“Why I’m rooting for the 49ers,” or “The Shot Heard Round My Backyard”

John Harbaugh is the coach of the Baltimore Ravens.  His younger brother Jim is the coach of the San Francisco 49ers

John Harbaugh is the coach of the Baltimore Ravens. His younger brother Jim is the coach of the San Francisco 49ers

Jim Harbaugh is the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.  This Sunday Jim is leading his team into the Superbowl, and on the opposing sidelines will be his oldest rival, his big brother John.  Jim and John Harbaugh have justifiably received a lot of attention these last two weeks.  The Harbaugh brothers have reached the pinnacle of the football world.  On Sunday they will share the biggest stage in the world.  Not too long ago, they shared a bedroom.

Jim and John Harbaugh were born 15 months apart.  They were fierce competitors growing up.  Gifted with more natural talent, Jim went farther as an athlete.  He was one game away from playing in the Superbowl as the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts.  Yet here they are, meeting as head coaches at the top of their career.

There are other famous pairs of siblings in the sports world.  Peyton and Eli Manning, and Serena and Venus Williams are two pairs that have made some headlines.  In most of these matchups, I tend to root for the younger sibling.  I root for the little brother because I know how that feels.

My brother got pretty good at the Figure Four Leg Lock.

This not my brother and me, but anyone that thinks wresting is fake has never been trapped in a figure four leg lock. This happens to be Ric Flair on the right, playing my brother, and I believe Steve Austin on the left, playing me.

My brother and I were born almost six years apart, so we weren’t exactly rivals.  My younger years were spent in perpetual servitude and resentment.  Yet at the same time, my older brother was always there.  He was someone for me to look up to and emulate.  He showed me how to swing a bat and a golf club.  He taught me how to put together a hot wheels racing tournament with my cars.  He taught me how to build lego cars, card houses, and do card tricks. He was even willing to demonstrate on me how to do a D.D.T, a Figure-four Leg Lock (pictured), and a Camel Clutch.  In time, he became my best friend, and we stood next to each other at each of our weddings.  There was no thought to asking anyone else to be there for me in that moment.

My big brother was always there.  Sometimes he made me angry enough to cry or scream or attack with a ferocity I didn’t know I had.  One time he tickled me until I puked.   Most of the time he was teaching me something.  And he taught me so much, the important stuff and trivial stuff.  He taught me about girls and sarcasm and sports, and life.  He taught me to like chocolate and peanut butter ice cream, and the Macho Man, and Seinfeld.  My big brother is the smartest person I know, and there are few people with whom I laugh more.  He still teaches me stuff.  I still look up to him, even though he stopped being my “big brother” by the time I was about 15 years old.

That’s why I usually cheer for Eli and Serena, and why I’ll probably be cheering for Jim (although he is kind of a lunatic, and I think I’d rather play for John).  I know a little of what Jim will feel when he looks across the field and sees John: pure love, admiration, and respect; and a desire to beat him that is pure and burns white-hot.

I didn’t beat my brother much growing up.  He was bigger than me, stronger than me, faster than me, and smarter than me.  It wasn’t until I was about 15 or 16 when some of those things started to change.  My brother and I had some epic basketball games over the years.  Some were Nerf games, where he had to play on his knees and there were no holds barred.  Some were on our back patio, where the flowers were out of bounds, the crack was the three-point line, and you had to take the ball back to the grill.

The summer after I graduated high school was our last summer together.  That fall, he started his second year of medical school,  and I went off to college.  We played a lot of basketball games that summer.  One-on-one, to 30, winner’s outs, win by two.  There were a series of intense games.  I discovered I had a distinct advantage inside.  He was still quicker than me and a better all-around athlete.  All were close, but he won them all.  He had a winning streak that dated back to the early 1980s.  It was the kind of streak that the Harlem Globetrotters could envy.  Finally, The Streak ended.  It was an intense game.  We were well into the 30s, going back and forth.

Michael Jordan’s last shot with the Bulls is one of those plays that is ingrained into the collective memory of thousands of basketball fans.  I can still see it as vividly today as I did when he hit it to beat the Jazz for his sixth World Championship.  Jordan’s shot, and that memory, have the distinct advantage of having been shown over and over for years.

The Shot was not recorded.  The only spectator was my Mom watching from the kitchen window.  Yet it was ingrained into my mind as clearly as any of my sports memories.  I have watched my teams win World Championships.  I jumped out of my skin as the Illini came back against Arizona.  I wept openly when the Paul Konerko clutched the last out of the 2005 World Series, and I still get goosebumps when I recall the Phillies beating the Devil Rays.

None of these moments are as important to me as the time I drove to my left toward the baseline, backed in a little, then pivoted to face the hoop, and took a little jumper leaning away from the basket from about five feet, just in front of the rock garden in the corner, and I beat my big brother.  It was, at the time, the greatest moment of my life.

Covered in sweat, drained, and tired, I simply pumped my fist.  We went inside.  Mom asked us, “Who won?”  I don’t think either of us answered with words.  We didn’t have to.

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Filed under Personal Reflection, Sports

17 responses to ““Why I’m rooting for the 49ers,” or “The Shot Heard Round My Backyard”

  1. John H

    This is great, Robb. I am the big brother in my family. I have two younger brothers and all three of us were wrestlers in high school. We had some great wrestling matches in the front room and even a memorable nerf football game (inside) which ended up with a broken frame on the couch. (I kept it hidden from my Dad for over a week, but eventually had to tell him. He got even with me by sending the broken couch with me when I moved into a fraternity in college.) Lots of great memories.

  2. Good stuff!! Check out my funny song and vid I did for the game today called “Super Bowl Sunday” http://365songsfor2010.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/super-bowl-sunday-song-2/

  3. surfskiesp

    Great post! I am following you now, if you ever want to know about Ocean Paddling follow us back! Regards.


  4. Great view of the younger brother’s psyche. Being an older brother, it’s a good reminder. Sobering.

  5. rmk

    This was adorable.

    I was the youngest sibling too but had the opposite happen. The extra time and development of being two years younger meant that I far excelled what my sister managed to achieve in the sport we both competed in. We started at the same time and I got two more years in U-15 and U-17. She aged out before she really got to the top, whereas I got to enjoy the perks of her generation not being in the field. Sometimes being younger is actually really nice and meant that I won more events than she did overall. That I was the right age when it came to qualifying for Canada Winter Games and various other things.

    Me and my sister are ridiculously close, much more so now that we are older and more mature, but even still competing with a sibling is hard. My mother occasionally tells me to go to grad school because my sister did it and excelled at it, and it takes a lot of self-control to not storm out of the room or quit Skype. Even worse in sports. When I competed against my sister one of us was going to lose and that was the worst. You always had to be on your best and deal with not just losing but losing to your sister.

  6. CJ

    Being a huge Ravens fan the title of your post caught my attention. I was ready to be full of anger and reply back with just how awesome the Ravens are and your facts are all wrong. But as I read this, I started to smile and remembered all the times my older sister was better than me. Taller, thinner, stronger, smarter…If it were any other two teams I would be rooting for Jim too. Great post!

  7. Great story of siblings ^^

  8. I really enjoyed this take on sibling dynamics. I’m the oldest. I only have one sister and she is six years younger than me. And there’s always a point where the playing field evens out and the younger sibling upsets the older sibling. It’s a sobering moment for us, because you are pretty much our equal instead of just the younger sibling we tortured.A good read. Very good. Ultimately I know as well as my sister that we will always be there for each other, no matter what. I think that is something to be cherished.

  9. I just finished watching the game. I’m not a huge football fan. This was the second game I’ve sat down to watch all season, and I didn’t even turn it on until after half-time. That being said, I *do* like the 49ers. They’re my home team. How can I not? When I was watching the part of the game that I watched, though, I was amazed to see just how much the two brothers look alike. I only have one younger brother so can’t relate to sibling rivalry so much as this post suggests, but I think that’s because God knew what He was doing. I’m very competitive so he *knew* I couldn’t handle having a sister… But I think God *does* give us siblings for a reason. You learned from your brother, and I’m sure he learned from you, too. You both pushed each other to be better. And in the end, you’ll always be there for each other. As best competitors. And best friends.

    A well-written, thought-provoking post. Thank you!

  10. donofalltrades

    Great post! As the oldest of two brothers, it’d make me proud to read something like this written by them. I was rooting for John for similar reasons you were for Jim. BTW, as part of the big brother code, yours “let” you win that game…:-)

  11. Love this story! Thanks for sharing and making my day!

  12. Phoenix

    Greatest sibling post, ever. My younger sister (five year difference!) had the same type of competitiveness. I love her to death though, and did the best I could as an older sibling always being there for her and beating the snot out of anyone who DARED pick on her. 🙂 You guys have a good family dynamic.

  13. Im the youngest of 5, and I always got super hyped when I beat my brothers and sister in basketball, or whatever game. I could only imagine what Thanksgiving, or any other holiday will be like from now on. Each time John can come back and say “Oh hey Jim, remember when I BEAT YOU IN THE SUPERBOWL!” LawLz

  14. northernmalewhite

    i dont support either of the two teams but by the end was rooting for the 49ers also. I have an older brother but luckily we’re not into the same things so i have nothing to feel competitive with him about.

  15. This was a great article except that I was pulling for the Ravens.. But a good article regardless!!!

  16. That was a nice read. I got a little choked up. Don’t really know why, I guess, since I was the oldest, I never got the perspective of my 4 younger brothers. I hope they had as much admiration for me as you did for your brother.

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