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Iowa City residents keep in touch with Harbaugh brothers

[ 0 ] January 21, 2013 |

Iowa City native Marty Hanrahan has known Jim Harbaugh for more than 40 years, all the way back to when Harbaugh used to gnaw on crayons and erasers in elementary school.

“It was like he was teething almost,” Hanrahan said Monday afternoon about Harbaugh, who lived in Iowa City from 1971-73. “He was an intense elementary school boy.”

Hanrahan believes that same intensity has helped guide the 49-year-old Harbaugh to the top of his profession as the head coach for the San Francisco 49ers.

Harbaugh and his older brother John, who is the head coach for the Baltimore Ravens, will make history Feb. 3 when they square off as head coaches in the Super Bowl. It’ll mark the first time that two brothers have faced each other under those circumstances.

“I don’t remember much about John,” Hanrahan said. “I know with Jim, if I wasn’t going over to his house after school, he was coming over to mine.

“And we would pretty much just play until dark, whether it was football, basketball or baseball or whatever it is we could find. We were both competitive as hell.”

The Harbaughs lived in Iowa City for three years while Jim’s father, Jack Harbaugh, was a University of Iowa assistant football coach under Frank Lauterbur. Hanrahan said the Harbaugh family lived in a house on the west side of town near University Heights.

Lauterbur was fired in 1973 after three losing seasons. Jack Harbaugh moved on to the University of Michigan, where he coached the defensive backs under Bo Schembechler until 1979. Jack Harbaugh left Michigan to become the defensive coordinator at Stanford, a job he held for two years in 1980 and 1981.

Jim Harbaugh played his junior and senior years of high school football while living in Palo, Alto, Calif. He earned a football scholarship to Michigan, where he became a three-year starter at quarterback before playing 13 seasons in the National Football League.

Harbaugh also became reaquainted with Hanrahan while playing for Michigan. They had lost touch after Harbaugh moved from Iowa City, but Hanrahan reached out to Harbaugh in the fall of 1985, the day before top-ranked Iowa was scheduled to face No. 2 Michigan at Kinnick Stadium. Hanrahan knew the Michigan players were staying at a hotel in Cedar Rapids the night before the game.

“I thought, ‘If he’s going to be in Iowa City and I’m still in Iowa City, I’m going to do everything I can (to see him),’” Hanrahan said. “So I found out where they were staying in Cedar Rapids the night before the game and gave him a call. I asked for his hotel room and they connected me and he answered the phone and we caught up and talked.”

They also agreed to meet near the Michigan team bus after the game the next day, although Hanrahan figured Harbaugh wouldn’t be very talkative, considering Iowa won 12-10 on a last-second field goal by Rob Houghtlin on Oct. 19, 1985.

“I thought the way the game ended with the field goal that he wasn’t going to be in any type of mood to come and talk to me,” Hanrahan said. “But he was the first one out of the locker room that day and he stayed until Schembechler told him to get on the bus, it was time to go.”

Hanrahan reached out to Harbaugh again in October after Hanrahan learned that his niece, who lives in San Francisco, wanted to take him and her fiancé to a San Francisco 49ers game to celebrate Hanrahan’s 49th birthday.

Hanrahan left two messages with the 49ers organization in hopes of reaching Harbaugh, but he didn’t get a response. The third time he called he left a message on Harbaugh’s personal assistant’s voicemail. Hanrahan said on the message that he was coming to San Francisco to visit his niece and her fiancé and to see the 49ers play the New York Giants.

“Later that night, Jim called me,” Hanrahan said. “So we talked for about 30 minutes and caught up on family and stuff.”

Harbaugh gave Hanrahan and Hanrahan’s niece and her fiancé the red-carpet treatment. He arranged for them to have three sideline passes and a free parking pass. Hanrahan also was allowed to attend the 49ers’ practice the day before the game, was given a tour of the facilities by Harbaugh and also had lunch with Harbaugh.

“It was a very nice trip,” Hanrahan said. “And we’ve kept in touch via text messaging. I’ll just send him a quick text about an upcoming game or a big win or something like that.”

Hanrahan sent Harbaugh a text message shortly after the 49ers defeated the Atlanta Falcons Sunday in the NFL Championship game.

“He responded in about two hours,” Hanrahan said. “He’s a good guy and I’m honored to have him as a friend.”

Hanrahan was amazed after reminiscing with Harbaugh in October about how much Harbaugh still remembers about his brief time in Iowa City.

“He had such a vivid memory, even today with kids in our class and things like that,” Hanrahan said. “He’s very detail oriented.”

Hanrahan met Harbaugh in first grade after Harbaugh transferred from a public grade school in Iowa City to the Iowa City Catholic Grade School.

Harbaugh had a broken leg when they first met. Hanrahan thinks the injury occurred when Harbaugh was playing in a pick-up football game while attending the public school.

“His mother thought it was a sign that God was punishing them for not sending the boys to a Catholic school,” Hanrahan said. “And then they went to the Catholic grade school.”

Sister Agnes Giblin taught both of the Harbaugh brothers while they attended the Iowa City Catholic Grade School. John Harbaugh is about 15 months older than Jim and was two grades ahead of him in school.

John had a much different personality than his younger brother.

“John was very laid back and very quiet,” said Giblin, who has retired as a teacher, but still lives in Iowa City and works at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

Giblin said she used to tease Jim Harbaugh about thinking his desk at school was a football.

“He was just real intense in everything he did,” Giblin said.

Giblin said there also was another side of Jim Harbaugh as a kid, a softer and more caring side.

“There was another student that was very small and short and not athletic and kind of one that would be unnoticed,” Giblin said. “And Jim protected him and took good care of him and was very good to him.

“Yes, he was a very good kid.”

Giblin spoke to Jim Harbaugh on the phone about a month ago because she wanted to hear more about Hanrahan’s trip to San Francisco in October.

Giblin has stayed in touch with Harbaugh over the years. She arranged for him to return to Iowa City about 20 years ago when Harbaugh was playing quarterback for the Chicago Bears.

Giblin is originally from Chicago and has cheered for the Chicago Bears for as long as she can remember.

She wrote Harbaugh a letter and invited him to return to Iowa City when his schedule would permit it.

“I said, ‘You know, you’re our claim to fame, if you’re ever free, and about a year-and-a-half later he called and came and spent the weekend,” Giblin said.

Harbaugh spoke to the Regina students and also visited with some of his former elementary classmates while back in Iowa City.

“He was pretty much here at our disposal,” said Hanrahan, who graduated from Regina in 1982. “I ended up taking him to work and meeting people at work. We played catch with the football in the yard and stuff like that.”

The Iowa football team combined to finish just 4-28-1 during the three seasons in which Jack Harbaugh worked as an assistant coach under Lauterbur.

“I don’t remember him being that big into the Hawkeyes and having a lot of Iowa paraphernalia,” Hanrahan said. “He might have been a little young to realize that his dad was an assistant.”

As for the Super Bowl, Hanrahan will cheer for the 49ers, while Giblin is torn between the two teams and the two brothers.

“I don’t know, it’s tough,” she said. “I knew them both. I feel sorry for their parents.”

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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