He's still standing Football: New Ravens quarterback Jim Harbaugh gets knocked down, but he gets up again. And again. And Again.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Jim Harbaugh's most humiliating moment in the NFL may have been his most defining.

On a cool, fall day in October 1992, when he was in his sixth year with the Chicago Bears, Harbaugh checked off on a play and threw an interception that led to a 21-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Moments afterward, Bears coach Mike Ditka stalked and screamed at the quarterback on the sidelines in one of the most replayed tantrums in league history.

Harbaugh's dad, who was at the game, was crushed by the incident. Teammates questioned why Harbaugh had not retaliated. Sympathizers sent him letters and telegrams during the next two days. But Harbaugh was unfazed.

He still laughs about the incident, and still talks with Ditka.

"Until this day, everybody thinks I was broken mentally," Harbaugh said. "But that in-your-face style is all I have known. My dad [Jack, coach at Western Kentucky] was like my coach growing up. Bo Schembechler coached me at Michigan, and Ditka was my first pro coach. I had heard it all of my life, and 95 percent of the time I deserved it. Players today don't take it anymore. To me, I heard it, applied it and learned to do it the right way."

Jack Harbaugh said: "Jim has a special fondness for Ditka, never ever said a bad word about him. Ditka put the will into him to win. If you go back through time and wink your eye, Jim Harbaugh is Mike Ditka, but in a different generation."

The perception is that Harbaugh, 34, still has enough energy and big-play ability left to lead the Ravens into the playoffs.

Why?

He is a leader, a humble Christian who has studied Winston Churchill and admires the field savvy of Ken Stabler. The drive is still there after he came within a Hail Mary pass of reaching the 1996 Super Bowl.

A quitter? Forget it. He has earned the nickname Captain Comeback with nine fourth-quarter rallies. Harbaugh doesn't commit as many turnovers as his Ravens predecessor, Vinny Testaverde, having completed 1,769 passes for 2,989 yards and 99 touchdowns. Only 82 interceptions. Six playoff appearances.

And oh, is he durable, the NFL's version of the Energizer Bunny.

His nose has been broken and his left arm is still bowed from an injury he suffered while at Michigan. He has tendinitis in his ankle, a visible scar on his chin that took six stitches to close and a knee that has undergone more twists than a rubber band.

"You got to like his competitiveness," said Buffalo Bills coach Wade Phillips. "He is just a tough, tough guy. Last year, I felt sorry for him because he had no protection. I remember one game we hit him 26 times, but he almost pulled it out.

"Every time you knock him down and think he is out, he keeps getting back up. The guy is Rocky. He'll take your best shots, then he might knock you out at the end of the fight."

Young competitor

L Harbaugh's competitiveness cost him friends at an early age.

He would run in from center field to snatch a pop-up from the second baseman. He would yell at teammates who didn't run out a ground ball or chase a fly ball into the gap. His parents were getting phone calls when he was in the third grade.

"One physical education teacher said he was causing trouble during recess," said Jack Harbaugh. "He said Jim couldn't get along with his classmates, that this competitiveness could be a real problem in the future."

Jim's older brother, John, remembers their father's reaction to the teacher's concerns.

"Dad was angry," John Harbaugh said. "He told him there was nothing wrong with Jim's attitude. 'I'm bringing him up to be that way. I want him like that.' "

By the time Jim Harbaugh was 8, he was regularly attending practices at Iowa and Michigan, where his father had been an assistant coach. A warehouse wall in Ann Arbor became his best friend, because he would spend hours throwing balls against it.

During the winter months, he would put hangers on air vents in the basement and pretend they were basketball hoops.

He would simulate the environments at major sporting events, generating the crowd noise and playing in the games.

Guess who always had the winning hit, basket or touchdown?

"He'd spend hours throwing a tennis ball," said Jack Harbaugh. "When he'd get home, we'd say, 'Where have you been?' and he'd say, 'Doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians. I pitched both ends. We won them both.' "

Sports talk was common around the dinner table. Older brother John played football, too. He is now an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Eagles.

"It was so cool being the son of a football coach," said Jim Harbaugh. "I had access to things other kids didn't have. I have always been a good athlete, but I'm not that much different than the kids I was in gym class with from third and fourth grades except I got good coaching. I was lucky to get the best training."

Strong faith

Harbaugh believes in God, family and Winston Churchill.

He became a Christian in 1991 after a conversation with Bears teammate Mike Singletary.

"I had a lot of emptiness inside that I thought would be eventually filled when I reached my goals," said Harbaugh. "I figured that going to Michigan, playing in the Rose Bowl, being an All-American and first-round pick, as soon as I did all of this, I would find peace and happiness.

"It never happened," Harbaugh said. "Then Mike asked me where I was with the Lord. I was like, 'I grew up Catholic, go to church.' He said, 'But where are you with Christ?' I said, 'Wow, Mike, you're starting to make me a little uncomfortable.' But thank God for Mike Singletary."

There is little flash about Harbaugh. He is a sports fanatic who enjoys playing cards, golf and basketball. He recently became an owner of a racing team that competed in the Indianapolis 500. But most of his free time is spent either with his two sons and wife at their Florida home or recruiting for his father in Florida.

There is a strong bond between the two. When Western Kentucky administrators announced that they were going to terminate football in 1993, Jim Harbaugh volunteered to be a full-time assistant. During the past six years, he has raised more than $60,000 for the program by auctioning off sports memorabilia from pro quarterbacks, such as Troy Aikman and Steve Young.

"Everything I've accomplished, good or bad, I owe it to my dad," said Jim Harbaugh. "He has always been there for me, I've always tried to be the man he is."

"I bet you they talk almost every day," said Miah, Jim Harbaugh's wife. "It's a very tight relationship."

Off the field, his wife said, Harbaugh "plays a lot of golf and reads a lot -- you know, sports sections and history kind of stuff. And oh, he loves Churchill."

"He fought three wars, was commander of the British navy, was prime minister, chancellor and had a great vocabulary," Harbaugh said. "He just did so much with his life. I think I've read everything that has been written on or about him. He just seems so prepared."

So does Harbaugh, and he demands that of his teammates. He is not an in-your-face quarterback. He sends messages in other ways.

"Jim is in full command, extremely thorough, and players around him had better be that way, too," said fullback Roosevelt Potts, who played with Harbaugh in Indianapolis. "If you're a receiver and you drop three easy passes, he'll just stop throwing to you. The next pass you catch will be by accident. Then at the next quarterback meeting, he'll request that we get someone else."

Harbaugh doesn't back away from confrontation. He broke his left hand and missed four games last season after he reportedly punched former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, who said Harbaugh faked injuries.

"He was doing the color commentary the next week, so I went to the production meeting to put a professional end to it," Harbaugh said. "He said he called it the way he saw it. That escalated into a fight.

"It shouldn't have happened, and I repented for what I did," said Harbaugh. "But I'd do it again in the same situation. It's like that old Kenny Rogers song. I don't believe in fighting to prove that you're a man, but sometimes you got to fight when you're a man."

Painful days

Miah Harbaugh remembers those painful Monday mornings last season. Harbaugh was sacked 43 times with the 1-15 Colts.

"He would roll out of bed like a person who had been in a major car accident," she said.

There are rumors around the league that Harbaugh is closing out his career much as Jim McMahon finished: great competitor, but weak arm and battered body.

Harbaugh wasn't impressive during the Ravens' first two weeks of voluntary practices but has thrown better lately. Maybe he is just starting to become comfortable with the offense.

"I haven't seen any deterioration in his throwing ability," said Phillips. "There are a lot of quarterbacks that if you restrict them to the pocket or force them out of it, they become limited. With Jim, it doesn't matter, because he can play either way. They are the hardest type of quarterbacks to defend."

Green Bay Packers secondary coach Bob Valesente said: "I haven't seen any decline. He is a competitor. That fire in his belly is a real edge, and that gives him the ability to take you to the house."

Harbaugh can't throw nearly as well as Testaverde, but the Ravens aren't counting on Harbaugh's arm to carry the offense. The one-back has supposedly been benched for the two-back formation with more rollout and sprint-out passes.

"He has never had the strongest arm in the world," said Don Strock, the Ravens' quarterback coach. "But this is a guy who gets the most out of his athletic ability. He knows what he can and can't do. Obviously, we'll use his input and build on what he does well. So far, I've been impressed with the time he spends in the classroom. He is a worker."

Harbaugh has a relentless work ethic. On a sunny Sunday morning in Orlando after he recently won the NFL's Quarterback Challenge, Harbaugh was working out with Pat Etcheberry, who trains such athletes as tennis players Pete Sampras and Jim Courier and football players Charles Woodson and Terry Glenn.

He ran sprints, jogged for distance and went through agility drills before pulling Etcheberry 50 yards in the sand several times via a harness attached to his neck and upper body. Harbaugh works out twice daily for 90 minutes with Etcheberry when he is not at the team's complex in Owings Mills.

"The younger guys I train are impressed with his conditioning and attitude," Etcheberry said. "He motivates them. One thing he hasn't lost is his heart."

"I feel healthy and have a deep desire to play. As long as I have that, I'll be fine. My arm strength is as average as it has ever been," said Harbaugh, laughing. "There are 25 quarterbacks who can throw it better than I can. I'm a mudder, a Midwestern farm boy who has to sneak up on people.

"Ken Stabler found ways to win, whether it was grabbing his ankles and flipping it into end zone or rolling the ball, like he did against the San Diego Chargers. He didn't have the big gun either. I'll do whatever it takes to win."

Close to history

Harbaugh missed being a significant part of NFL history on Jan. 14, 1996.

If Colts receiver Aaron Bailey had held onto the Hail Mary pass that landed on his stomach, Indianapolis would have beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers instead of losing, 20-16, in the AFC championship game and would have gone on to play the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl.

That play would have been on par with the Immaculate Reception and The Catch.

"Every time they showed a Super Bowl, they would have to pull that play out," Harbaugh said. "Me and Aaron Bailey would be doing commercials and living off that for the next 60 years. We would still be invited to golf tournaments and never have to buy a beer in Indianapolis again. That happened to Joe Namath, you know. What did he ever do but come up with a guarantee?

"Now, I got to keep working," he said. "You realize that you come that close, and then you watch it flash right before you in an instant. You kind of walk away and and say there will be other days. But looking back, that could have been the only day."

Harbaugh is finding new hope in Baltimore, a city that has blue-collar roots, a new stadium and a team with a solid offensive line.

"I like Baltimore," Harbaugh said. "It seems like a working town, and the fans seem pretty down-to-earth. They have been nice to me, and that's all I can go by. They got a good young team. That's how you win in this league, on the legs of the young guys with a few crusty veterans like myself who have been in the wars to lead the way."

Ravens minicamp

The Ravens will open a two-week minicamp tomorrow. Veteran quarterback Vinny Testaverde was not extended an invitation and is expected to be released soon, possibly as early as 4 p.m. tomorrow.

Jim Harbaugh file

Position: Quarterback

Age: 34 Height, weight: 6-3, 215

Years pro: 11

College: Michigan

Drafted: 1987 first round, 26th pick overall by Chicago

Personal: Full name is James Joseph Harbaugh. Born in Toledo, Ohio. Attended Palo Alto (Calif.) High. His father, Jack, is the football coach and Jim is certified by the NCAA as an assistant coach at Western Kentucky. Favorite moments include golf pairing with Arnold Palmer at NFL Cadillac Senior Golf tournament and meeting Garth Brooks backstage before 1996 concert. He and his wife Miah have two sons, Jay, 8, and Jim Jr., 20 months.

Career highlights: Earned Pro Bowl berth in 1995 as he led Colts to AFC championship game. Posted career-best 100.7 passing rating, making him second Colt to lead league in that category (John Unitas did it in 1958 and 1965). His five interceptions were fewest in NFL and fewest in Colts history. His 61.2 completion rate in 1997 was second in NFL to San Francisco's Steve Young. Set Bears record with 13 consecutive completions vs. Green Bay on Oct. 25, 1992.

Pub Date: 5/31/98

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