The 49ers Jim, far right, and the Ravens John Harbaugh chat with their father… (Gail Burton/AP )
Their dad is tired of talking about them. The brothers are so tired of the topic they have decided to hold a joint news conference in New Orleans this week, after which they hope everyone will shut up about it. Everyone, save a high school classmate or two, wants to play the game already.
Yes, only a week left, America, of Prelude to the Harbowl.
And yet, after the same regurgitated anecdote about Jim and John Harbaugh once putting a line of yellow “Do Not Cross” tape in the middle of the room they shared as combative adolescents is told 100 times too many, Jim’s 49ers and John’s Ravens facing off in the Super Bowl on Sunday must be considered among the greatest sibling feats in sports history.
Consider there are roughly 16,000 high schools in the United States that field football teams, about 625 four-year universities that compete in the sport and 32 NFL teams.
So, of the approximately 16,660 head coaches at the game’s three highest levels, two teams coached by brothers managed to advance to the biggest game on the planet.
“When you really think about it, it’s fairly incredible, almost beyond imaginable,” said Dave Feldman, yes, that Dave Feldman, a high school classmate of Jim Harbaugh who can’t get enough of the story.
You remember Feldman. Fire-red hair, booming baritone voice, “Feldy” was Fox 5’s sports anchor for more than a decade in Washington, one of the few competitors the late, great George Michael ever liked and respected. But when Comcast SportsNet Bay Area offered Feldman a good gig to return to his Northern California roots last summer — one that included hosting the 49ers’ postgame show — he went home knowing that the captain and star of the Palo Alto High School basketball team he played on was still a pretty big deal. Feldman had stayed in touch with both Jim and his older brother John as they rose the respective ranks of their coaching and broadcasting ladders.
When both Harbaughs advanced from the conference championship games last week, Feldy’s relationship had even larger cachet: Suddenly, he was Dave Feldman, Harbaugh Historian.
He’s already been interviewed by national publications and has done a truckload of radio interviews, waxing nostalgic about the time he buried a turnaround jumper in Jim’s eye during a one-on-one game in the Harbaughs’ back yard — “The only time I ever beat him and he’s still sore about it,” he said.
After Harbaugh family members, Feldy is the closest thing in New Orleans to Cooper Manning, fairly anonymous brother of Eli and Peyton.
“People are talking to me and I didn’t accomplish anything — I just happened to be in Palo Alto when Jim Harbaugh got there,” Feldman said. “My only claim to fame is I grew up with the guy.”
Jim is a live wire, a hand grenade in a headset. He takes competitive zeal to another level and can often be terse and unhelpful to media members who have deigned to ask him questions he doesn’t feel like answering.
John comes across as more down to earth, self-effacing, able to relate to anyone irrespective of their job or title. When John was told last week after the Ravens knocked off the Patriots that Feldman may be the only reporter in America who actually likes his brother, he scoffed. “There’s got to be a few more than just Feldy,” he said, smiling.
“John is wound a little less tighter, but the differences aren’t quite as great as everyone thinks,” Feldman said. “John is as competitive as they come, believe me. And Jim doesn’t show it much, but he has a side that’s as charming and as fun to have a beer with as John. It doesn’t come out often, but it’s there.”
Through Feldman, you learn where the hyper-intensity comes from. As so as much as the Harbaugh boys don’t want to talk about their achievement because they feel it deflects from their players and teams, the Harbowl is worth at least another anecdote before kickoff:
In 1982 a very good Palo Alto basketball team led by Jim and bolstered off the bench by Feldman — “Jim and I combined for 44 points one game; I had four,” Feldy says — ventured into Santa Clara High’s hostile gym.
From the moment they left the team bus, Palo Alto players took abuse from fans and players.
Jack Harbaugh, who a year earlier had moved his family to Palo Alto from Michigan after he got a job as Stanford’s defensive coordinator, warned the Santa Clara coach of the rough play.
“I remember it clear as day,” Feldman began. “Jim’s dad said, ‘You better clean it up. Because if you don’t clean it up you’re going to have a problem — with me.’ ”
The game was already physical and nasty when, according to accounts of players from both teams at the time, a Palo Alto player absorbed an elbow to the head and decided to retaliate. That’s when the stands emptied, a melee ensued and Jim Harbaugh found himself along the baseline behind the basket with five men balling their fists to get at him. He got ready to go toe-to-toe with all of them when . . .
“Jack Harbaugh was on the court in one second,” Feldman said. “He had a son who had a scholarship to Michigan and he wasn’t about to see anything happen to him. Jack Harbaugh was like Superman. He threw Jim behind him. So anyone who was coming after Jim would have to go through him. It was pretty heroic.”
Asked what he was doing during the brawl, Feldman said, “I think I was wetting my pants.”
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.