Cumberland Times-News

January 19, 2008

He’ll have to learn how to play hardball

Mike Burke

That’s John Harbaugh. Not Jim Harbaugh, not Bob Harbaugh.

The Baltimore Ravens hired John Harbaugh to be their head coach on Friday, not his brother Jim Harbaugh, the former Ravens quarterback and current Stanford head coach who helped orchestrate Southern’s Cal’s national-championship demise; and not Bob Harbaugh, who is also an experienced head coach.

John Harbaugh.

If you’re not a member of the Harbaugh family, and if you don’t live in Philadelphia, you probably asked yourself, “Who in blazing saddles is John Harbaugh?”

Well, obviously, he and his brother Jim come from a great football family as his dad Jack Harbaugh was a football coach for 41 years, guiding Western Kentucky University to the 2002 NCAA Division I-AA national championship. John Harbaugh chose to become a football coach rather than a lawyer and enter politics once he earned his master’s degree, causing his mother, according to his father, to “drop her head onto the kitchen table and burst into tears as if she’d lost a son.” So you can see he comes from a pretty insightful gene pool.

No, John Harbaugh has served as the special-teams and secondary coach for the Philadelphia Eagles for several years now and is highly regarded around the NFL. At 45 he’s a young man who’s never been a head coach at any level, but Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, who made his fortune hiring people, believes he is the man for the Ravens.

He is not Jason Garrett, who turned down the Ravens’ head coaching offer on Thursday. Nor is he Marty Schottenheimer, or Brian Schottenheimer for that matter. He is John Harbaugh, and until Friday he is a man you likely never heard of.

But give the guy a chance. Before they were hired as head coaches, who ever heard of Don Shula, John Madden, Chuck Noll, Joe Gibbs, Bill Cowher, Andy Reid or Jeff Fisher?

Of course, you never heard of Marty Mornhinweg or Rod Marinelli either. And you still haven’t.

Pack fever

Yes, I have it, too. Everybody has it except fans of the New York Giants. Other than that ornery lot, who doesn’t want to see Brett Favre, otherwise known for his breakthrough role in “There’s Something About Mary,” lead the Green Bay Packers over the Giants today and into the Super Bowl for a Superman vs. Lex Luther confrontation against the evil New England Patriots? Nobody, that’s who.

Everybody’s excited because 40 years later we get to see another Ice Bowl at Lambeau Field, just like when Bart Starr and Jerry Kramer led the Packers over Jethro Pugh and the Dallas Cowboys. But sadly, those who still have the stomach to tune in, will have to endure the yutz Chris Berman drone on about “the frozen tundra,” which, again, are words NFL Films boss Steve Sabol claims the late John Facenda never spoke into an open microphone.

Still, everything seems too good to be true right now. I picked the Packers to win, but only because I receive enough hate mail from nuns. Rooting against the Packers would be like rooting for Mary Lou Retton to fall off the balance beam. It would be like hoping Elmer Fudd gives up on getting Bugs and shoots the Easter Bunny instead, or that Ashley Wilkes marries that conniving Scarlett instead of the sweet and fair Melanie.

Rooting for the Giants today would be akin to rooting for the Soviet Union in the ’72 gold-medal basketball game, or for Duke in any basketball game.

Egad! It would be like rooting for Rich Rodriguez to win the Rose Bowl. Or worse ... Powerball.

You get the picture.

We pledge our allegiance today to the Green Bay Packers, but I just have this nagging feeling that Coach Tom Coughlin, who reminds me of Rommel every time I see him, and that little snot Eli Manning are going to get in the way of things.

And don’t get me wrong, as a fellow little brother, I empathize with Eli Manning. For instance, that SportsCenter commercial the Manning family made? It is soooo true. That’s how they operate, big brothers. They wait until Mom and Dad’s backs are turned and they give you the reverse kick to the back of the calves. And then when you rightfully retaliate, there’s Dad turning around just in a nick of time to see what a rotten little kid you are. Big brother pointing at you doesn’t help either.

Eddie Haskel would have been the prototype big brother, but Mr. and Mrs. Haskel were smart. Once they got a load of what they had brought into the world, they shut the baby store down pronto.

Eli Manning has been living in a shadow his entire life, and today will be no different when The Brett Favre Show kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Manning knows how to deal with living in the shadow, and he has been flawless during these playoffs, and all of that just gives me a bad feeling.

The Packers should win, and here’s hoping they do. But it wouldn’t hurt if Peyton Manning would pull off some typical big-brother ploy to get his little brother in trouble so he won’t be allowed to leave his room today and have to watch the other kids play through his window.

Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Contact Mike Burke at