A few of you might have read my column last week wrapping up the Super Bowl. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t great either. Certainly not my best work.
And it’s not because I suddenly forgot how to write.
It’s more that I had failed to grasp the true, underlying significance of this year’s Super Bowl game. I couldn’t find an angle. So I dashed off a quick column about how many dumb mistakes the 49ers made, blah blah blah….
Truth is I missed the point. But I think I got it now.
It was the Harbaugh brothers. John & Jim. And not merely the obvious stuff, as in how ridiculously rare and mathematically unlikely it was that two brothers could possibly wind up coaching against each other in the biggest sporting event on Earth.
I have a brother. Jeff. Lives in Virginia. I’ve mentioned him many times in this space. Jeff called during the 3rd quarter of the game. We talked during the rest of the 2nd half, and beyond. At first, while the game was still going on, it was mainly about the intricacies of the game itself, things the average fan fails to focus on during a game. Like officiating mistakes, poor coaching decisions, missed assignments, wondering how Randy Moss still gets away with taking plays off, things like that. And of course we talked about the Harbaugh brothers.
After the game was over we started to talk about sports in general, as Iowa-raised brothers are wont to do, but talking sports with Jeff usually means winding up focusing on what he wants to talk about, i.e. the Chicago Bears, Atlanta Braves, and Boston Celtics. So that’s what we did. We talked about the Bears’ college draft history, the Celtics’ current injury woes, and the fabulous off-season trades the Braves have made this winter. And then finally we talked about a wide range of non-sports topics, going back three decades, long-ago experiences, places we went, trips we made, women we bedded, choices we made, good jobs, crummy jobs, people we respect, people we regard as a_ _ holes, things we’re proud of, and things we probably shouldn’t have done….or at least wished we hadn’t done. We even hashed over a few short-stories in my recently-published book, L.A. JOURNAL. That was fun. Like any good and loyal brother, Jeff gobbled up the 22 stories in L.A. JOURNAL in short order, and had the whole thing read in about three days. We’ve traveled many of the same roads in America and Europe (though not in company with each other), and so old Jeff had a lot to say about what experiences from his own life some of my short-stories unearthed in his 61-year-old brain. It was getting to be a long talk, but I didn’t think a thing about it….
Invariably our dialogue returned to the Harbaugh brothers.
Jeff and I know what it’s like to compete against a brother. No so much in our early youth, as he is 5 years older than me. But in our 30s I used to visit him at his place near Fredericksburg, and we’d play a little one-on-one basketball against each other. I remember this one particularly fierce battle on an outdoor asphalt court at the church near his farm. He expected to win, being older and being then quite involved in various local recreational basketball leagues, whereas I hadn’t played basketball in years, but it turns out I was better than he was. Especially defensively and on the boards. He started to get frustrated. I was leading, not a big lead because I was rusty and couldn’t make a damn jump shot to save my life, but being the better player I was handling him just the same. Finally, after blocking several of his shots in succession, he went up angrily and hard for a rebound and came down wrong and sprained his ankle. God, was he mad! Driving home, a grimace of pain plastered on his face, and in lamenting both his now-shattered physical condition and the week’s chores yet undone, he uttered a comically immortal line which I’ll never forget: “Who’s gonna till the potatoes tomorrow?!?” he exclaimed. I barely managed to keep myself from laughing. (Besides, I thought he was going to make me do it….and I’m just a coddled city boy.)
But that’s just one tiny game of one-on-one hoops just off the hidden backroads of rural Virginia. I can’t imagine, for the life of me, how a guy could compete against his brother on the biggest stage in all of Sport, on the most important day of each of their lives, knowing that to also make it the greatest day of his life it has to be at his own brother’s direct expense. Beyond comprehension. Jim Harbaugh coached a terrible game. He may be the best coach in all of football, but on this day he had a bad day at the office and he lost. Perhaps the pressure of sibling rivalry got to him. How is he going to live with that? Conversely, how is John going to cope with beating his brother’s ass in front of 200 million people? Can’t imagine. But they’ll handle it. They’re brothers.
Speaking of brothers, late in our conversation our thoughts turned to our missing ship. Y’see, Jeff and I had another brother. Chris. He died. Hit by a car. Sort of. Long story.
I won’t go into what passed between us regarding Chris. Too personal. Gotta draw the line somewhere. But I guess Jeff & I both figured he needed to be part of the conversation. Being dead doesn’t break the brotherhood. Just makes it more inconvenient….
Finally, as if stumbling upon some great discovery, Jeff says, ”Well, bro, this must be some sort of a record.”
“What do you mean?” I rejoined.
“We’ve been on the phone for almost five hours,” Jeff volleyed back.
I was shocked. It didn’t seem like three hours, much less five. But it was. I looked at the clock. Almost five hours. Five hours! Have you ever even come close to spending five hours on the phone with anyone? Have you ever held anything in your hand (like a phone) for anything close to five hours? I bet not.
But you know what? It wasn’t a hardship. It flew by. It was my brother. And that’s the point.
But almost five hours is a long time. So we wrapped it up. Only talked for another half hour. Well, okay, maybe it was forty-five minutes. So call it five and a half hours in all. We rang off. It was almost 11:00 o’clock. I was a little wrung out, but feeling good. Jeff’s a great guy. ‘Never an imposition chewing the fat with him. But he was probably pretty tired. For him it was 2 a.m. And after all, he’s getting up there in years a little bit….
(Just kidding, dude. And you’re never getting me on a basketball court again if you’re looking for revenge, so forget it.)
Super Bowl XLVII wasn’t about football. It wasn’t even about brothers competing against each other.
It was about the unbreakable bonds of Brotherhood. I get it now.
meet….The Sports Philosopher!
Brad Eastland is an author, an historian, a film buff, an undiscovered literary savant, and a big fan of Jeff Eastland but doesn’t give a crap about the Atlanta Braves. Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports Section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’. His columns on very old and very underappreciated movies can be found by clicking Arts & Entertainment, then clicking ’Upon Further Review’. Brad has also written 4 fine novels* and over 20 short-stories.
*Brad has a new book out. It’s called “L.A. JOURNAL”, a collection of stories about Los Angeles. To pick up a copy simply search for that title in both hardback and paperback on amazon.com, iUniverse.com, or bn.com. And then order it. And then READ it. And then tell everyone about it. And then read it again. And then post your praise on Facebook. For all this and all your support he thanks you…..