SANTA CLARA, Calif. — When addressing his 49ers this week, Jim Harbaugh can point to the monumental miss in his 15-year NFL career: He came a Hail Mary short of making the Super Bowl.
He still has an out-of-whack right pinkie and noticeable hitch in his step to show for his time in the league.
His big brother, John, never played at football’s highest level and instead might motivate his Baltimore Ravens with examples of sacrifices by military members in real-life conflicts.
The Harbaughs, separated in age by all of 15 months, took different paths to the doorstep of the Super Bowl. Now, they’re sparking talk of a “Superbaugh.”
Baltimore plays at New England in Sunday’s first game for the AFC title, then San Francisco plays host to the New York Giants for the NFC crown.
Their parents, Jack and Jackie, plan to watch on television from home in Wisconsin.
While the brothers have spoken during the playoffs, Jim is quick to point out they are each handling business their own way.
“Each situation is different,” he said. “There are some similarities, there are some differences. Their situation is similar in some ways, and different in others. We’re each going to handle it accordingly.”
John Harbaugh began at the lowest rung of coaching and worked his way up slowly, a former college defensive back at Miami of Ohio whose playing career ended there. He has guided the Ravens’ staunch, playmaking defense.
Jim Harbaugh was a star college quarterback at Michigan, a first-round draft pick and eventual Pro Bowler who turned to coaching much later. His thick offensive playbook featuring a version of the West Coast offense can be overwhelming, and Harbaugh has been known to mix in some twists.
In last Saturday’s 36-32 last-second win against Drew Brees and the favored Saints, Jim Harbaugh even used star defensive tackle Justin Smith for a few plays on offense.
He gets a kick out of the game-planning process and throwing in some new wrinkles each week.
The Harbaughs can be dismissive. They’re known to sneer or blow off questions altogether when it comes to injuries or any other tidbit that might give an opponent insight or a possible advantage.
Both possess a laser-like football focus and find unique ways to motivate.
“When he gets fired up, it’s fire and brimstone,” Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said of John.
Jim has his players buying into a blue-collar mentality.