The Harbaugh family

The Harbaugh family (Phil Hoffmann, Baltimore Sun / January 26, 2013)

John can also be brusque, though he's more apt to laugh off a question that doesn't engage him. He finds his brother's performances amusing.

"I'll tell you, I watch his media things, and I just laugh because some people take him seriously," he said. "They actually think that some of that stuff is serious. He's having fun, and he's just being himself. … That's who he is, whether it's on the sideline or wherever, he is real. That's what I love about him."

John hopes that the barbed side of Jim's personality doesn't obscure his warm heart. This is a guy who spent seven years recruiting Indiana and Florida for his dad's Western Kentucky teams — at the same time he was an NFL quarterback.

Jack remembered how despondent he was after his program had nearly been eliminated. He figured he was near the end of the line when Jim walked into his office one winter afternoon. "This doesn't sound like you," Jim said to his dad. "How can I help?"

So he hit the recruiting trail as an unpaid assistant, in part acting on tips from John, then a special teams coach at Cincinnati.

Sure enough, when Jack steered the Hilltoppers to a Division I-AA championship in 2002, the roster was loaded with Jim's signees.

Nowhere does Jim's warmth show up more than in comments about his big brother. In the 2009 interview, he recalled how, when he started as an NFL assistant, players kept telling him how much they had gotten from working with John. "That guy's the best," he remembered them saying. "He taught me so much."

Though Jim is usually talked about as the gifted brother, he momentarily sounded in awe of John. "I'm like half the coach he is," he said. "He's got the ability, when he's home around his wife and daughter, to make it all about them. Some coaches have to work around the clock, because they're just not as productive as John. But it comes back to ability. He just has a lot of ability."

They meet again

Jack and Jackie have been through this once before, on Thanksgiving night 2011. They watched on television from an office inside M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens beat the 49ers 16-6. Jack recalled how little emotion he saw in Jackie's eyes during the game, how quiet she was.

That part was hard enough. Then he went downstairs to speak with his sons after the game. John, at the center of a jubilant locker room, didn't need him. Jack found Jim sitting alone across the hall. For all the wins and losses he experienced as a coach, he was a dad in that moment. The boy who was hurting was the one who needed him.

Jack knows one of his sons will feel that way again next Sunday. He's not looking forward to the moment.