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Jim, John Harbaugh ready for rematch at Super Bowl

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Jim, John Harbaugh ready for rematch at Super Bowl

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Jim and John Harbaugh have exchanged a handful of text messages, and plan to leave it at that. No phone conversations necessary while the season's still going. No time for pleasantries, even for the friendly siblings.

There is work to be done to prepare for the Super Bowl, prepare for each other, prepare for a history-making day already being widely hyped as ``Harbowl'' or ``Superbaugh'' depending which nickname you prefer.

``It doesn't matter who the coach is, what relationship you have with the person on the other side,'' 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said so matter-of-factly Monday afternoon.

Their parents sure aren't picking sides for the Feb. 3 matchup in New Orleans.

These days, the Harbaughs' longtime coaching father, Jack, stays away from game-planning chatter or strategy sessions with his Super Bowl-bound coaching sons. Baltimore's John Harbaugh and little brother Jim have been doing this long enough now to no longer need dad's input.

Yet, they still regularly seek it. And, their father does offer one basic mantra: ``Get ahead, stay ahead.''

``Probably the greatest advice that I've ever been given and the only advice that I've ever found to be true in all of coaching, I think we mentioned it to both John and Jim ... the coaching advice is, `Get ahead, stay ahead,''' Jack Harbaugh said.

``If I'm called upon, I'll repeat that same message.''

His boys still call home regularly to check in with the man who turned both on to the coaching profession years ago, and the mother who has handled everything behind the scenes for decades in a highly competitive, sports-crazed family - with all the routine sports cliches to show for it.

The Harbaugh brothers will become the first siblings to square off from opposite sidelines when their teams play for the NFL championship at the Superdome.

Not that they're too keen on playing up the storyline that has no chance of going away as hard as they try.

``Well, I think it's a blessing and a curse,'' Jim Harbaugh said Monday. ``A blessing because that is my brother's team. And, also, personally I played for the Ravens. Great respect for their organization. ... The curse part would be the talk of two brothers playing in the Super Bowl and what that takes away from the players that are in the game. Every moment that you're talking about myself or John, that's less time that the players are going to be talked about.''

Both men love history, just not the kind with them making it.

``I like reading a lot of history ... I guess it's pretty neat,'' John Harbaugh offered Monday. ``But is it really going to be written about? It's not exactly like Churchill and Roosevelt or anything. It's pretty cool, but that's as far as it goes.''

Nice try, guys.

John watched the end of Jim's game from the field in Foxborough, Mass., as Baltimore warmed up for the AFC championship game. Jim called his sister's family from the team plane before takeoff after a win at Atlanta and asked how his big brother's team was doing against New England.

The improbable Super Bowl features a set of brothers known around the NFL as fierce competitors unafraid to make a bold move during the season. Unafraid to upset anyone who stands in their way.

In fact, each one made a major change midseason to get this far - John fired his offensive coordinator, while Jim boosted his offense with a quarterback switch from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick.

Leading up to Sunday's games, parents Jack and Jackie said they would wait to decide whether to travel to New Orleans if both teams advanced or stick to what has been working so well - watching from the comfort of their couch in Mequon, Wis.

``We enjoy it very much. We get down in our basement, turn on the television and just have a fantastic day watching outstanding football,'' Jack said last week. ``We share our misery with no one but ourselves. Not only the misery, but the ups and downs, the ins and outs of an outstanding professional game.''

And, no, the Harbaughs weren't looking ahead to a potential big trip to the Big Easy.

Jack insists his wife is quick to pull out that old sports cliche: ``It's one game at a time. I think it's very appropriate,'' he said.

Jim figures they won't possibly miss this history-making game.

``I think they'll be there,'' he said with a smile.

The brothers, separated in age by 15 months, have taken different paths to football's biggest stage - years after their intense games of knee football at the family home. They tried to beat each other at cards, or whatever other game it was at the time. Sometimes, they tried to beat each other up. Sister, Joani Crean, often got in on the fun, too.

The 49-year-old Jim never reached a Super Bowl, falling a last-gasp pass short during a 15-year NFL career as a quarterback. The 50-year-old John never played in the NFL.

Still, both will tell you, ``Who's got it better than us? No-body!'' - one catchphrase they got from their dad.

``We can't put into words what it means to see John and Jim achieve this incredible milestone,'' their brother-in-law, Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean, said on Twitter. ``We talked to Jim (before) his team plane left. All he wanted to know was how was John doing? How were they playing? One incredible family who puts the care, well-being and love for each other at the forefront like most families do. Again, we are very proud of them. Going to be exciting to watch it unfold.''

John worked his way up from the bottom of the coaching ranks, while Jim was the star college quarterback at Michigan, a first-round draft pick and eventual Pro Bowler who made coaching his career once he retired.

John already has the one-up, while Jim's team is the early favorite. John's Ravens beat the 49ers 16-6 on Thanksgiving night 2011, in Jim's rookie season as an NFL coach - though both know that means nothing now.

``I just want everybody to know, that was a four-day deal and every story has been told,'' John said. ``We're not that interesting. There's nothing more to learn. The tape across the middle of the room story, OK, you got it? It's OK. It was just like any other family, really. I really hope the focus is not so much on that. We get it, it's really cool and it's exciting and all that.''

Said Jim, ``Completely new business.''

In spite of his efforts to avoid the topic, Jim did take the opportunity to express how proud he is of John.

``He's a great football coach, a real grasp of all phases - offense, defense, special teams. I think he could coordinate at least two of those phases and do it as well as anyone in the league,'' Jim said. ``I've got half the amount of coaching experience he does. Again, it's not about us. I keep coming back to that. I'm really proud of my brother. I love him. That's the blessing part, that this is happening to him.''

And, fittingly for the big brother, John feels the exact same way.

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AP Sports Writer Dave Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this story.

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Ravens kick return job still up in the air

Ravens kick return job still up in the air

With two preseason games left, the Ravens appear to have little clarity in their efforts to find a kick return specialist, and although Michael Campanaro had all three punt return chances against the Colts last weekend, the Ravens aren't ready yet to declare the job his.

Last year's leading returners — Kaelin Clay and Jeremy Ross — are no longer with the team.

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Coach John Harbaugh, the former special teams coach that he is, blasted the Ravens special teams play against the Colts, both in kick returns and in kick coverage.

"We kicked the ball to them, and they kicked the ball to us, and we got our butts kicked," Harbaugh said after the game. "That's unacceptable."

Harbaugh seemed particularly agitated about the Ravens kickoff coverage; the Colts averaged 28.0 yards per kick return, nearly 10 yards better than the Ravens (18.8).

Earlier this week, Harbaugh declared, "We have not found our punt returner or our kick returner yet."

As for kick returns, three running backs — Kenneth Dixon, Terrance West and Stephen Houston — returned kicks at Indianapolis last week with unimpressive results. West had the longest return at 23 yards, and two returns left the Ravens inside their 20-yard line.

The Ravens are giving both West and Dixon a long look as kick returner — Houston is a longshot to make the team — with the idea that a fourth running back could also contribute in the return game. Rookie Tavon Young has also been given reps as a kick returner, though he missed the Colts game with a hamstring injury.

Campanaro headlines a group of punt return candidates that includes former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds. Campanaro had all three punt return chances against the Colts, with one fair catch and one 21-yard return. Reynolds, who has had an inconsistent camp as a returner, served on the punt coverage team and had a tackle against the Colts but was not back as the return man at all.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said Campanaro "showed some real positive things" against the Colts, but Rosburg was not ready to hand him the job yet.

"Michael's out there trying to win the job," Rosburg said after practice on Wednesday. "It's really not his job, it's the returner. The job belongs to the team, and he's trying to get that job."

Expect the auditions for both jobs to continue Saturday night against the Lions.

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Why Ravens' decision to play Joe Flacco against Lions makes sense

Why Ravens' decision to play Joe Flacco against Lions makes sense

OWINGS MILLS – Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will see his first game action since last November on Saturday night, when he starts the Week 3 preseason game against the Lions.

“You need to get back out there, you need to get your mind used to getting ready for a game,” Flacco said Tuesday on Mad Dog Sports Radio with Adam Schein.

Here are three reasons why playing Flacco makes sense:

1. Flacco can benefit from playing before the regular-season opener:

Flacco has shown no indication that he is thinking about his surgically-repaired knee during practices. However, Flacco also knows that no teammates will hit him during practice. Game action will give Flacco a different feel, the test of facing tacklers who will hit him if given the opportunity. Look for the Ravens to call plays that require Flacco to get rid of the ball quickly. The Ravens don’t want Flacco to get hit. But they want him to knock off any potential game rust before the regular season starts.

2.  Flacco can build more chemistry with some of his receivers.

Wide receivers Mike Wallace and Chris Moore, as well as tight end Ben Watson, have never caught a pass from Flacco during a game. This will be a chance for them to get a better feel for each other heading into Week 1.

3. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley and rookie left guard Alex Lewis have been practicing and playing with confidence.

It’s early, but Stanley has looked more like a five-year vet than a rookie. Lewis is a physical blocker who doesn’t look intimidated by anyone, or anything. With guard John Urschel missing another day of practice on Wednesday, Lewis is expected to start next to Stanley on Saturday night. The Ravens feel their two rookies on the left side of the line can protect Flacco’s blindside well enough to the Lions away from him.

MORE RAVENS: Scrambling QB's could give Ravens problems

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Zion Harvey, Baltimore boy with hand transplant, keeps photo of Ray Lewis

Zion Harvey, Baltimore boy with hand transplant, keeps photo of Ray Lewis

This past year has changed Zion Harvey's life. Just 13-months ago, the Baltimore boy was the first child to receive a double hand transplant. He'd lost both hands and feet to a childhood infection. 

Now 9 years old, Zion made headlines earlier this month for using his new hands to throw out the first pitch at an Orioles game.

The remarkable feat hinted at the progress he'd made, but a full update on his condition hadn't been available until Tuesday. 

This video from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where the surgery was performed, shows all the new things Zion can do for himself. It also reveals that the little boy is a big Ravens fan.

In one poignant scene, Zion points to a group of photos hanging on his bedroom wall. They're of Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali and Ravens legend Ray Lewis. In the center, Zion has placed a picture of himself. 

The spunky boy also celebrated his 9th birthday with a Ravens cake, which he was able to help distribute to his friends. 

Zion made an appearance on the TODAY show Wednesday morning. He helped Al Roker do the weather forecast and sat down for an inteview with Savannah Guthrie

He said he was surprised by how far he threw that first pitch at the Orioles game. 

"I was surprised it went that far," he said. But that wasn't his first time on the mound, he explained. 

"Well I play a lot of baseball. They put me as pitcher a lot, but I'm a good batter, too," he said. "My mom was recording a video but I wouldn't say her video was the best. She was mostly jumping up and down while she was taking the video and screaming."

RELATED: Ray Lewis spoke with Michael Phelps before final race, could not be prouder