New Orleans — They might have been playing one of those old-fashioned table football games, one with pushbuttons and cards, in the kitchen of a one-family home in Ann Arbor.
Two brothers. The older one, quiet, sometimes smiling, cerebral. The younger, eyes flashing, yelling, gesturing, also cerebral.
John Harbaugh versus Jim Harbaugh.
It might have been settled in the kitchen before an October dinner — because that's what kids do. They love sports and they play together and build sibling rivalries.
But this game was real, not a kitchen table war of buzzers and little wooden figures. This was genuine American football — with a national audience and the world watching these two brothers battle wits in Super Bowl XLVII.
And indeed they did battle.
In the end, John Harbaugh won it. The genuine thing.
Barely. By three points, and 5 yards to spare — and by giving Jim two points with four seconds left.
Not a gift for kid brother. It was strategy. A deliberate safety, followed by the free kick with four seconds left.
A little bit better
For most of this Super Bowl, John's Ravens pretty much outfought and out-defended Jim's 49ers. In the end, John's team outlasted Jim's team. Baltimore won this Super Bowl, 34-31, Sunday.
Sort of like a pillow fight they might have had in the bedroom they shared in Ann Arbor.
But the truth is John outcoached his kid brother.
Just a little bit.
Just enough to win.
"We were not perfect," said John. "It was not pretty."
Indeed, Jim's 49ers came almost all the way back from a 22-point deficit in the second half.
They were short by those vital, valuable 5 yards.
As confetti fluttered on the champion Ravens, John and Jim met and shook hands.
Brothers, for sure. Opposing coaches, for certain.
Their handshake was brief — almost as if they had never met before.
"I love you," said John Harbaugh, repeating their handshake conversation.
"Congratulations," responded Jim, adding his memory. "I'm proud of you."
Then Jim ran off the field to the 49ers locker room.
And John, smiling, walked toward the championship presentation of the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
"It's tough," said John, opening his emotions about defeating his brother.
"It was a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. It's very painful . . .
"The meeting with Jim at the end was very difficult, the most difficult thing I ever did in coaching.
"We needed the goal-line stand to win it."
Five years ago, John Harbaugh had worked his way upward to a head coaching job in the NFL. The Ravens hired him. His first bit of input was to draft an obscure quarterback — Joe Flacco out of Delaware.
The Ravens won with the oft-criticized Flacco outplaying the heralded Colin Kaepernick.
Just a little bit.
They won with Flacco passing for three touchdowns in the first half. Some were darts, some were lobs, some were short, some were deep.
Flacco, who was scoffed at when he declared himself an elite NFL quarterback before the 2012 season. Flacco, who defeated Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the AFC playoffs to reach this Super Bowl.
"We don't make anything easy," said Flacco, after his elite performance.
But in the bitter end, the Ravens won, with their defense --- Ray Lewis' defense in his last game after 15 NFL seasons.
In those final two minutes the 49ers were at the Baltimore 5 with three shots at the winning touchdown. Three times, the Ravens forced Kaepernick to throw incomplete passes toward the end zone.
On two of them, Jim went ballistic on the sideline — as has been his habit — yelling for pass interference.
"The way it was 28-6 . . ." John told the media, "I just knew with Jim Harbaugh being the other sideline and all those years that we have been together that the game was going to be a dogfight right to the end.
"Those guys were coming back.
"There is no greater competitor and no greater coach in the National Football League — or in the world — than Jim Harbaugh. The way that team played proved it."
The Harbaugh brothers couldn't have worked anything like this on their kitchen table in the 1970s in Ann Arbor.
Their dad and mom, Jackie and Jackie, never would have believed it.
Jerry Green is one of three newspaper writers who have covered every Super Bowl. Ed Pope of the Miami Herald and Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger are the two others.