Who cares about decorum? If the people running the 49ers — meaning Jed York — cared about decorum, protocol or manners, they might have hired someone who knew how to shake hands.
Instead, they hired someone who knows how to win football games. Shake that.
Yeah, San Francisco is showing its muscle and its attitude. Jim Harbaugh is the best thing to hit town since Bill Walsh, a man who also poured it on you at the end of a game. As Tony Kornheiser wrote after one of those Niners wins in a Super Bowl, Walsh not only beats you, he picks his teeth with your bones.
Remember what happened after the opener — a win over the Seattle Seahawks that should have awakened us to what the Niners might be in 2011? Harbaugh, who is charmingly calculating, complained he “never caught one highlight of the 49ers” on any of the Sunday night highlight shows, meaning ESPN’s SportsCenter.
“It’ll be up to us to do something about it,” he said.
They’ve done something. He’s done something. You think his bum-rush congratulatory slap of Detroit’s very unnerved head coach, Jim Schwartz, was accidental? It was Harbaugh being Harbaugh — pushy, domineering, territorial.
He was sending a message, as he did two years ago as Stanford coach. Heading for a 55-21 rout of USC, Harbaugh’s Cardinal went for a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. Pete Carroll, then the Trojans coach, headed toward Harbaugh and the postgame handshake with the demand, “What’s your deal?”
The deal is Jim Harbaugh plays his own game, not the one society would choose for him.
“I’m a guy who trusts his emotions,” he has said.
A guy who insists “flowery praise” makes him uncomfortable, but who proved criticism makes him retaliate.
Back in 1997, when Harbaugh was quarterbacking the Indianapolis Colts and about to face Buffalo, former Bills QB Jim Kelly went on a local Buffalo TV show and called Harbaugh a baby who fakes injuries and if he were still playing, he’d tell the Bills to hit him in the mouth to rattle him.
Not long after, Kelly was working a game in San Diego.
“I wanted to ask him where he was coming from with those comments,” Harbaugh told the Detroit Free Press. They went into a room, Harbaugh punched Kelly — “You have to stand up for what you believe in” — broke his throwing hand and missed several games.
Maybe Schwartz is lucky all Harbaugh did was slap him on the back, although Harbaugh said he was simply fired up by the win over the Lions.
On his ESPN radio show Monday, Scott Van Pelt said the media overplayed the Harbaugh-Schwartz confrontation, that it’s insignificant in the big picture of attempting to get to the playoffs. Then that evening, after “Monday Night Football” with Van Pelt as co-anchor, ESPN spent maybe 10 minutes on the confrontation.
Harbaugh is unforgiving. “We bow to no man,” he once said about USC’s program. Harbaugh is untiring. “Jim is the greatest pure competitor, by far, I’ve ever met in my life,” his brother, John, told Sports Illustrated.
After going eight seasons without a winning record, without much attention from the pooh-bahs back East, Jim Harbaugh is exactly what the 49ers needed and exactly what they have.
Shall we shake on that?
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.