In just under two weeks time in New Orleans, brothers Jim and John Harbaugh will take their respective teams into battle after a pair of gripping victories for the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night.
John, the head coach of the Ravens, engineered the more surprising result of the evening as Baltimore reached their first Super Bowl in 12 years, thanks to three touchdown passes from Joe Flacco which secured an 28-13 AFC Championship victory over the New England Patriots.
The Patriots had beaten the Ravens at this stage last year but the dogged defence of the visitors was, thankfully for them, matched by a potent attack.
“I don’t know if we had a dream this big,” John Harbaugh said. “We had a few dreams, we had a few fights, we had a few arguments — just like all brothers.”
It also was a first for the Patriots, who had never lost an AFC championship at home while it meant one more game for retiring Ravens legend Ray Lewis.
“We’ve lost before. It takes a while to get over,” defeated quarterback Tom Brady said.
His opposite number did his contract negotiations a world of good with a career-defining performance.
“It was pretty awesome,” said Flacco. “We were here last year and thought we had it, but came up a little short. Guys came out in the second half and made plays... we put pressure on them like that, and it worked pretty well.”
Meanwhile in Atlanta, the home team Falcons succumbed to a dominant 49ers who came back from 17-0 down to win the NFC title with a 28-24 victory.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Frank Gore led San Francisco to what was a record comeback for an NFC Championship decider, sending the 49ers to their first Super Bowl since 1995.
“We didn’t make the plays when we had the opportunity,” admitted Falcons coach Mike Smith.
“There were five or six plays, like in most hard-fought games, that make a difference. There were ebbs and flows and changes in momentum, and they made more plays than we did.”
Gore scored a pair of touchdowns, including the winner with just over two minutes remaining
“Everybody does a little,” the Jim half of the Harbaugh brothers said, “and it adds up to be a lot.
“Coming out after half-time, the offence had to look at it like a shootout,” Harbaugh said, “and the defence had to get stops any way we could.”
Of course it wasn’t all fairytale endings. The Falcons’ star veteran tight end, 36-year-old Tony Gonzalez, bowed out of the game after one of his best ever seasons.
“I’ve had such a great life,” he said. “I wish it would’ve culminated with the Super Bowl, but it didn’t.”