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Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh: What Are the Odds? 

Wednesday, Jan 30 2013

Every year, the Super Bowl offers sports fans and non-fans alike the opportunity to anticipate high-rent commercials featuring flatulent animals and a new set of predetermined football narratives. Who's playing in his hometown? Who's looking to retire on a high note? Who can plead down to a misdemeanor and travel across state lines?

In Sunday's big game, featuring the Baltimore Ravens and hometown San Francisco 49ers, however, one glaring storyline has, thus far, gone unanalyzed. While the coach-brothers Harbaugh facing off in the Super Bowl is already extremely unlikely, that fact only compounds the sheer existential improbability of a human being making it to coach-hood in the first place.

Consider: Baltimore coach John Harbaugh and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh were born in Toledo, Ohio. Toledo is a city awash in Harbaughs; 20 people of that name are listed as living there now, per the White Pages. These two represent 100 percent of this year's Super Bowl coaches — but from here the numbers get weird.

There can be only two Super Bowl coaches among the 32 NFL football coaches in the nation. And according to there are just 4,864 Harbaughs. Even in a nation solely composed of Harbaugh, aspiring coaches would face stiff odds landing jobs helming a Super Bowl squad. If the positions were randomly assigned, only one out of every 2,432 Harbaughs would end up coaching a Super Bowl team.

Among us 308,745,538 Americans — some 244,350,000 of whom are employed, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics — just two can be Super Bowl coaches at a time. Only one in every 63,476 Americans is a Harbaugh. The odds of one landing the elusive position of Super Bowl coach — and then having it happen again — are about 1 in 4 billion. When restricted just to working Americans, the two Harbaughs' odds improve to 1 in 2.5 billion.

When put into context, these long odds grow even longer. The National Safety Council pegs your likelihood of dying via gunfire at 1 in 6,609, the odds of being killed by a dog at 1 in 144,899, and the odds of dying due to "fireworks discharge" at 1 in 652,048.

Extrapolating, this means the odds of one of two men named Harbaugh dying while coaching opposing teams in the Super Bowl via a gun that shoots fireworks and dogs is about 1 in 2.5 x 1024.

But that would make a good Super Bowl commercial.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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