While vacationing in Gettysburg in the heart of Civil War territory, the Harbaugh family was profiled in an HBO Real Sports feature that debuts Tuesday night.
Throughout a DVD copy of the story that the network sent to the Carroll County Times, the fierce competitiveness and deep camaraderie of brothers and history buffs John Harbaugh and Jim Harbaugh and father Jack Harbaugh is on full display.
There’s an impromptu wrestling match between Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and San Francisco 49ers rookie coach Jim Harbaugh.
And Jim Harbaugh noted that the exchange of football information with his older brother has gone down considerably since the NFL scheduled the Ravens to host the 49ers on Thanksgiving at M&T Bank Stadium.
"Leading up to this, John has talked freely and openly about football with me," Jim Harbaugh told reporter Andrea Kremer while seated next to John Harbaugh in a building once used by Confederate soldiers. "Now, it’s more talking in code. I’m being serious. I can see there are limitations to what he’s telling me. I thought love had no boundaries, but now I see that they do."
John Harbaugh smiled, and said it’s actually the other way around.
"I think it’s a little overstated," he said. "I think it’s more the other way. He’s been holding back on me."
And Jack Harbaugh, a former college head coach at Western Kentucky and Western Michigan, insists that he won’t play favorites or reveal any secrets as his sons prepare to clash during what’s usually a family holiday.
"You’ve got to be very, very careful," Jack Harbaugh said while sitting next to his wife, Jackie. "I do pledge this on national television. Where are the cameras? Loose lips sink ships! Pull my fingernails out. Take me to the ground. No secret will be divulged from Jackie and myself."
John Harbaugh is meticulously cautious as a rule about not revealing tactical strategies.
And he maintains his secrecy when it comes to his younger brother, the former Indianapolis Colts quarterback known as "Captain Comeback" who energized the Stanford football program.
"We both understand that we’re not giving up any competitive advantage," Jim Harbaugh said. "He’s my best friend, but on Nov. 25, 2011, he will be a guy that I’m trying to beat. I’m not going to be friends with him. It will be combative. It will be competitive. And that’s just the way we want it."
Jack Harbaugh coached for over four decades and reviews all of his sons’ game tapes, eagerly awaiting their arrival each day.
For years, the retired coach has sent his sons several pages of handwritten notes.
"I am standing with the door open in the middle of the winter waiting for that UPS truck to make the turn and stop at the front door," Jack Harbaugh said. "Then down the basement we go to put them in, just for that feeling of being involved with football."
There’s an amusing old story of when Jim Harbaugh once beaned a girl while pitching in a co-ed Little League baseball game.
"Jim fires a fastball and hits her right in the middle of the back," John Harbaugh said. "Everybody starts booing. The parents started booing, ‘Get him off the mound, he’s a big bully. What’s the matter with that kid?’"
"She was crowding the plate," Jim Harbaugh said.
"He had to back her off a little bit," John Harbaugh said.
Jim Harbaugh makes no apologies for his approach to sports.
"I’m a Neanderthal type of guy, I love the thrill of competition," said Jim Harbaugh, who once enraged Pete Carroll by running up the score against USC. "That turns a lot of people off."
Turning toward his brother, Jim Harbaugh said: "This was probably my only friend growing up."
Added John Harbaugh: "He’s the toughest guy I’ve ever been around. He’s as tough as a two-dollar steak."
Jack Harbaugh credited his sons for preventing the Western Kentucky program from being shut down.
Jim Harbaugh worked as an unpaid assistant and recruiter while John Harbaugh, working at the University of Cincinnati at the time, provided his brother with leads on recruits.
In 2002, Western Kentucky won the Division I-AA national championship with those players.
"They would not have a football program at Western Kentucky University today if it weren’t for Jim Harbaugh and John Harbaugh," Jack Harbaugh said. "They would collaborate. John did the research and Jim did the legwork."
Jack Harbaugh said he looked into John Harbaugh’s eyes immediately after the Ravens defeated the Tennessee Titans in an AFC divisional round playoff game on a Matt Stover field goal during Harbaugh’s first season in Baltimore.
"Boom, it just hit me," an emotional Jack Harbaugh said. "What a tremendous job this young man did, how he was able to hold that team together. I turned around and looked right into his eyes, and he looked at me and he had this big smile on his face. I just thought to myself, ‘God how proud I am,’ and then I lost it."
John Harbaugh never played in the NFL, but the former Miami (Ohio) defensive back acknowledged that having an NFL quarterback for a younger brother provided motivational fuel.
"The fact that Jim was doing so well was a huge motivator and a big challenge when you’re the older brother," said John Harbaugh, who has led the Ravens to an unprecedented three consecutive playoff appearances. "I just felt like I had to catch up. I felt like I had to do something."