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Jim Harbaugh cherishes his time with the Bears
NEW ORLEANS — San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh spent the first seven years of his playing career with the Bears after they drafted him out of Michigan with 26th overall pick in 1987.
Harbaugh didn’t turn into a franchise quarterback — he went 35-30 as a starter before joining the Indianapolis Colts in 1994 — but he valued every minute of his time with the Bears.
Especially because he got to work with Mike Ditka for most of it.
“Those were formidable years for me and signature years to be in Chicago,” Harbaugh said Friday during a joint press conference with his brother, John. “To be drafted in the NFL, and play for the legendary Mike Ditka, doesn’t get any better than that. I spent seven years – a lot of great years and a lot of great games. A lot of high highs and a lot of low lows. Doesn’t get any better than this kind of feeling. In some places, big disappointments. There were a couple that were top-five in my life, but that’s football and that’s life.
“I look back on that, and what do they mean to me with shaping the rest of my life with the Chicago Bear organization and the people I met there and what the organization and Coach Ditka did for me? I don’t think there is a percentage to put on it. Those were signature years for me.”
Harbaugh’s best season with the Bears came in 1991. The Bears went 11-5, while Harbaugh threw for a career-high 3,121 yards and 15 touchdowns, but had 16 interceptions.
John Harbaugh, the Baltimore Ravens’ head coach, said he remembers “living and dying, along with our parents and [their sister] Joanie, with every single snap that Jim ever took as an NFL football player, whether it was Chicago or Indianapolis, or all the other places he was at.”
“To watch a family member play, I think you are far more nervous than they are by far,” John Harbaugh continued. “That’s how I always felt. I was just always completely and enormously proud of what he was doing as a player and how he was competing. I think the greatest moment for me through that whole thing was, maybe a couple years later, gaining so much respect for Coach Ditka.”
In a way, the Harbaugh brothers — the first brothers to coach against each other in the Super Bowl — learned something from Ditka.
“Now, I don’t know him that well and I just know what Jim says about him,” John Harbaugh said. “Now, we’re all a fan and when he came out and said it was the wrong thing and he said [Jim] didn’t handle it the right way, it probably cost him his team a little bit there. As a coach, we all learn so much hearing another coach talk about something like that. And the way Jim handled that moment and he was just rock solid. He just came back and kept competing with the respect for all that, even in a situation that isn’t all that fair. I learned a lot at the time, and I would think a lot of players would, too, if they understand handling that situation.”