John Harbaugh made Ravens believers

February 3, 2013

John Harbaugh got the best of Jim Harbaugh in Super Bowl XLVII  — the first time two brothers faced off as opposing coaches in an American professional league championship game. The Baltimore Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 in a record-long 4-hour, 14-minute marathon that included huge swings of momentum, key fourth-down stands and a 34-minute blackout.

John Harbaugh beat Jim, his younger brother by a mere fifteen months, to the family’s first Lombardi Trophy.

And he has the Motown writing duo Ashford and Simpson to thank.

Wait, what?

"I told [Ray Lewis] it's like an old Motown song," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said when asked what he told the team after the unprecedented 34-minute break in the action. “Ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no valley deep enough, ain't no river wide enough," Harbaugh said, "to keep us from winning a championship."

Did he sing those words to Lewis?

“I said it,” Harbaugh said with a sly grin. “I can’t sing.”

Dubbed “The Har-Bowl” all week long in New Orleans, the game will long be remembered as the “Blackout Bowl,” instead. Though the lights (or lack thereof) may steal headlines and Super Bowl highlights for years to come, it was John Harbaugh’s steely resolve — not only after the blackout itself, but after his Ravens lost grip of the game in the minutes that followed the blackout — that marked the coach’s greatest coaching effort of the Ravens' season.

Up 28-6 early in the third quarter, Baltimore appeared to be cruising along smoothly to its second Super Bowl in franchise history when the Superdome lights and power went out.

Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers promptly rattled off 17 straight points in less than five minutes, making it a five-point game with all eyes on how the Ravens would respond.

“Coach Harbaugh? Man, he didn’t even flinch,” said Ravens safety James Ihedigbo. “He just told us to do what we do. It’s what we’ve done all season. When we lost three straight games earlier this year, coach Harbaugh never lost his confidence in our team. He’s a dog. We’re dogs. We fight and we scrap. Coach Harbaugh — he’s our lead dog. And now, he’s a champion, too.”

The Harbaugh brothers learned a lot about coaching from their father Jack, a man who spent most of his adult life perfecting the craft. Getting a team to respond after a 30-minute halftime break, then a 34-minute blackout — is one thing dad couldn’t teach.

“He just pulled everybody together and said there’s not going to be anything that stops us from achieving our goal,'' said safety Sean Considine.

"He said, 'The lights, the 49ers, nothing could stop us.' And you know what? That’s really been the story for us all season. We’ve been doing that all year long.” 

“Coach Harbaugh made all the rounds during the stoppage of play,” linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said. “He was working the sidelines. We had a team meeting during the blackout. The break was so long. Coach Harbaugh said, ‘Nothing — not even a power outage — is going to stop us from our destiny. We are going to be Super Bowl champions. His confidence and faith in this team — that’s why we love him.”

Veteran safety Ed Reed didn’t always love Harbaugh. Their relationship has had its ups and downs in the five years Harbaugh’s been head coach of the Ravens. On Sunday night, Reed could only sing the highest of praises for the head coach who helped him to his first Lombardi Trophy.

“I’m so happy for coach,'' Reed said. "For all we’ve been through? Man, it didn’t start off perfect. It was tough. There were tough times. We battled. We fought. We argued. We disagreed. We agreed. We discussed. We talked about things. We didn’t talk about things. We walked past each other sometimes and didn’t say nothin’. Now, we see each other, and we tell each other we love each other. I’m so happy for coach, man.”

John Harbaugh, a hard-nosed, soft-spoken man by nature, has one of the most eclectic and vocal locker rooms in the NFL. These Super Bowl champion Ravens are a bunch of characters. In the locker room Sunday night, multiple players sang the lyrics to Eddie Money’s “Two Tickets to Paradise,” while others loudly hummed the tune of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.”

Teammates told Bernard Pollard to, “get naked,” something he’s known to do more times than others in front of inquiring reporters in the locker room. Terrell Suggs teased Ray Lewis, “Are you crying yet, Ray? Are you crying, Ray?!” Ihedigbo was asking anyone within walking distance, “Do you think Joe Flacco is elite? Seriously, is Joe Flacco elite?!”

This is the Ravens locker room. Loose. Funny. Real. They like each other, their city, and their coach. It’s all a testament to John Harbaugh. Instead of molding the team and expecting the players to adapt to his personality and approach, he let's them be . . . well, them.

“Coach Harbaugh has embraced me. He allows me to be me,” said the outspoken Pollard.

“You heard Terrell [Suggs] come in here, he’s as loud as they come. This is what it is. We said we were going to do this at the beginning of the year, we stayed true to it, and now . . . it’s a blessing to be a Baltimore Raven.”

It’s that flexibility and willingness to go against the grain that’s made the elder Harbaugh such a successful coach. Sunday’s game — up big early, nearly lose the lead in the middle, come up big at the end  — mirrored a season that saw the Ravens clinch a division, lose three straight games, then rattle off five wins in six weeks en route to a Super Bowl championship.

Like their season, the Ravens never wavered on Sunday. That’s a testament to John Harbaugh, their head coach.

Perhaps Harbaugh’s gutsiest call of the season came after the team had already clinched the AFC North title. Prior to Week 15, already well into the month of December and just two weeks before the holidays, Harbaugh fired his longtime friend and his offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

Cold? Sure. But it was necessary, and for Ravens fans, Harbaugh’s holiday-time decision has led to wonderful fruits in the new year. With assistant Jim Caldwell calling the plays, the offense erupted into an unstoppable aerial attack, headed by an elite quarterback.

Flacco threw 11 touchdown passes in the postseason, tying Joe Montana’s playoff record. Flacco didn’t throw an interception after Week 15.

Caldwell, a onetime Super Bowl losing head coach with the Indianapolis Colts, deflected any questions about him. He wanted to talk about the head coach who trusted him with play-calling duties, something he’d never done at any level.

“He’s believed in this team. He’s built it," Caldwell said. "He’s constructed it with men that have the same belief that he has. And they work. This is a hard-working, passionate group, and these guys love him and believe in what he’s doing.

“John Harbaugh is a master in communication. He has the pulse of his team, which I think is very important in terms of leadership. This is a tough game and a very difficult arena to work in, and he does it as well as anyone.”

“It's never pretty. It's never perfect. But it's us," Harbaugh said after the game. "It was us today."

As far as facing his little brother, Harbaugh said, “It was a great joy, but it was also the most difficult thing in the world to understand that he is over there. I just think Jim is a great competitor. I just love him, obviously. I think anybody out there who has a brother can understand what that is all about. It is nothing that anybody can’t understand.”

Harbaugh, then took a moment, and finished, “I have so much respect for him. I admire him. I look up to him in so many ways and I am hurting for him in that sense.”

His respect for his little brother is only matched by the respect his team has for him.

“The leadership we get from Coach Harbaugh is second to none,” said Considine. “The way all 53 men came together and for it to culminate like this? This is truly a testament to John.”

“This whole late season run, this game — these were scenarios that John and the rest of the guys were just very comfortable with. We loved having our backs against the wall, and when you put this team’s back against the wall, we’re going to respond to it. And look, now we’ll all be wearing Super Bowl rings. We never lost faith in each other. John never lost faith in us.”

Ain’t no mountain was high enough for the Ravens during the 2012 season, and ain’t no mountain was high enough for the Ravens on Sunday night. A blackout, a nearly squandered lead, facing a first-and-goal from the 7 with the Super Bowl on the line — ain’t no mountain was high enough to keep the Ravens from winning a championship.

John Harbaugh leaves New Orleans a Super Bowl-winning head coach and the winner of the Har-Bowl.

Well, the first one, at least.