SUPER BOWL BOUND: JIM HARBAUGH LEADS 49ERS TO NFC CHAMPIONSHIP, SUPER BOWL BERTH AGAINST BALTIMORE


ATLANTA, GA – There were plenty of cheers from throughout California, from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta where the San Francisco 49ers captured the NFC’s bid in the Super Bowl, but there was plenty of celebrating in Indianapolis too.

"NINERS BABY!" JR Hildebrand exclaimed.

The 25-year-old from Sausalito, Calif., isn't only a lifelong San Francisco 49ers fan. He has an association with the 49ers' head coach Jim Harbaugh, who just happens to be co-owner of the team for which he drives in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Harbaugh, a founding member of Panther Racing and former NFL quarterback, is headed to the NFL title game after the 49ers defeated the host Atlanta Falcons 28-24 in the NFC Championship Game. Harbaugh will face his brother John, the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 in New Orleans. The Ravens defeated the New England Patriots 28-13.

“It’s just a great privilege to be able to be part of (Panther Racing) and watch it up close,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve learned a lot too about the team dynamic at Panther Racing from John Barnes as a leader and how he runs his unit. I carry a lot of that over into coaching what we do here at the San Francisco 49ers.”

The 49ers' last appearance in the Super Bowl, where they're 5-0, was 1995 (when Harbaugh was quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts). The 49ers will attempt to tie the Pittsburgh Steelers as the only teams with six victories. They also will try to follow the lead of the Giants (another favorite of Hildebrand's), who won the World Series in October.

Harbaugh, 49, is in his second season as coach of the 49ers, who lost to the New York Giants in the 2012 NFC Championship Game. He became involved with Panther Racing after meeting team managing partner John Barnes on a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After helping form the team, Harbaugh worked on the pit crew during IndyCar Series races and was an integral member of the team in its early years.

"Jim has always been a tremendous leader and I've said several times he's the ultimate warrior," Barnes said. "I can't think of another family that deserves this honor as much as the Harbaughs – Jim, John and (father) Jack have all been big mentors of mine for a long time.

"Jim sometimes jokes about not being as involved in Panther Racing as he was in the early days, but we learn a heck of a lot from how he coaches his team, and the leadership he shows with the 49ers has an impact on a lot of what we do here. He challenges his players by being the example that they should achieve, and we're going to be behind him 100 percent at the Super Bowl in a few weeks."

Harbaugh has stated on multiple occasions that the start of the Indy 500 is the “single greatest moment in all of sports” and that the race is “better than Christmas.”

A Panther Racing driver has been runner-up in the Indianapolis 500 four of the past five years, does 2013 mark the year Harbaugh becomes a Super Bowl and Indy 500 champion in the span of less than four months?

*Portions of this article are courtesy of IndyCar.com
*AP Photo