As he watched the line of five buses and a police escort leave M&T Bank Stadium long after his team had beaten the San Francisco 49ers on Thanksgiving night, John Harbaugh felt something fresh and painful:
Empathy for the losing team and its coach, who happened to be his brother Jim.
"For that moment," he told the fellas on the Mike (Greenberg) and Mike (Golic) radio show Thursday morning, "you were on the losing bus."
That's how the segment opened, with Harbaugh reflecting back on the aftermath of the most hyped game of the season, which became the Ravens' biggest win. Given the dozens of stories done in newspapers and magazines -- none better than this one, from our own Kevin Van Valkenburg (which Greenberg mentioned later in the show) -- about the brothers prior to kickoff, there's been relatively little discussion of how things went after the game, when one, defeated, had to face the other.
"It was probably a little bit tougher," John said in his always understated way. "Probably weren’t quite as many smiles afterwards. It’s hard to put yourself in the other coach’s shoes and you really don’t want to. You’re in your own shoes when you walk across the field, happy for your team, and you put on the straight face and shake hands and you move on. But when you’ve got your brother over there, you can definitely put yourself in your brother’s shoes. Of course mom and dad went down to their locker room and spent a lot of time with Jim and everything, which is exactly what they should have done."
John eventually did catch up with Jim for a quiet moment away from cameras, and they discussed "usual stuff: this player, that player, that defense, this call, officiating or whatever it might have been that turned the game. He was hurting like you would expect."
Harbaugh addressed non-familial matters as well.
On his team and its upcoming game:"We’re 9-3. That’s what it is. We’ve got a big challenge in front of us this week, just like every week in this league, and we have to win. It’s December football, and our guys are very determined. It’s not a creative story, but it’s real."
On those pesky letdown losses, and whether they still gnaw at him:
"You always look back at the ones that got away. Those are the ones you probably talke about a lot more.
"We look back more at the reasons we lost those games. It’s very clear cut. It wasn’t anything magical. We lost them because we did things that you can’t do to win games in this league. But there’s also games we won. We won some real close games, some tough games, against some really good teams. So, in the end it all shakes out how it’s supposed to. We’re a 9-3 team. That’s what we deserve to be. We’re gonna try to be 10-3."
On his somewhat enigmatic quarterback Joe Flacco:
"I love him. I’m probably the biggest Joe Flacco fan there is out there. That’s probably because I get a chance to be around him everyday. And that’s not to say that, just like all of our players, all our coaches, we all have something to work on.
"To me he’s a winning quarterback. He’s a leader. He’s got tremendous talent. Joe Flacco can throw the football. He’s very tough, very durable. That’s where it starts."
On keeping his older players, especially those on defense, such as Ray Lewis (who, we were informed by Golic, has an injury in "the toe on the foot") and Ed Reed, healthy and fresh late in the year:
"That’s a big part of it. We work it individually. We've always done that, even in training camp.
"I love it when people talk about our aging defense. To me, it’s just incentive. You appreciate being underestimated as a group.
"They loving hearing that. They love hearing how they can’t play anymore. Kinda gets them excited for the next Sunday."
When asked to share something the public doesn't know about his team, Harbaugh spoke eloquently about the quality of the people he works with:
"I admire these guys as people. They really care about each other. They love one another. People say, 'What does that mean?' I guess you have to be around it every single day. There’s something special going on in this building. We’ve got a lot of good men. We've got a lot of really good men that care about each other and just love football, (are) incredibly competitive, hard-nosed, tough human beings. To me that’s why we’re successful on defense. And really it’s our whole team."
Harbaugh shared an anecdote about an upcoming event, in which the Ravens, led by defensive end Cory Redding, will donate toys to 20-25 needy families in Baltimore by opening up a Toys 'R Us for a few hours. Just by chipping in, the team has already raised $35,000 for the cause, Harbaugh said (that's a lot of toys.)
To Harbaugh, these are the kinds of stories that deserve more coverage. He then shared this, from a letter addressed to Ray Rice that the Ravens received today from a 20-year-old woman whose husband is leaving to serve in Afghanistan:
"Her husband is the hero in her life. In his life, it’s Ray Rice and Ray Lewis and guys that play for the Ravens. That’s the kind of stuff that just melts your heart. That’s what the Thanksgiving thing was about, and what the league is about."
Finally, Harbaugh was asked whether he's thought about interrupting the pre-game speech.
"No, you kidding me? I’m right in the middle of it, chest-bumping.
"Usually you get a two-minute warning before you go out on the field. Well, we're on a three-minute warning. We've told the officials we need an extra minute.
Usually it's Ray, could be Ed, might be Suggs ... you never know who could have a great pre-game speech for the guys."