NEW ORLEANS — John Harbaugh probably doesn't remember when Sunday night became Monday morning, but he sure knew he'd had a good time.
As he stepped to an early-morning microphone to the soundtrack of Roger Goodell's voice, he took hold of the Lombardi Trophy from the NFL commissioner's hands and joked, "We hadn't seen this since last night. We thought we lost it. Thank you very much."
John Harbaugh never has to give that trophy back, not after his Ravens secured the franchise's second Super Bowl title with Sunday's tense, dramatic 34-31 win over the 49ers.
Yet as shiny as that silver football glinted in the klieg lights of Monday morning's New Orleans news conference, there was a shadow that will never leave, a tinge of melancholy that will not fade.
Harbaugh will never watch this game with his best friend by his side, because his best friend, his younger brother by 15 months, is carrying the agony to John's ecstasy. If John is willing to rewind a tape of what he described as a "historic" game and one "we will be watching on NFL Films for years to come," Jim, the coach of the vanquished 49ers, is just as likely to bury it on a back shelf.
Separately, they might choose to watch the game again.
"Absolutely not," John said.
Such is the surcharge of unprecedented football dominance, in which John and Jim became the first brothers to coach against each other in the Super Bowl, an overarching story line in New Orleans that thrust the entire Harbaugh coaching clan into the spotlight.
Parents Jack and Jackie were in such high demand that they had their own news conference.
Sister Joanie and her coaching husband, Tom Crean of college basketball's No. 1-ranked Indiana Hoosiers, were among Sunday's conflicted observers.
Jay Harbaugh, Jim's son but a member of John's coaching staff, celebrated with his uncle and commiserated with his father.
For every tear of celebration among them, there was one of sadness too. For every thrilling jolt of joy, there was an alter ego of pain.
"I saw my parents in the locker room after the game," said John. "They were the same. They were elated for us and the Ravens. They know all our players, but they were elated on one hand and devastated on the other hand. I could see it behind their eyes; see it stuck right there (holding his throat). It was both things. Emotions are incredible and that's kind of how it was.
"They were under orders from both Jim and I to enjoy the week, and they did. We made the most of it and had a great time. I think it was great for them right up until kickoff, and then it wasn't so great. They were just happy we are beyond that now."
When families are this close, when love is this deep, there is no way to navigate through the emotional waters unscathed. You do your best to survive and move on.
"As we stood there on the field before the game, I kind of came to the conclusion that the only thing that would have been worse was if one of us wasn't there, and the only thing worse than that was if neither one of us was there," John said. "And it was still pretty rough; it's just really tough. The toughest moment of all was walking across the field. You can imagine the incredible amount of elation with an incredible amount of devastation, two feelings going hand in hand in that moment.
"I'm still feeling it; that's just reality. I'm proud of him. He's the best coach in the National Football League."
Graciousness comes easiest to those who win, and John was a picture of grace as he told his brother on the field, "I love you," as he insisted a day later, "There are no losers in the Super Bowl."
Jim wasn't quite as prepared to move on, reportedly declining to do one television interview afterward and spending most of the time in the ones he did blasting officials for missed calls. But when something hurts as bad as this, it's easier to lash out than open up.
John understands. By Monday morning, as he watched his MVP quarterback Joe Flacco take the keys to a new Corvette Stingray, as he basked in the all-night party that celebrated his team's win, that brief on-field exchange — the "I love you" followed by Jim's "congratulations" — remained the brothers' most recent conversation. But he knows this foe will bounce back.
"Don't hang your head for Jim Harbaugh. He's the best coach in football and he'll have that team roaring back very soon," John said.
And he knows they will eventually be back to their usual brotherhood routine.
"We will talk at some point in time; there is no hurry," John said.
For so much of their young lives, Jim was the one leaping ahead, the bigger, better, stronger athlete who made the NFL when his brother didn't, who ascended to the top rung of the coaching ladder first, taking over at Stanford before John's promotion in Baltimore.
But it's John's turn now. For siblings who always knew how to trade rivalry for revelry, that might mean never watching this game together.
For all the football memories the two have shared, for all the backyard brawls and basement battles that mark the signposts of their sporting lives, this one stands alone.
Alone, but forever joined. The Harbaugh way.