Like her Super Bowl-bound older brothers, Joani Harbaugh is fiercely competitive.
When she was 7, she tried out for a part in her school play, “The Wizard of Oz.” She wanted to be Dorothy but instead landed the role of a munchkin.
“I was highly, highly offended,” recalled Joani, who is five years younger than her brother, Jim, 49, coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and six years younger than John, coach of the Baltimore Ravens. “I do remember that I wasn’t Dorothy or Glinda. So I decided to memorize the entire play in case anybody went down with the flu or something, they could put me in there. So I was just ready.”
Being ultra-prepared, it seems, is the Harbaugh way.
“Absolutely, the Harbaugh way, that’s a great way to put it,” she said. “I guess we all do it in our own way.”
Joani, who is married to Indiana basketball Coach Tom Crean, participated in a conference call with the media Thursday, along with her parents, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh. They have been besieged by media requests since the Harbaugh boys secured spots in Super Bowl XLVII, so they wanted to knock out the interviews in one fell swoop.
“We are neutral in the Super Bowl, and we are just excited that they have brought their teams to the pinnacle of sports,” Jackie said. “The Super Bowl is the ultimate accomplishment for them and for their teams and for all of the extended football family and all of the teams who have participated in this great game. We are excited for that type of thing.”
The Harbaughs have lived through this before. Their boys faced each other on Thanksgiving 2011, when San Francisco played at Baltimore. The Ravens beat the 49ers that night, 16-6.
“The thing I remember most about the game is Jackie and I were in a little office with a TV and we watched the game and the game lasted like three hours and fifty minutes, three hours-and-a-half, and I’ve never seen Jackie experience that in a ballgame,” said Jack, a longtime college football coach. “I mean she was nearly comatose. She just stared at the screen, there was no facial emotion whatsoever, just a blank stare into the screen, not a word was spoken and at the end of the game, it was just over.”
After that game, the Harbaugh parents peeked into Baltimore’s locker room. Everyone was celebrating.
“I thought to myself, ‘We really aren’t needed here; this looks like it is pretty well taking care of itself,’” Jack said. “I walked across the hall there in Baltimore and went into the 49ers’ locker room. It was quiet and somber, and finally I saw Jim, all by himself, no one around him. He still had his coaching thing on, and his hands on his head, and we realized that that is where we were needed. So that feel of victory and agony of defeat. … And we know we are going to experience that next week.”
Jackie has another indelible memory of that game.
“After the game, we saw Jim and all of the hugs and talked about some of our feelings, and John came out and ran down to the buses to find Jim and talk to him briefly,” she said. “It just was, again, the epitome of how everyone as a family feels about each other, and we always tried to raise one another up. These are difficult times in football when you are playing against your own brother…. But at the end of the day, it is still about family and your feelings for one another.”
That, too, is the Harbaugh way. At one point in the conference call, a questioner introduced himself as “John, from Baltimore” and asked Jackie if she indeed likes Jim the best.
There was an awkward pause, followed by a burst of laughter from the family.
Then, John had to go.
Ravens practice was about to start.