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The Harbaugh Bowl/Cam Cameron: One Shot at a TimePosted Wednesday, November 30, 2011, at 7:58 AM
On Thanksgiving Night the most publicized NFL regular season game of 2011 took place at M&T Stadium in Baltimore. The battle between the San Francisco 49ers and the host Ravens featured the first game in NFL history where two brothers were the opposing head coaches. Jim and John Harbaugh made league history in the game that saw Baltimore beat San Francisco 16-6.
Other than Jack Harbaugh, the proud father of these two siblings, no other person had a better inside perspective of the historic matchup than Cam Cameron, Hoosier native who serves as the offensive coordinator for the Ravens. Cameron had the catbird's seat for all of the events that led up to the game including his usual game perch on the sidelines. Cameron has a long and storied past with both of the Harbaugh brothers.
"This was even a bigger deal than people made it out to be. We started working on the 49ers the minute the schedule came out," said Cameron. "We looked at a lot of Stanford tape since Jim was a rookie NFL coach. That was pretty much all we had to go on.
"Our whole bye week was committed to the 49ers and it was simply a deal where both John and Jim were going to try and out work each other with their preparation," observed Cameron. He insists that the game was also a big deal to the players on both teams. He said that the Ravens were smart enough to not say much before the game, but celebrated the victory afterwards.
"There are deep relationships in both locker rooms. Maybe more so in ours because John has coached this team for a longer time than Jim has the 49ers. Make no mistake, our guys wanted this game for John," said Cameron.
Cameron started his coaching career at the University of Michigan as a grad assistant working with the quarterbacks and wide receivers in 1984. Jim Harbaugh was the starting QB for the Wolverines. During that season, Harbaugh led his team to a 4-1 start and then an injury ended his season. Michigan finished 6-6 on the year.
"Jim was one of the hardest working players I have ever been around. Whether during the season or in the off-season, he was relentless. He led the nation in passing efficiency in 1985-86 and changed Bo's (Schembechler) offensive philosophy because the ball never hit the air at Michigan prior to Jim," asserted Cameron.
Harbaugh had a solid NFL career with the Bears and Colts. After leaving Indianapolis, he moved to San Diego where he wound up being Cameron's next door neighbor while Cam was the offensive coordinator with the Chargers.
"Jim got the head football coaching job at University of San Diego. He turned that program around immediately. I would go to practice and watch him coach. You could tell early on that he would be great one," said Cameron.
Cameron remembers an incident in the Harbaugh driveway during a pickup basketball game between Jim and his son, Jay who is now a grad assistant for Oregon State's football program.
"Jay scored a couple of early buckets on Jim. The next thing I knew, Jay had a bloody nose and Jim was just beating him to a pulp and didn't let him score again," laughed Cameron. "That's Jim. You might beat him, but he will never lose to you!"
Cameron worked summer football camps with John while the elder Harbaugh was at the University of Cincinnati. Ironically, when Cameron became the head coach at Indiana University he hired John as his special teams coach. After one season, John landed a job in the NFL as the special teams coach for the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I got that call from the Eagles wanting permission to talk to John and I am thinking this is the only guy on my staff that will one day be in the NFL and he is gone in a year," said Cameron. Eventually, Harbaugh went from Philadelphia to Baltimore as head coach.
While the Harbaugh brothers have many similarities, they do have some differences according to Cameron.
"Both have great passion. Jim has the players' perspective. He is tough and physical minded. He is probably more emotional and spontaneous than John," observed Cameron. "I would say John is more methodical, very thought out. Jim doesn't mince any words and John might be more polished."
I asked Cameron if he talked to Jim, the losing Harbaugh, after the game.
"No, not after the game. We did before the game," said Cameron. "Everybody was miked up for the NFL Network and I finally said to Jim, 'Turn that thing off so we can have a normal conversation."
But, for Cameron and the Ravens life goes on in the NFL and thoughts quickly turned to the Cleveland Browns who is Baltimore's opponent on Sunday. Cameron said that he and star running back, Ray Rice, started talking about the Browns as they walked off the field on Thanksgiving Night.
Cameron and his wife Missy have been married for 25 years and they have four children- Tommy (17); Danny (15), Chris (13) and Elizabeth (11). The life of an NFL family comes with its ups and downs.
"This lifestyle is tough on the family, really tough. I couldn't take what my family goes through. Fans can be brutal.", said Cameron who is still close to his Indiana roots.
"Every day that goes by, I want to do everything I can to make the State of Indiana and Terre Haute proud of me, especially the people who helped me along the way," said Cameron.
"I was happy to see TH South beat TH North in football this year and I root for IU football to succeed. Although, I did get a text from Drew Brees right before this week's Monday Night game busting my chops about the Bucket Game last weekend," laughed Cameron.
The Ravens stand 8-3 and control their own destiny in the AFC North. Expectations are high and no one will be occupying a hotter seat than the Ravens' offensive coordinator in the next few weeks.
"I hope to see everybody in Indianapolis in February," said Cameron, one of the longest tenured offensive coordinators in the NFL.
That would be a fitting homecoming for this Indiana native.
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