By Jeremy Brown: WKU Athletic Communications
The Super Bowl has easily become the single-largest sporting event on the American calendar and Sunday will mark the fifth Super Bowl in the past 13 seasons that ties WKU directly with the spectacle.
Romeo Crennel, who played for and coached the Hilltoppers from 1966-74, was the defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots during their three championship seasons (2001, 2003-04).
Rod Smart racked up 1,249 rushing yards during his senior season (1999) on the Hill and was in the running back rotation for the Carolina Panthers when they made their run to the Super Bowl in 2003.
Darryl Drake, a Hilltopper wide receiver from 1975-78, was the wide receivers coach for the Chicago Bears during their championship appearance in 2007.
The deepest ties to WKU lay within Super Bowl XLVII, however, as the San Francisco 49ers battle the Baltimore Ravens.
The name Harbaugh holds a special place in the hearts of Hilltopper Nation. Jack Harbaugh was the head football coach for WKU from 1989-2002, leading the 2002 Hilltoppers to the Division I-AA National Championship. Jack's 14 seasons coached and 91 games won are more than any Hilltopper coach besides the legendary Jimmy Feix (16 seasons, 106 wins).
On Sept. 22, 2012 Jack and his wife Jackie became the namesake of the Houchens-Smith Stadium Club while also being honored for the 10th anniversary of the 2002 national championship.
"Spent 14 great years there -- so many great friends there," Jack said on a teleconference last week. "To be a part of that Western Kentucky family is something we'll remember for the rest of our lives."
While Jack and Jackie are held near and dear to Hilltopper hearts, their sons Jim and John are starting to catch up in that department.
The dominant storyline leading up to the big game is Jim, former quarterback star turned football team resurrector, versus John, the savvy football mind who always played second-fiddle to his talented younger brother.
Jim has won 75 percent of his games since becoming the head coach of the 49ers in 2011 and has led San Francisco to back-to-back NFC Championships and now the Super Bowl in his first two seasons.
John Harbaugh, head man for the Ravens, became the first coach in NFL history to win a postseason game in each of his first five seasons in his route to Super Bowl XLVII. His defensive mentality sparked Baltimore in holding Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to just four touchdowns along the way.
John isn't the only Baltimore-WKU connection, however, as 2011 graduate Bobby Rainey signed with the Ravens in April 2012. After racking up 218 yards of offense and two touchdowns during the pre-season, Rainey was on the active game-day roster for three regular season games this year.
While Rainey certainly produced more direct results while at WKU, both Jim and John aided Jack on the recruiting trail during his Hilltopper tenure.
During NFL offseasons, Jim would use his status as an NFL quarterback to lure high-school playmakers to Bowling Green. His first big catch? Willie Taggart, an eventual All-American quarterback who set 11 WKU records during his time under center.
Jim also did all he could during the NFL season, recalls WKU Director of Athletics Todd Stewart. Stewart was the Assistant Director of Public Relations for the Indianapolis Colts while Jim was the team's quarterback in the mid-90s. He remembers Jim collecting boxes of old cleats, gloves, anything his teammates didn't want and sending it to his father, who at the time was in need of all the equipment he could get.
Despite being the special teams coordinator at Cincinnati for a large portion of Jack's time on the Hill, John would help out as much as he could. Cincinnati was Division I-A compared to WKU's Division I-AA status at the time, and John would send recruiting targets to Jack that weren't quite good enough for the Bearcats but could be great for the Hilltoppers.
Football has been a family affair for the Harbaugh's their whole lives, and for Hilltopper Nation, that is what Sunday's Super Bowl will be. A family affair. Either way you slice it, the Hilltoppers have a small stake in whoever brings home the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
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