For perhaps the first time in his sporting life, Jack Harbaugh will go into a football game without a plan.
There will be no calculated schemes or strategies when he walks into the Superdome in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII to find his two sons facing one another in the biggest moment of their coaching careers.
It's a scene Jack Harbaugh -- the 73-year-old father to John and Jim -- won't allow himself to create until it's time. Instead, he'll allow the moment when everything comes together in all of its star-studded glory to dictate his emotions rather than scripting his feelings like he had an offensive game plan so many times during his coaching career.
But in that instant just before kickoff, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh may -- if only for a second -- allow themselves to bask in what that moment means to their family. Then they'll step back again and allow the two Harbaugh coaches on the field to do what they do.
And yet admittedly, the game will be different than any other the couple, married for 51 years, has witnessed, providing another scrapbook memory in a football life that is already full of them.
"It's really an emotional experience," Jack Harbaugh told ThePostGame. "The last few days, I've really come to the conclusion that we're parents -- Jackie and I -- and we've gone through this process with no book and really, it's been by the seat of your pants. You raise your children and do the best you can and hope for the best results."
So even on Super Bowl Sunday -- when the Ravens, coached by John Harbaugh, face the 49ers, coached by Jim Harbaugh -- life will move ahead unscripted.
At some point, Jackie -- the woman whom Jack refers to as a the rock of the Harbaugh family -- will undoubtedly devise a plan.
She's the one who executed a plan each of the 16 times the Harbaugh family moved during Jack’s coaching career. She's the one who bought and sold the houses, the one who made sure all of the details were taken care. She will again spring into action.
She'll figure out where the couple's 10 grandchildren and her 97-year-old father, will sit -- not to mention how all of the siblings and various family members will be assembled in time for kickoff.
But in the midst of all of the planning that's needed when the time comes, there will also be a moment of calm, when the reality of the all-Harbaugh Super Bowl finally sinks in.
Then, Jack says, he will finally exhale.
“We'll just be watching and enjoying and living in this moment,” Jack says.
“Because one thing we learned from last Thanksgiving is that this is not about us. It’s not about Jack and Jackie Harbaugh -- it's about them.”
If anything good came out of the first time John and Jim Harbaugh faced one another on the field in November 2011, it's that it provided their parents with a plan.
In the weeks leading up the regular-season meeting, the two brothers swapped many of the same stories they will again, repeating -- as they have already -- that this isn't about them.
And come game day, on the night before Jack and Jackie celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2011, the ol' ball coach and his bride had found an out-of-the-way spot to witness the Ravens’ 16-6 win over the 49ers.
Jack still can't shake the way that his wife stared blankly into the screen, void of any emotion as she watched her boys try to out-think one another on Thanksgiving night.
“I’ve never seen Jackie experience that in a ball game -- she was nearly comatose,” Jack remembers. “Not a word was spoken. At the end of the game, it was over."
Jack remembers sticking his head in the Ravens’ locker room. Players were jumping up and down, coaches were congratulating one another and his John Harbaugh -- the older son by 15 months -- smiled from ear to ear.
"We're not really needed here,” Jack thought to himself.
Across the hall, he peered into the 49ers locker room quiet and somber. He spotted Jim -- the former NFL quarterback -- alone in an office by himself, still dressed from the game, head in his hands.
"I realized," Jack said, "that's where we're needed."
After the game, Jackie made her way down to the bowels of M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore as the two teams loaded their respective buses. She exchanged hugs and a few private words with each of their sons and then watched as the brothers who had grown up competing against one another in every respect share a moment of their own.
“It was just the epitome of how everyone in the family feels about each other and tries to raise each other up,” Jackie Harbaugh says. “These are difficult times in football when you’re playing against your own brother.
"But at the end of the game, it’s still about family and your feelings for one another."
In the days leading up to the game the media has deemed, "Superbaugh or Harbowl," Jack and Jackie Harbaugh will steer clear of much of the activity. After all, for the first time in years -- Jack can't remember the last time it happened -- all three of the Harbaugh children and all of their children will be together.
While John and Jim prepare their teams for the league's championship game, their parents will revel in just being together.
Jack and Jackie will arrive Tuesday and during the week, will welcome each of their grandchildren to New Orleans. For all of the talk of brother versus brother and all of the times already the two coaches have tried to dismiss it, there will be a time shortly after the Ravens and 49ers arrive that all of the talk of family for the two coaches will disappear.
The two Harbaugh brothers will get busy with play scripts and film study. They will escape to the practice field, free from cell phones, iPads or any other piece of technology in which the family storyline will be brought up day after day.
As he has throughout his sons' coaching careers, Jack will steer clear, allowing -- as has become his modus operandi -- to let his boys figure things out on their own.
“They don’t have to get caught up in anything but their football team and the players and coaches and all the different things that’s going to give them a chance to win,” Jack says.
"John, I'm sure, won’t be thinking about Jim and Jim isn't thinking about John. So from that standpoint, I envy them – they don't have to worry as much as we do."
Jackie has already decided she'll wear a neutral color come Game Day. Joani Harbaugh, the lone daughter in the bunch and wife of Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean, announced she'll wear black. Or as she joked with reporters during a conference call "whatever fits that day" to keep from any suggestion that the Harbaughs have any rooting interest in the final result.
As much as the Thanksgiving night meeting 14 months ago prepared them for such an occasion, the second all-Harbaugh meeting will be taken at face value.
Jack -- the patriarch of football’s seated first family -- won't allow himself to think ahead to how the family will deal with the night's final result. Like he did during his son's respective conference championship games, he'll sit back and watch the game as a father rather than as a coach, leaving the game planning and analysis to others.
At some point before kickoff, he’ll take a look around and realize that his sons -- the boys who learned so much for their father -- have reached the pinnacle of their own coaching careers. But he'll also look back to Thanksgiving night and understand that one of his sons' teams will finish atop the other.
But regardless of who wins and who loses, the one part of the Harbaugh Super Bowl game plan the two parents have figured out is that in the end, the occasion will be celebrated as a whole, appreciating the moment for what it is, painting a family portrait for generations to come.
"I think with the Thanksgiving game, I don't think we went into it with any real thought about how it would present itself," Jack said. “After that, though, this is a tremendous opportunity for us to look at this as a family experience and hopefully, there will be others outside our family who will see it and understand the emotion that we feel."
And God knows, by the end of a night no one in football first's family is soon to forget, there will a ton of them.
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