SANTA CLARA, California (AP) — Jack Harbaugh has watched his sons go at it for nearly five decades.
From pounding football games on their bedroom floor to timed races up the stairs from the basement and many, many bumps and bruises in between.
That's why he sees no need to be there in person for Thursday's matchup — an NFL first — between brothers John and Jim Harbaugh when the coaches face off from opposite sidelines with their division-leading teams.
Jack and Jackie Harbaugh plan to swing by the stadium for a quick visit and photo with their sons, then go to John's house to watch the game on TV — in private.
All they want to do is allow the stage to be John and Jim's, Jack said.
The love of competition was bred into the brothers. Sons of a football coach, living room couches were rearranged so they could dive over the coffee table and use cushions for tackling practice. Coat hangers were bent to become basketball hoops and yarn transformed into homemade nets. There were hand-written scorecards and scoreboards. The brothers devised their own games and, creatively, became announcers to introduce each other before they started.
"Starting at forward for Michigan, standing 4-feet-5, wearing No. 23, Jim Harbaugh!" Jack said, recalling one of those announcements.
Come Thursday night at sold-out M&T Bank Stadium, there's no make believe about it.
Jim's resurgent 49ers are 9-1 and could clinch the NFC West with a win coupled with a loss for the Seahawks. John's Ravens are 7-3 and leading the AFC North.
"We know it's going to be emotional, we're just not sure what emotions we're going to experience," Jack said. "It's such uncharted waters."
This week, Jack's longtime catch phrase of "Who's got it better than us? Nobody!" seems as fitting as ever for this family.
The slogan has been a huge hit out West, where 49ers players have made their own T-shirts featuring those words.
"I'm sorry that he got to it first," said the 49-year-old John Harbaugh. "I should have thought of that before him. We should have made some T-shirts, too. I think it's really cool."
Aside from the game, there's another special moment the family will celebrate: Jack and Jackie's 50th wedding anniversary on Friday. Everything has come together in one special, whirlwind week for this sports-crazed family.
Jack and Jackie Harbaugh don't remember a single serious fight between their sons. Sure, there were arguments, like the common debate over chores. If somebody had a beef with the boys, they would always team up. Each time the family moved as their father changed jobs, they left friends behind but always had each other.
Jackie Harbaugh taught her children to be themselves and take accountability for their successes and failures, to go after what they wanted. She also let them experience things on their own.
Her mantra: "Don't do for your kids what they can do for themselves."
"We are excited for both of them to be at this point in their careers," Jackie Harbaugh said. "I think they're both very excited and appreciative of where they are at this point in their life. I think when it is all said and done that day, it's going to come down to the teams on the field, and that's what we're both hoping for. For me, once the practices are done and the preparations are done by both coaching staffs, it will come down to the players on the field. Besides that, which is apropos for us, it's Thanksgiving. John and Jim, (sister) Joani, Jack and I, we all have a lot to be thankful for in our lives. ... And the fact that we're going to celebrate our 50th anniversary the next day."