It would be easy to compare the Dickenson brothers to the Harbaugh brothers based on the brother coaching against brother scenario, alone.
But there’s just so much more to the comparison than that. The similarities between the two sets of brothers are uncanny and endless.
Saskatchewan Roughrider head coach Craig Dickenson is the older brother by just over a year, coached special teams for years, has never coordinated an offence or defence and has a September birthday.
Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is the older brother by just over a year, coached special teams for years, has never coordinated an offence or defence and also has a September birthday.
Calgary Stampeder head coach Dave Dickenson is the younger brother, played with the San Diego Chargers and was a star CFL quarterback in a pro career that stretched 13 years.
Former San Francisco 49er, and now Michigan Wolverines head coach, Jim Harbaugh is the younger brother in his family, played with the San Diego Chargers and was a star NFL quarterback in a pro career that stretched 15 years.
Growing up in the Dickenson household, Craig was always 16 months older than Dave.
Growing up in the Harbaugh household, John was always 15 months older than Jim.
The symmetry is striking.
So much so that the older Dickenson has even noticed.
“Yeah, in fact, I think there’s a tonne of similarity,” Craig Dickenson said following a recent workout to prepare for Saturday’s Thanksgiving weekend rematch with his little brother’s Calgary Stampeders.
“Obviously, the Harbaugh’s are more accomplished than David and I. If you look at the respective leagues, it’s very similar.”
Craig actually has crossed paths with the older Harbaugh long before any comparisons were being drawn.
“I met John way back in the early 2000’s. He was the special teams coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles. I was coaching in San Diego at the time as an assistant special teams coach and that’s where I met John. And ironically, his brother Jim was our starting quarterback in 2000. So, I met them both. I know them both,” Dickenson said.
“It’s very similar to the Dickenson’s story. John’s the older brother, special teams background. Wasn’t as good of a player as Jim. Jim, younger, better player and a little more of a fiery temperament. A little more of an aggressive sort of guy. Played a lot higher level of football. I think the similarities are definitely there. David and I respect those guys a great deal and any sort of comparison to them is a compliment to us.”
It sure is.
The Harbaugh’s have riveted the sports world on a couple of occasions. First, in a nationally-televised U.S. Thanksgiving Day classic in 2011 when John’s Ravens whacked Jim and his San Francisco 49ers. And then again just over a year later when John won the rematch in Super Bowl 47.
But that’s where the similarities end.
Older brother hasn’t had the edge in the CFL’s version of the Harbaugh’s. Craig’s Roughriders are 0-3 in meetings with Dave’s Stampeders so far, including the 2019 season. And the Dickenson family back home in Montana has been shaming Craig over it.
“My dad reminded me just the other day. He said: ‘Are you going to beat him one of these days?’ I said: ‘Hey, we’re going to try.’ My mom, you know how mothers are. She’s like, ‘Well as long as you try hard, that’s all that matters.’ Trust me I know I’m 0-3 against him. And our team knows that we haven’t beaten them in a long time so we know what’s at stake.”
Dave might be the younger brother but he unquestionably steered Craig north of the border in the first place and he’s the first to tell that to anyone.
“I was ahead of Dave in school so when I got into coaching, Dave was still playing. And then Dave went from university to the CFL as a player and I kind of bounced around and ended up in San Diego as a special teams assistant. But I would always come up to Canada and watch Dave play,” Dickenson said.
“It was one of my real thrills and treats to come up and watch Dave play in Calgary because they play in the summer and down in the states, the U.S. college football doesn’t start until August, so I got to know Wally Buono a little bit and George Cortez and Ron Rooke who were all in Calgary.”
“And then when David came to the NFL as a player it was about the time I was leaving the NFL as a coach. Wally called and offered me a job in Calgary. So, really that was my first coaching job in Canada with David’s old staff. Coming up, watching Dave and getting a chance to meet the guys probably helped a lot. They were probably hoping they would get a guy just as smart as Dave and maybe they were disappointed after they got me. Who knows?”
As Craig Dickenson says: “Canada has been good to the Dickenson’s”.
It’s a dream scenario that football families all over North America fantasize about all the time. But Craig swears he’s not thinking about it much, especially on game day.
“I’ve got to say this: I think this game is much more important than bragging rights at the family dinner table,” Dickenson said.
“I think we’ve got a lot more important things to accomplish than just to try and beat them because I happen to be related to their coach. So, hopefully the guys have their own reasons for wanting to do well this week.”