As a football coach for 43 years, Jack Harbaugh spent hours in both the vibrant locker rooms that follow wins and the hushed ones that denote losses.
Rarely has he felt a part of both at once.
On Thursday, Harbaugh recalled watching with wife Jackie from an office inside M&T Bank Stadium in 2011 as their sons John and Jim became the first head-coaching brothers to meet in an NFL game. After John's Baltimore Ravens defeated Jim's 49ers 16-6, Jack Harbaugh made his way down to the locker rooms.
He said he first looked in on the Ravens, where the mood was "ecstatic, the guys jumping up and down, the smile on John's face."
"I thought to myself, we're not really needed here," Jack said. "Walked across the hall and went into the 49er locker room – quiet, somber. Looking into some offices, and finally I saw Jim all by himself, no one around him, still had his coaching thing on his head, and realized that's where we were needed.
"That's the thrill of victory and agony of defeat, and we know we're going to experience that next week."
There's the rub for Jack, Jackie and their daughter Joani Crean, who all joined a national conference call Thursday ahead of the 49ers and Ravens meeting Feb. 3 in the Super Bowl. One brother from the supportive, tight-knit family will hoist the Lombardi Trophy, one will not – and the others will remain impartial, down to the clothes they wear to the game.
"I'm going to wear whatever fits," Crean said.
"I'm wearing a neutral color," Jackie Harbaugh said. "Whatever the 'in' neutral color is today."
The Harbaughs didn't say where they plan to sit during the game at the Superdome in New Orleans. From wherever they watch, Jackie made it clear she would like to see the game end in a tie.
"We are just excited that they have brought their teams to the pinnacle of sports," Jackie said. "And the Super Bowl is the ultimate accomplishment for them and their teams."
Jim and John have tried to quash talk about the brothers going against each other, saying it takes away from the accomplishments of their players. Both teams are in the Super Bowl a year after suffering narrow losses in their conference championship games.
The family joined in the downplaying Thursday when asked whether they like the term "Har-bowl," first applied to the Thanksgiving game in 2011. Jack said he's partial to "Lombardi Trophy game," while Jackie said she's fine with "Super Bowl."
Jack, who coached for years at the collegiate level and moved his family 17 times, said Jim and John choosing to take up the profession is "the greatest joy I've gotten in my life."
"What I think they took from Jack by watching how he conducted himself – they learned to be who they are in coaching," Jackie said. "They are who they are as individuals, and that's the way Jack was when he coached."
That's probably as close as any Harbaugh will come this week to drawing a distinction between the brothers – a fact hammered home midway through Thursday's call when a man calling himself "John from Baltimore" chimed in with a tough question.
"Is it true that both of you like Jim better than John?" he asked.
A long pause followed, then bursts of laughter and Jack's voice asking: "Is this John Harbaugh?"
It was. Fortunately, Joani had recognized the voice.
"Mom was ready to come right through this phone," Jack said.
"That's the fighting spirit," John answered. "That's all I needed to hear. I just needed to know that."
More laughter, and greetings, before duty called.
"I have to go to practice now," John said. "They're calling me right now."