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Monday, January 21, 2013

Bro Bowl I

The dust has settled. The final guns have sounded. The scores and stats are in the books. The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers are going to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans in two weeks.


There are multiple compelling story lines in this big game. Future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis of the Ravens is playing in his final game, hoping to ride off into the sunset with a second Super Bowl championship. Second year quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers, one of the youngest quarterbacks ever to start a Super Bowl, will complete one of the most interesting and unexpected tales of the 2012 NFL season.

Forty-Niners future Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss gets one more, and possibly his final, chance to win a Super Bowl ring after losing in the final minute with the Patriots against the Giants in Super Bowl XLII and losing the 1998 NFC Championship Game in overtime (ironically to the Falcons franchise that the 49ers vanquished on Sunday) as a rookie with the Minnesota Vikings.

Forty-Niners linebacker Patrick Willis, win or lose, is set to have the torch passed down to him from Ray Lewis, as the NFL's premiere linebacker. And Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, advancing to his first ever Super Bowl after two prior failed attempts in the AFC Championship Game, has an opportunity to rise to the ranks of the best of the best NFL quarterbacks after a career of being overshadowed by an offense built on the running game and a defense that received first billing in Baltimore.

What a story.... 1

The most unique and interesting story line, however is on the sideline. If you haven't heard (or guessed) Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh is the older brother, by 15 months, of 49ers Head Coach and former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh. It is the first time, ever, though possibly not the last (older brother John is only 50 years old) that two brothers face each other as opposing head coaches in the Super Bowl.

They are close in age. They look alike. But they are very different coaches. John Harbaugh fits the city of Baltimore like a glove. In a way, John was in the shadow of his sibling, Jim, until recently like Baltimore is in the shadow of sibling city (and our nation's capital) Washington, D.C.. Jim Harbaugh was a star quarterback at the University of Michigan, arguably the best passing QB in that school's history (yes, better than Tom Brady). He had success with the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts in the NFL, just one play away against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1995 AFC Championship Game from reaching Super Bowl XXX. Ironically, Harbaugh was the Ravens' starting quarterback in 1998.

Speaking for myself, I didn't even know that Jim had a brother until his name entered circulation among possible new head coaches in the late 2000s. It did not take long for John Harbaugh to make his mark on the Ravens, getting them to the AFC Championship Game in his rookie season of 2008. If you don't know, now you know!

Jim Harbaugh was a star on the field and did not take long to achieve rapid success as a head coach in the college ranks with the University of San Diego and Stanford University. Last season, Harbaugh was the hot college coaching prospect sought for an NFL coaching gig. The 49ers paid a king's ransom for a rookie head coach, paying Harbaugh $25 million over 5 years. Jim Harbaugh, like brother John, reached the conference championship round in his first season, losing to last year's Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants, in overtime.

John Harbaugh, by and large, is cool and composed, Jim Harbaugh, is like an exploding firecracker. John Harbaugh keeps a low profile. Jim Harbaugh is a little crazy, well known for refusing to grant post game interviews with sideline reporters and taking no guff from opposing coaches (like Lions coach Jim Schwartz, with whom Harbaugh appeared to nearly come to blows in 2011 in a testy post game exchange). A Hollywood screen writer couldn't conjure up a better script.

John Harbaugh (right) and Jim Harbaugh (left) on Thanksgiving Night, 2011. 2


What of the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, the two teams that came so close but so far away? Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the Patriots are the sexy story. Beyond name recognition, they aren't that interesting. They'll be back. Brady is healthy and the offense is loaded with talented support players. New England will not go from "contender" to "front runner" until they do something about their pass defense.

The irony is that the three Belichick-era championship teams were anchored by the defense. Now, the offense is among the most lethal in the league but the Patriots have hit a glass ceiling every year because they cannot stop a runny nose, let alone another offense. They will fend off the Jets and squash peasant revolts from the Dolphins and Bills, but as long as Brady is in good health and continues to play at his current high level, the Patriots will have a seat at the AFC's table every year.

The Falcons are loaded with talent and will be very competitive in the regular season for the foreseeable future. However, they are a playoff-challenged team and I think they need to examine themselves from coaching to quarterback play to the running game to their defense. This team cracks, too often, when the spotlight is on. They blew a 20 point lead to the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round and lost after blowing a 17 point lead to the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. They have a big problem with finishing games and extinguishing opponents. They had better solve it quickly if they expect to contend in 2013.

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton returns to the sidelines next season and the NFC South goes back from a three team a four team division next season. The Carolina Panthers with Cam Newton at QB and the Greg Schiano coach Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be tough outs, too. The Falcons will be a hard team to beat between September and December, but I was never a buyer on their January prospects and need to see some significant changes before I am.

I don't feel sorry for him. 
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