No one can can fully appreciate the conflicting emotions that brothers Jim and John Harbaugh will endure coaching against each other in Sunday's Super Bowl. But brothers Scott and Rob Neidermayer understand better than most.
Nine years ago, the Niedermayers brought sibling rivalry to its highest level in the NHL when they faced off in a seven-game Stanley Cup Final.
"You dream of winning the Stanley Cup, and both of us wanted it very much," Rob recalls. "And yet here was my brother standing in the way of my goal. It was a pretty tough situation."
At the 2003 Stanley Cup Final, older brother Scott was a 29-year-old star defenseman, trying to win his third Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils. Rob, a year younger, was a highly respected forward with the Anaheim Ducks. The brother vs. brother confrontation became an important subplot of the series, spiced a bit by their mother, Carol, saying she was rooting for Rob because Scott had won before.
"That made sense to me," Scott says, chuckling at the memory.
Rob says the Harbaughs' Super Bowl story line has to be most difficult on their parents because his mom found it stressful.
"When she came down (from British Columbia), she was so excited about the situation," Rob says. "But as Game 7 drew around, it became a strain. She was sick of doing interviews and I think the week took a toll on her."
Scott remembers there weren't too many lighthearted moments while the series was going on. The two brothers did talk during the series, but it was brief. It didn't help that the series had a grueling travel schedule.
"If we both had already won Stanley Cups, I think it would have been a little lighter environment," Scott says. "The fact he had not won weighed on me, and made it a bit more of a challenge. This was his second time in the Finals, and I knew what it feels like to come up short because we did that in 2001."
Neither player recalls any specific confrontations on the ice.
"He was too big, so I would not have engaged in that," says Scott, now an assistant coach for Anaheim.
The hotly contested series extended to Game 7 with the Devils winning 3-0 on a Martin Brodeur shutout.
"The one thing I do remember is going through the handshake line," Scott recalls. "I don't know what you could say at that point. But I just remember telling him that I thought he played like a champion, as all of the Ducks had to get to that point. A Game 7 is splitting hairs, really. I'm sure it didn't make him feel any better. In fact, I know it didn't."
Rob recalls feeling numb as he shuffled through the line, but he says his brother was consoling. His emotional wounds were healed enough that he attended Scott's day with the Cup. "But I will admit it was tough," he says.
The loss felt devastating to Rob because he didn't know if he'd ever reach the Final again. Little did he know he would be back four years later, playing alongside his brother. Scott signed with Anaheim as a free agent and handed the Stanley Cup to Rob when the Ducks won in 2007.
"(The 2003) final turned out to be the prelude to the rest of the story for us, " Scott says. "Even to this day, it's hard to believe how it played out. You couldn't write it any better."
With both now having a championship on their resume, it will be much easier for them to watch the Harbaughs going through their brother vs. brother moment in the San Francisco vs. Baltimore Super Bowl.
"I'm sure the Harbaughs were like all brothers ... When they were younger, they competed at everything they possible could," Scott says. "My brother and I were the same way, but as you get older, a little bit of that goes away. There is still some competitive spirit. But you want your brother to succeed, to do well, and those two (emotions) butted heads when I was playing against him a Stanley Cup Final."
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