Are you tired of hearing about the Harbaugh brothers yet, and their upcoming “HarBowl” on Thanksgiving evening? Probably not if you’re a 49ers fan still high off the 9-1 fumes, unless you’re looking for a reason to complain. Ravens fans might be feeling a little slighted at this point, seeing as their Harbaugh, John, is old news and the Niners’ Harbaugh, Jim, is back-slapping and “Who’s got it better than us” chanting his way to national acclaim.
The brothers themselves have to be a little tired of it. Not because they don’t like the attention (secretly), but because if they’re both going to profess the importance of “The team, the team, the team,” then nobody can be bigger than the team. Including, and perhaps especially, each team’s head coach.
Also, it’s almost disrespectful to two good, proud groups of players to treat this game as if it’s just two brothers alone on the field, maneuvering chess pieces against each other. It’s a fun angle, but I understand why the coaches’ parents, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, decided not to attend. Could you imagine trying to watch the game from a luxury suite, knowing that a camera’s trained on both of you the entire game in case you show a little emotion? No thanks.
We knew for months that the Harbaughs would go against each other on Turkey Day, and we can be pretty sure that both teams will make the playoffs. What we don’t know is who each team might face in the playoffs, but I can think of one team specifically that has a great chance of flying to Candlestick in January.
When the 49ers take the field against Baltimore, it’ll mark their fifth road game in the eastern time zone this season, the kind of scheduling disadvantage that Jim Harbaugh is going to milk for all the motivational capital it can provide.
It’s also the fourth game against a team whose mascot is a bird. The 49ers played the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1, the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4 and the Arizona Cardinals in Week 11. After facing the Ravens this week (Week 12), the 49ers play the Cardinals again in Week 14 and the Seahawks two weeks after that. That’s a lot of times the Niners’ defense will be asked to hit their opponents in the beak.
And what better way for this Alfred Hitchcock-esque year to go than to face the Atlanta FALCONS in the playoffs? The Dirty Birds are hardly a postseason lock right now, as they’re 6-4 in what’s become an very competitive National Football Conference. Eight teams in the NFC have a record as good as Atlanta’s or better, but the 7-3 Chicago Bears just lost Jay Cutler for multiple weeks and the Falcons have one 4 of their last 5 — their only loss coming against New Orleans in the game where Mike Smith made a fourth down decision in overtime so aggressive, even Bay Area Stats Guy wouldn’t approve.
Since the Browns left Cleveland and became the Baltimore Ravens, the 49ers have never played all five avian squads in one season, but they’ve come close several times. The Niners played them all except the Ravens in 2009 and 2010. In 2007, they played the Ravens, Falcons, Seahawks and Cardinals, but not Philadelphia. The previous time they faced Baltimore, in 2003, they faced every group of feathered footballers besides the Falcons.
In the Ravens’ inaugural season, 1996, they played the 49ers. San Francisco also faced the Eagles and Falcons (who were in the NFC West at the time), but not the Seahawks or the Cardinals. In fact, according to my research (which is far from infallible), no team has ever in the same season played all five squads that align themselves with the class of animals that enjoy carpet-bombing humans with their colons.
The Bird Slam (plus one) hasn’t happened yet, so facing the Falcons in the divisional round of the playoffs at Candlestick seems like it’s meant to be, doesn’t it? Like how someday we’ll look back this week’s “HarBowl I” when the two brothers face off in a future Super Bowl. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Now that we’ve got yet another ridiculous, irrelevant angle out of the way, who wants to dare Lowell Cohn to ask a bird-related question during Jim Harbaugh’s next press conference? If he does, the following song may as well be about Mr. Cohn…