Published January 13, 2015
The preeminent storyline during the two-week build to Super Bowl XLVII will be a pretty obvious one.
The Brothers Harbaugh will coach against each other on the biggest stage in sports, perhaps the most high-profile sibling rivalry since Cain and Abel.
Unlike the two sons of Adam and Eve, however, Jack Harbaugh's kids actually get along and John was on the field at Gillette Stadium on Sunday making sure to congratulate his younger brother Jim, after the 49ers roared back from a 17-point deficit to edge the Atlanta Falcons, 28-24, in the NFC Championship Game.
Less than five hours later, John's Baltimore Ravens did their part by dominating Tom Brady and New England in the second half of a 28-13 win in the AFC title tilt.
"The greatest reward we could ever give (Baltimore fans) is a chance at another Super Bowl," said star linebacker Ray Lewis, who was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV, the Ravens' only other appearance in the big game.
Unless Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko have a falling out and decide to unify the alphabet soup that is boxing's world heavyweight championship or someone at World Wrestling Entertainment can convince me that The Undertaker and Kane are really the sons of Paul Bearer, this is as big as it gets in the brother versus brother realm.
When the Ravens met the 49ers on Thanksgiving in 2011, it marked the first time in NFL history two brothers faced each other as head coaches, a 16-6 Ravens win over the Niners. The sequel will take place in front of 100 million or so of the Harbaughs' closest friends.
John's best friend on Sunday, though, may have been his strong safety, a real- life Patriots' hunter -- Bernard Pollard.
The AFC Championship Game swung dramatically in Baltimore's favor when Pollard blew up Pats running back Stevan Ridley. The vicious helmet-to-helmet hit knocked Ridley cold before he hit the ground, causing a fumble.
Joe Flacco cashed in on the turnover in short order with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin and a one-possession game with the Patriots driving turned into a comfortable 28-13 Ravens advantage with just over 11 minutes left, setting off an extended Baltimore celebration.
"That was the turning point of the game," John Harbaugh said. "That was the turning point of the football game there on the 40-yard-line. It was just a tremendous hit. It was football at its finest. It was Bernard Pollard making a great physical tackle -- just as good a tackle as you're ever going to see in football right there. That just probably turned the game around right there."
Pollard, of course, has a long history with the Patriots and Ridley was just the latest pelt he has collected.
As a member of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, it was Pollard who slammed into Ton Brady's knee, tearing the eight-time All-Pro's ACL.
When Wes Welker tore his ACL in 2010 against the Houston Texans, it was Pollard again who was closing in, forcing the receiver to cut and land awkwardly. And last season, Pollard may have cost the Pats a Super Bowl championship when he tackled superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski, who suffered a bad high-ankle sprain on the play. Gronk suited up against the New York Giants but wasn't himself and the New England offense sputtered in a loss to Big Blue.
Pollard's latest KO was not without controversy with some claiming the ball didn't come out until Ridley's backside already slammed against the turf.
Referee Bill Leavy, who reviewed the play in the on-field replay booth, correctly ruled the ball was coming out.
"What I saw was the receiver was going to the ground, had both legs off the ground, no body part was on the ground," Leavy told a pool reporter after the game. "The ball hit his knee and dislodged from his hand before the rest of his body hit the ground, therefore it was a fumble and we confirmed it."
Some also grabbed onto the word "receiver," an interesting description since Ridley was running the ball on the play.
Pollard's blow was the very definition of a helmet-to-helmet hit. It was not, however, against a "defenseless receiver," meaning the zebras got it right again even if Leavy incorrectly identified Ridley on the play.
"It's their call," a disappointed Bill Belichick said. "They ruled it a turnover, so it's an official review. It's not anything I can do."
Pollard's forced fumble underscored the hard-hitting nature of the Pats-Ravens rivalry and that's where Baltimore won the game on Sunday. Pollard also was flagged for a third-quarter hit on Welker.
"They were good hits," Pollard said. "The league will look at it. Nevertheless, this is how I play. If they fine me, they fine me. I can't change my game."
The high-powered Patriots committed far more mental mistakes than usual and Brady's receivers dropped an unusual amount of catchable balls, a testament to the physicality Pollard, Lewis and Co. brought to Foxboro.
"We were going to have to come in and play physical," Boldin said. "We felt like the most physical team was going to win. The Ravens are a physical team, that's just the way we play. Like it or not, our defense is known to fly around and hit people."
Don't expect John Harbaugh to ask Pollard to ease up on anyone, even his own brother.
"This is what we're about," said Pollard. "We're about hitting and guys playing hard for four quarters.