Family and Football: A Final Note on Week 12

Ramblings and Rants

Now that Week 12 has concluded and the cranberry glow of Thanksgiving is fading, we can look back on what the family holiday meant for the NFL this season.  This year’s Turkeyday football was especially family-centric, with the Harbaughs becoming the first brothers in history to face each other as NFL head coaches.  One thing I was thankful for during their matchup was their father Jack watching from a spot the broadcast cameras couldn’t find, so we could be spared 10,000 shots of him struggling to look both upset and pleased after every play.

But Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh did leave me thinking about one thing throughout the rest of Week 12’s action:  how intensely family factors into the life of an NFL coach or player.  Which also made me think about how outrageous the Gronkowski House must have been every Thanksgiving day.  I’m putting the over/under on three turkeys for that feast, and do you think they played touch or tackle football?  Yeah, probably touch.

Rex Ryan, Rob Ryan, Buddy Ryan (AP)

NFL history has included many players who are sons or siblings of other players.  This isn’t very surprising, considering how every NFL athlete is physically gifted, increasing the odds that he can beget another, similar specimen.  I, for one, know my gene pool is lacking when it comes to the kind of chlorine that yields pro football players.  For coaches it’s much the same.  What do Rob and Rex Ryan have in common, other than rotundity?  The DNA that gives each of them an intellectual dedication to hardnosed tackling and complex defensive schemes.  In other words, the mental makeup to learn and teach football – a talent similarly shared by the Harbaughs.

Jim Harbaugh, John Harbaugh (AP)

I was taking notes throughout last night’s game – featuring a Manning, I should add — preparing to write a post about family rivalry, about the single-minded drive and focus of the people who play and coach in the NFL.  I was trying to tune in to the irony that in the NFL, there is no family, only the need to win, win, win.  But what I couldn’t get out of my head was a moment caught by a sound camera at midfield in Baltimore last Thursday, when amidst the noise and chaos of the press and players descending on the field, John Harbaugh whispered to Jim, “I love you, bro.” What a telling moment.  When my family gets together to eat, there’s yelling, horrible things are said, food is stolen and jealously guarded, forks are brandished as weapons.  But then, when the smoke clears and gravy has been cleaned out of people’s wounds, there’s still that great warm feeling you get being with people you love.  And I’m willing to bet that of all the incredibly well-coached plays and moments from Thursday night’s game, Jack Harbaugh was proudest of that whisper barely caught on camera.  I might be angry with my parents for being skinny and short (because, honestly, I have the hands to be a tight end), but it’s nice to be reminded sometimes that it’s all just a game, and that blood is thicker than pigskin.

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