SB XLVII: Low Key Harbaughs Keeping Lid on Rivalry

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From Jon Wagner SNYGiants columnist

It’s not often that opposing head coaches in a Super Bowl are as much of a focus as they are right now.

Then again, the intriguing subplot in Super Bowl XLVII involving a pair of brothers hasn’t happened before.

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was outdone by his brother, San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, in that Jim took a mere two years as an NFL head coach to reach his first Super Bowl, while John still got there in a relatively quick five years. And now, as the coaching siblings fight for ultimate bragging rights in their first Super Bowl appearances, their shared story is certainly one of the more captivating in Super Bowl history.

Yet, it’s too bad that matchup wasn’t saved for another year, in favor of a different brother duo that would have been far more fitting for the great city of New Orleans.

Nothing against the Harbaughs.

But, not this year, not in New Orleans. Not in Archie Manning’s old house, at the Superdome.

Yes, in a perfect football world, the first-ever Bro Bowl for an NFL title would have been reserved for Archie’s two quarterback sons who have already followed more successfully in the father’s footsteps, New Orleans-born Eli and Peyton Manning.

And, for a myriad of reasons, this was the ideal year for that matchup to have taken place for the first time on football’s grandest stage.

For one, it will be the 10th Super Bowl played in the Manning brothers’ home town (which will join Miami as the city to most frequently host the Big Game) and the seventh time the NFL title will be decided at the Superdome — the most times the Super Bowl has ever been hosted by a single venue.

Further, it’s the first time the game has returned to New Orleans in 11 years, and the only time thus far that the Super Bowl will take place in the Crescent City since both Manning brothers have been in the NFL.

By the time a Super Bowl comes back to New Orleans again, Peyton could be retired and Eli could be winding down a long career, perhaps a shell of the two-time Super Bowl MVP and New York Giants record-holder that he is today.

So, what better time than this Sunday evening for a couple of Super Bowl MVP-winning brothers to have squared off in another Super Bowl, each playing the same highest profile position in football — just like their father did — on the same field where their dad became a famous and pretty good quarterback for the New Orleans Saints?

Unfortunately, Archie will never personally know the joys of winning the three Super Bowl MVP’s his sons have combined for, or the four league MVP’s that Peyton has, with either a possible fifth NFL MVP or a Comeback Player of the Year Award that Peyton might add to his resume for this season.

No, Archie’s team instead struggled so much that Saints fans began to show up at the Superdome with bags over their heads to cheer on the team that better became known as the Aints.

That was when the Saints lost their first 14 games in 1980 with Archie at the helm behind an offensive line that was as porous as one of the failed levies during Hurricane Katrina, which in 2005, sadly devastated New Orleans and temporarily forced the city’s beloved Saints out of their home of three decades.

Of far greater significance, the storm sent thousands of New Orleans residents — many Saints fans among them — displaced across America, while tragically killing many others.

The Saints lost their designated “home” opener that year against Eli’s team at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, which along with many other parts of the New York City area, was ironically battered earlier this season, by Superstorm Sandy — yet another reason that a trip to New Orleans for Eli’s Giants seemed destined at one point.

While Archie never enjoyed a winning season — suffering through four losing seasons at Tulane Stadium (1971-74), and six more at the Superdome, with just a lone 8-8 year in 1979 — he elevated his own play above that of the rest of his severely flawed roster.

As a College Football Hall of Fame member (following a standout career at the University of Mississippi), Archie was not only an all-pro selection in both 1978 and 1979, but he was named the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Year in the first of those two seasons.

Proof that with much better talent surrounding them, Eli and Peyton’s great passing genes had to come from somewhere.

A notion of Peyton coming back strong from a few neck surgeries and leading his new team, the Denver Broncos, to Super Bowl XLVII was easy to fathom once the Broncos secured the top seed in their conference.

They were even just seconds away from hosting the AFC title game and remaining a favorite to reach New Orleans until a badly blown coverage gave the Ravens new life, which ultimately led them to their upcoming Harbaugh bash.

Coming that close legitimized the plausibility of Peyton getting to the Big Game in the Big Easy, but Eli and the Giants were seemingly in position to do the same not that long ago.

Although New York missed the playoffs after getting embarrassed in Baltimore during the latest of its many second-half swoons under head coach Tom Coughlin, the Giants were once 6-2 and comfortably in first place in the NFC East, two weeks after handing the 49ers their only home loss of the season, while thoroughly dominating the NFC’s Super Bowl XLVII representative.

For those, and all of the other aforementioned reasons, the first quarterback brothers facing each other in a Super Bowl, in of all places and of at all times, would have easily surpassed what will actually take place on Super Sunday.

Throw in the fact that Peyton’s last try at winning a Super Bowl was in the Indianapolis Colts’ loss to (ironically, again) the Saints; that his lone Super Bowl win (earlier) was with Indianapolis; and that Eli was trying this year, to defend his second Super Bowl title, won on Peyton’s old field in Indianapolis last year; and it would have added even more to a made-for-TV storyline that would have had people drooling from the NFL head office in New York all the way to Hollywood.

Sure, the Harbaughs making history — with the backdrop of legendary Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis playing his final game against a coach who was the victim of Lewis’ first career sack 16 years ago — will be interesting in its own right.

However, short of the Saints trying to win an NFL championship in the Superdome, there wouldn’t have been much more excitement for the city of New Orleans than seeing two of its own greats go pass for pass while playing for everything between the same white lines where Saints fans rooted for their father.

The Broncos and Giants have no one but themselves to blame for that, and the Ravens and 49ers have surely earned their rightful places for the kickoff on Super Sunday.

But, however Super Bowl XLII turns out, it likely won’t live up to what might have been, had the right pair of brothers gone back home for football’s biggest day.