Band of Brothers, and Sisters

The most lasting and enduring of relationships.

The Super Bowl of Sibling Rivalry

Two brothers playing against each other in Super Bowl XLVII

Congratulations to the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens for reaching Super Bowl XLVII. As a resident of Baltimore I am particularly excited about the Ravens and the many back stories of this successful season. Overcoming injuries and the death of the Ravens legendary owner Art Modell adds special meaning to this achievement. Add to it the impending retirement of Baltimore’s mythological linebacker Ray Lewis and you can imagine what this upcoming Super Bowl means to Baltimore.

However, as someone who has studies sibling dynamics for many years what is most intriguing for me is the upcoming matchup between San Francisco’s and Baltimore’s head coaches: the Harbaugh brothers. I can’t begin to imagine the pressures coaches experience as they prepare for the big game. Coupled with the sibling rivalry dynamics that this upcoming game entails and I do not envy Baltimore’s John or San Francisco’s Jim. And as I did some research about these brothers and their families, in order to apply to my understanding of sibling rivalry dynamics in general, I began to appreciate even more the extent of the pressure, particularly for older brother John.

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Allow me to share some background information and my personal thoughts which I hope will provide a great backstory to enhance your enjoyment of this upcoming Super Bowl. John and Jim are the only two sons (they have a sister as well) of Jack and Jackie Harbaugh. Football runs deep in the family. Jack held various college football coaching positions including head coaching positions at Western Michigan University and Western Kentucky University. This football enthusiasm rubbed off on both Harbaugh boys. Older brother John played and coached in college with little success then moved on to serve as an NFL special teams and defensive backs coach for Philadelphia. In 2008 he became head coach of the Baltimore Ravens.

On the other hand, Jim, who is a year younger than John, has had some great moments in his long career as a player and as a coach. Playing for the University of Michigan he won the 1987 Rose Bowl and was a Heisman Trophy finalist that year. He then was a first round NFL draft pick going to the Chicago Bears. He played for the Bears, Colts, Ravens, and the Chargers with particular success during his Colts years taking them to the AFC Championship game and being selected to the Pro Bowl. His success as a coach included winning the 2011 Orange Bowl with Stanford.

Let us consider all these variables together with what is known about sibling rivalry in general and I would venture to say that pressure is on John – Big Time!

Dad is a big football guy who brought up his kids to follow in his footsteps. Both children wanted to please dad and embarked on football careers. Younger brother is considerably more successful at football than older brother, up this this point, and they are now about to face each other in none other than the Super Bowl; talk about sibling drama.

As if the pressure is not enough, the Super Bowl has already been nicknamed the “Harbaugh Bowl”.

Right after the Ravens beat the New England Patriots Sunday night winning a trip to the Super Bowl John was asked by a CBS reporter about his feelings concerning facing his younger brother in the big game. He skillfully and in a laid-back manner deflected the question by focusing on the teams.

I don’t buy it. Pressure is on, John. Go Ravens!

Avidan Milevsky, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.

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