College Football’s Family Ties
By BJ Bennett
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With the Harbaugh's in mind, college football had its own less super, but just as stirring, battle of brothers back in 1971.
Brothers Jim and John Harbaugh, less than one year apart in age, will soon square off in the most unbelievable, unrealistic made-for-movie script in football history. With over seven billion people in the world, it will be two from the same set of parents who will lead the most dominant teams in the NFL against one another in Super Bowl XLVII. Upwards of over 110 million fans will watch the final game of the football season. Of all of the huddles Sunday night, the postgame greeting of two who have been side-by-side for much of their lives will be the most celebrated and the most discussed.
The dynamic of family facing off as head football coaches isn't a novel concept. The most famed college pairing lasted nine seasons (1999-2007) between Bobby Bowden's Florida State and Tommy Bowden and Clemson. The Seminoles edged the Tigers 5-4 in the "Bowden Bowl" series, with father Bobby claiming a close victory. The historic first meeting came during Florida State's undefeated championship run. Bobby nipped Tommy 17-14 in Death Valley, notching 300 wins on an emotionally-charged night. Four years later the younger Bowden emerged triumphant, with son defeating dad on pop's 74th birthday. To this day, Tommy's wins remain the only times a son has beaten a father in a head coaching matchup in any of the four major sports.
With championship expectations, constant pressure and the ever-present national storylines, wins were, at times, bittersweet and losses had a more resounding blow.
"I had to win the stinking game and I had to whip him to do it," Bobby said after FSU's 48-31 victory in 2002. "It's not fun when you whip your son. I didn't tell him to get into coaching."
While the Bowden Bowl brought unprecedented attention to the sport, college football had its own less super, but just as stirring battle of brothers back in 1971. At the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Vince and Bill Dooley met with Georgia and North Carolina in one of the most interesting postseason pairings in history. Vince's Bulldogs were fresh off a remarkable 10-1 regular season, their lone loss coming to his alma mater Auburn. Bill's Tar Heels, ACC Champions, were 9-2. The Gator Bowl wasn't just a family reunion, but an occupational one as well.
"My brother and I both coached," Vince Dooley explained on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. "When I came to Georgia, he actually was my offensive coordinator and the offensive line coach. I think he was well respected as one of the very best in the country. He helped me to get off to a good start at Georgia before he took the head coaching job at North Carolina, then on to Virginia Tech and then eventually at Wake Forest, 26 years as a head coach."
The game itself proved to be slow and deliberate, as it had to be to many close family and friends of the Dooley's. Georgia prevailed 7-3, with running back Jimmy Poulus claiming MVP honors. The postgame focus, though, was squarely on the coaches. Together, Bill and Vince were head coaches for a combined 51 seasons -- all in the south. They met only one time.
"We played one of his great teams in the Gator Bowl, which was not fun as we look back on it. Once the game starts, you are not concerned who is on the other sideline, it's team against team. But, nevertheless, it does put some stress on family," Dooley continued. "When the game was over, we were fortunate to have won. As you walk across the field there is some empathy for the coach before you as you have been there before as losers. But when I looked up and saw that it was my brother, there was even more empathy. So that was not a good feeling. Then, the other part, kind of caused some problems in the family as who should pull for who. I'm glad we only did it one time."
Since that point, southern college football has seen brothers battle as head coaches just twice more. Watson and Mack Brown, with Vanderbilt and Tulane, played a pair of times in the 1980s. Siblings have been split on staffs from time-to-time, but head-to-head meetings have been few and far between throughout history.
The Harbaugh boys have met once in the NFL regular season season, a 16-6 Baltimore win. That game, played in late November of last year, was its own media frenzy. This, however, has been and will continue to be incredibly different. For one week the world is normally fixated on this one game. This year, the world is focused on one family.
It's long been said that football is a tight-knit fraternity. Those in the Super Bowl green room, just like those in the Gator Bowl four decades ago, have a tying bond a little more distinct.