single snap that Jim ever took as an NFL football player, whether it was Chicago or Indianapolis, or all the other places he was at,” John said. “That is how it is when you’re family. To watch a family member play, I think you are far more nervous than they are, by far. That’s how I always felt.
“I was just always completely and enormously proud of what he was doing as a player and how he was competing. Even in the moments you just mentioned. I think the greatest moment for me through that whole thing was, maybe a couple years later, gaining so much respect for Coach Ditka. Now, I don’t know him that well and I just know what Jim says about him. Now, we’re all a fan and when he came out and said it was the wrong thing and he said didn’t handle it the right way, it probably cost him his team a little bit there. As a coach, we all learn so much hearing another coach talk about something like that. And the way Jim handled that moment, and he was just rock solid. He just came back and kept competing with the respect for all that, even in a situation that isn’t all that fair. I learned a lot at the time, and I would think a lot of players would, too, if they understand handling that situation.”
But it was Jim who got the punch line. “It was more than fair,” he said. “I shouldn’t have thrown the interception. Still kicking myself for that.”