My team lost, but I have a lot to be thankful for

Many American football fans in Israel, including my younger brother and me, watched the 49ers and the Ravens battle it out on Super Bowl night.

superbowl370 (photo credit: reuters)
(photo credit: reuters)
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” my Israeli roommate said when he saw me stumble in all bleary eyed on Monday morning. He had heard the final score reported on the morning radio news and, although he doesn’t care for American football, he was sincerely sorry that my team, the San Francisco 49ers, had lost the Super Bowl to the Baltimore Ravens.
As a native of San Francisco, I grew up watching Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young win a combined five Super Bowls for the 49ers, I had hoped that my hometown franchise would win their sixth championship on Sunday night following an 18 year title drought, but although the 49ers fought back from a big deficit and had a chance to take the lead in the final minutes, it was not to be.
“At least they kept it in the family,” my roommate joked.
It was of little consolation.
He knew about the unique ‘brother vs. brother’ Super Bowl head coaching matchup that pitted Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh against his younger brother Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, a matchup many sports fans were affectionately calling ‘The Har-Bowl’ or ‘The Super-Baugh.’ After pondering the main bright side of the 49ers tough loss – the fact that the 49ers have a young quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who possesses a rifle throwing arm and quick feet which should benefit the team for years to come – I tried to consider what life lessons one can take away from this year’s Superbowl ’brother’ matchup.
What makes these two coaching brothers, John & Jim Harbaugh, so special? Before every game San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh shouts to his players, “Who’s got it better than us?” and in unison they shout back, “Nobody!” This is one particular lesson that Jim Harbaugh imparts to his players before every game.
SF Gate reported that when he was a little kid, the family’s motto was “Who’s got it better than us?” His dad, Jack, would ask the question and Jim and his brother John would shout in unison, “Nobody!” At the time they lived in a tiny two bedroom-house in Iowa City, where Jack was an assistant coach at University of Iowa. Sometimes they had a car. If not, they were walking – what a terrific opportunity to work on basketball dribbling skills! Jack convinced the boys how great it was that they could bunk together in a tiny bedroom and talk philosophy and share each other’s dreams.
“Who could possibly have it better than you two guys?” Jack would ask.
Nobody. Obviously.
“Then as you get older you realize that people do have it better than you,” said Jim Harbaugh, who went back to look at the tiny house on a scouting trip.
“That was the smallest house I’d ever seen.”
But the message was received, processed and believed.
“The message there was not having things handed to you, that things that don’t come easy are really a blessing,” Harbaugh said.
“If it’s harder it makes you better in the long run.
That’s what my dad was selling.”
Fast forward some forty years to the modern state of Israel. Many American football fans in Israel, including my younger brother and me, watched the 49ers and the Ravens (and the Harbaugh brothers) battle it out on Super Bowl night, long after our Israeli neighbors had gone to sleep.
But as the Harbaugh brothers did battle on the gridiron on American sport’s biggest stage, in the Super Bowl, maybe we in Israel should also think about ‘Who’s got it better than us?.’ We too should think about being thankful for what we have. As Ben-Zoma said in Ethics of our Fathers, “Who is rich? One who is satisfied with what he has.”
Sure, things may not be perfect in Israel, but we live in a Jewish state, with a Jewish government (elected in democratic elections that we just now voted in), protected by an army of Jewish soldiers who defend our right to live as Jews in our own Jewish homeland.
Yes, Israel has its problems.
Yes, many things need to be improved, nothing comes easy in Israel (this year’s Super Bowl was played in New Orleans, also known as ‘The Big Easy,’ would that make Jerusalem ‘The Big Difficult’?).
But as I sat in front of my TV next to my younger brother (both of us dressed in 49ers shirts and hats) on a quiet Super Bowl night in the modern state of Israel and we cracked open cans of Maccabee beer at kickoff, we looked at each other with a smile and thought: Who’s got it better than us? Nobody!