Some people are tired of all the talk about the “Bro Bowl” brewing today in New Orleans.
My guess is those people aren’t younger brothers.
I love hearing the stories of San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and his older brother, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who square off today in the Super Bowl. They love and respect one another, yet they still desire to beat the snot out of the other.
I’m pulling for Jim Harbaugh, in part because he’s a former Chicago Bear and in part because he’s the little brother.
My brother is 5 years older and half a foot taller than I am, and he always will be. It doesn’t matter how old you get in life, you remain the little brother.
You compete with your siblings growing up, whether you intend to or not. Teachers compare you. Coaches compare you. Even parents compare you. It’s a fact of life. Deep down inside, you always want to draw a distinction between you and your big brother.
Aside from our size, my brother and I could be twins today, including graying temples and goatees. As children, we had so many differences in our own minds. I learned from books; he learned from experiences. I excelled in the classroom; his interests involved his friends.
We drove each other nuts sharing a room through our formative years. I’ll admit now I set him up for trouble, giving him reasons to get mad at me because I knew my parents would punish him if they caught him giving me my comeuppance. I acknowledge I deserved it the day he picked me up and tossed me through a hallway wall (which my parents made us patch together).
Football is what we had in common. We both loved the game, even though neither of us was good enough to start varsity at our small high school.
I wore No. 91 all through high school football because he wore it first, even though I asked to wear Walter Payton’s No. 34. I played receiver because he played receiver. I spent too much time listening to older kids call me “Trinkmonster” because they called him that, up until my nickname, “Timebomb,” caught on among teammates because of the slow-burning fuse on my explosive temper.
He made me a better football player, though, and we spent many afternoons and evenings in our backyard practicing. The more we played, the more I wondered why he ended up a receiver instead of a quarterback. He had more zip on the ball than any of my classmates, and he could heave it 40 yards if he wanted, with terrific aim.
We used to have a sidewalk in our backyard that led to a long-ago demolished building. We practiced making the catch and taking a hard hit on that makeshift sideline, with my brother tossing me the ball and then sprinting toward me to distract me from the catch before pummeling me out of bounds.
I don’t know if he practiced with me because he wanted to make me a better football player than he was or if he just liked chucking his scrawny little brother out of bounds. Either way, all our differences melted away when we played football.
We still don’t appear to have much in common. He works hard for a living, and I sit in an office using a computer. We run in different circles. When we talk about football, though, we’re just a couple of kids again, learning about the game together in the backyard.
I imagine the lives of the Harbaugh brothers were similar. They had more success on the field, with Jim playing quarterback at Michigan and in the NFL, and John playing defensive back at Miami University.
Deep down inside, I’m sure a driving force is the urge to distinguish themselves from the other. There are few better ways to do that than to be the first in your family to win a Super Bowl.