“John is wound a little less tighter, but the differences aren’t quite as great as everyone thinks,” Feldman said. “John is as competitive as they come, believe me. And Jim doesn’t show it much, but he has a side that’s as charming and as fun to have a beer with as John. It doesn’t come out often, but it’s there.”
Through Feldman, you learn where the hyper-intensity comes from. As so as much as the Harbaugh boys don’t want to talk about their achievement because they feel it deflects from their players and teams, the Harbowl is worth at least another anecdote before kickoff:
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In 1982 a very good Palo Alto basketball team led by Jim and bolstered off the bench by Feldman — “Jim and I combined for 44 points one game; I had four,” Feldy says — ventured into Santa Clara High’s hostile gym.
From the moment they left the team bus, Palo Alto players took abuse from fans and players.
Jack Harbaugh, who a year earlier had moved his family to Palo Alto from Michigan after he got a job as Stanford’s defensive coordinator, warned the Santa Clara coach of the rough play.
“I remember it clear as day,” Feldman began. “Jim’s dad said, ‘You better clean it up. Because if you don’t clean it up you’re going to have a problem — with me.’ ”
The game was already physical and nasty when, according to accounts of players from both teams at the time, a Palo Alto player absorbed an elbow to the head and decided to retaliate. That’s when the stands emptied, a melee ensued and Jim Harbaugh found himself along the baseline behind the basket with five men balling their fists to get at him. He got ready to go toe-to-toe with all of them when . . .
“Jack Harbaugh was on the court in one second,” Feldman said. “He had a son who had a scholarship to Michigan and he wasn’t about to see anything happen to him. Jack Harbaugh was like Superman. He threw Jim behind him. So anyone who was coming after Jim would have to go through him. It was pretty heroic.”
Asked what he was doing during the brawl, Feldman said, “I think I was wetting my pants.”
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.