Superbowls are more than an excuse to get together and gorge on junk food with friends while watching the latest commercials. The games can offer plenty of excitement. Sometimes, there is a backstory involving participants in the game that make it compelling, must watch TV.
In 2023, we’re set to see two brothers competing on each side of the football for the first time ever. Brothers Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs and Jason Kelce of the Philadelphia Eagles are set to square off in this weekend’s Superbowl LVII. Both have been to the big game before and won with the teams they continue to play with today. It’s an exciting storyline that played out similarly in 2013 for Superbowl XLVII which was played in the Superdome in New Orleans.
Many story lines rippled through this event, but one in particular had Superbowl XLVII nicknamed as the Harbaugh-Bowl. It was the first time in NFL history (and North American professional sports history) where two brothers were competing as head coaches of the participating teams. The NFC were represented by the San Francisco 49ers who were led by Jim Harbaugh. The AFC were represented by the Baltimore Ravens who were led by Jim’s brother, John.
John and Jim’s parents were in attendance at the game. It had to be quite a surreal experience as parents to be watching both of their kids perform on the penultimate stage of their profession. As proud as mom and dad were to see both their sons at this event, deep down they knew that one would leave this game elated while the other would be emotionally crushed. Neither would share in the outcome equally. As parents, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh subscribed to the idea that parents can only be as happy as their least happy child. Their ability to experience the event was further complicated by the constant scrutiny of the press. TV cameras would be on them throughout the game. They worried about showing any expression of interest for either team as it would be expressing “favoritism” for one son over the other. It would have been easier they thought if each son had been playing the same position on opposing teams. At least, then they would be cheering for a role that was not competing directly against each other at the same time.
Gary Myers introduces us to the brothers in his book My First Coach. Jim and John Harbaugh had coaching in their blood. Their dad coached football at the college level and they were immersed in sports growing up. Jim is the younger brother. John is 15 months older. They were close in age and were each other’s closest friends growing up. As kids they shared a bedroom for sixteen years of childhood across multiple homes. The family had modest means. One morning their mother had the use of the family’s single car. The boys were to accompany their father to work. They would be walking just over two miles to get there. Jim and John were eight and nine at the time. The boys’ dad gave them each a basketball and coached them on the walk to make it more interesting. They practiced dribbling a hundred times with the left hand and then a hundred more with the right hand. To encourage his sons, Jack would repeatedly offer, “Who has got it better than us?” To which, the boys would respond, “Nobody, Dad, nobody.” The boys internalized that they were right where they wanted to be. There was no greater place than doing this task where they were with the company they were with. This cycle was repeated and before the boys knew it they had made steady progress on the walk to work. It was a mantra that became their family motto, Who has got it better than us? This phrase was another way of instilling the idea that they were right where they want to be. It was to ingrain the value of gratitude into their lives.
The Harbaugh’s motto morphed from family into their community sport clubs. When the baseball team of Jim and John was just happy to be able to have enough players to field a team for a game, the phrase was introduced. Who has got it better than us? Nobody was the answer offered by the kids who realized they were happy right where they were. All they wanted was the opportunity to play the game they enjoyed and they were able to do. They were right where they wanted to be. This message was reinforced over and over again as the Harbaugh’s grew up. As father and each son expanded their coaching careers the motto’s reach expanded. John had it put on the wall of the dressing room of the Baltimore Ravens. Jim, now coaching at the University of Michigan, has done similarly. At Michigan, the moto is emblazoned on t-shirts which are a hot selling item. Who has got it better than us? It was a motto that was and is at the heart of their personal and coaching philosophies. Being grateful for what we have, where we are, puts us in the position to best apply ourselves right now.
Superbowl XLVII set some viewership and commercial records as a result of the hype built around the two competitive teams and side stories. A thirty second commercial cost an average of $4 million to air. This was and remains a Superbowl record. The game was viewed by almost 109 million people in the US alone. The Ravens looked to have the game solidly in hand. The first half was all about the Ravens. Baltimore’s offence was having their way with the 49ers and built a 28 – 6 advantage in the third quarter before another unique incident arose. On some level, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh weren’t upset to see a lopsided game build. They figured a loss by a large margin would be easier to console than a close game. Yet, another memorable aspect of Superbowl XLVII was that a power outage occurred early in the third quarter which delayed the game for more than half an hour. What looked to be a game that had the Ravens running away with it then became, post blackout, a much tighter event with the 49ers roaring back to score 17 unanswered points in the balance of the third quarter. As the game neared its conclusion, the score got close. The 49ers had opportunities to make the game very competitive. The Ravens ended up with the victory, winning 34 – 31. Even though one son left this memorable contest on the wrong side of the outcome, all members of the Harbaugh likely drew comfort from their idea of “Who has got it better than us?”
Here’s hoping that this Sunday’s Superbowl LVII is exciting for the Kelce family and those of us watching at home.