The NFL sure knows how to ruin a holiday family re-union. Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, who celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary Friday, will be leaving the stadium before kickoff so they can privately agonize over their sons' Thanksgiving coaching duel.
Meanwhile, most every other football fan will be choosing sides in this fascinating spectacle of big bro' meets kid bro'. Heightening the intrigue of the league's first-ever sibling sideline showdown is a match-up of potential Super Bowl opponents and the unusual bond of John and Jim Harbaugh.
The brothers are pure Americana, embracing adventure and each other like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Until tomorrow, of course, when they will mentally re-enact those notorious boyhood scuffles where duct-taped boundaries in a shared bedroom never stopped either from trying to get their way.
True to form, Jim griped that the 49ers "got the short end of the straw," because they are the first team forced to travel three time zones to play a Thursday game since the league expanded to a 16 game season.
John countered by saying he wished he borrowed their dad's favorite line, "Who has it better than us?...Nobody!," which has become Jim's locker room victory cry. The Ravens coach also claims Jim co-opted his phrase, "players should have armadillo skin, not deer skin". However, in the next breath John says, "Jim was the most underrated quarterback in the league. He was a special, special player, but I am more proud of him now as a father, husband and coach."
So proud, the elder brother is buying tickets for all the family and friends attending the game. Speaking of friends, John says, "Don't believe it when Jim says he has none in football. He's clever, personable and very funny. He's got lots of friends."
I'm sure Jim has a lot more friends now that the 49ers have won eight straight. But unlike John, whose cool and calm leadership has the Ravens poised to make the playoffs for a fourth straight season since his arrival in Baltimore, Jim is more fiery and brash.
How else does a younger brother make his way? Coaching demeanor aside, their teams look as similar as the brothers do. Both the 49ers and Ravens rely on a ball control offense (each is scoring 25.6 points per game) and a punishing defense, number one-ranked San Francisco is giving up just 14.5 points per game while number three-ranked Baltimore is surrendering 17.6 ppg. The 49ers are 4-0 on the road this season, while the Ravens have won seven straight at home.
So aside from knowing we'll see a fierce, hard fought game, I guarantee when it's over there won't be any "What's your deal?" or "How did you like that finish?" heavy handshake and back slap. Mom and dad will be watching.