Imagine getting to the pinnacle of your profession. One small step from the mountaintop. But the only thing standing between you and the full realization of your dreams is your best friend … who happens to be your brother, too.

It's a Shakespearian premise that played out on the world's largest stage Sunday. In the end, it was John besting Jim. Big brother beating little brother.

You couldn't help but feel for the 49ers' head coach after the loss. He might be the most competitive person in the league. And now he has lost twice to his brother and best friend.

Of course, Sunday's loss was much larger than the original Har-Bowl. But true to his nature, Harbaugh the younger kept it together after the game.

After the news conferences were over and after he paid a locker room visit to his favorite warrior, Frank Gore, Jim Harbaugh could be seen hugging his young daughter and comforting his family in a small anteroom. He walked out at one point and gave a nearby doorway a swift kick, his only outward show of frustration.

Asked what he told his brother after this most crushing of losses, Harbaugh simply said, "I gave him congratulations. That's it. Told him I was proud of him."

Asked what kind of emotions he was feeling, Harbaugh again turned to pride: "I'm just really proud of our players. We battled to be in it. We battled to win it."

It's hard to imagine how much this loss really hurts. Or what kind of anguish the Harbaugh family went through in playing this Super Bowl. Parents Jack and Jackie played along with the press throughout the process, seemingly enjoying the run-up. Here's guessing the postgame patching of family and feelings will be much harder.

The Ravens' field commander, John Harbaugh, also stayed true to his nature and was a little more expansive about how it felt to beat his brother.

"It's tough," said the older brother. "It's very tough. It's a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. It's very painful.

"I just knew with Jim Harbaugh being on the other sideline and all of those years we have been together that the game was going to be a dog fight to the end. … There is no greater competitor and no greater coach in the National Football League or in the world, as far as I'm concerned, than Jim Harbaugh."