Harbaugh downplays last year’s handshake incident 

click to enlarge The "handshake" that rocked the NFL last season. The 49ers meet the Detroit Lions again this Sunday at Candlestick Park. - GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Getty Images File Photo
  • The "handshake" that rocked the NFL last season. The 49ers meet the Detroit Lions again this Sunday at Candlestick Park.

Clips of “the handshake” started rolling soon after the final snap at Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoon. But as far as 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is concerned, the “mini controversy” is last year’s news.

The fiery exchange between Harbaugh and Detroit Lions cooach Jim Schwartz after the teams’ Week 6 meeting last year is one the indelible moments of the 2011 49ers season. It epitomized Harbaugh’s intense, no apologies approach to football and the 49ers’ transformation under his leadership.

But Harbaugh said he isn’t going to give the incident any more attention that it deserves.

“There are people that will choose to use that to promote this game or any other game and they’re really missing the point,” he said Monday. “The game is just so much bigger.”

He also declined to answer a question about his philosophy on post-game sportsmanship.

“Philosophically, I know what you’re trying to do,” he said. “Now is not the time to address it. I can’t possibly add anything more to the topic.”

Schwartz also fended off questions about the incident at his press conference Monday in Detroit.

“It happened so long ago that that occurred,” he said. “When these two teams take the field on Sunday, that won’t be on one player’s mind.”

Last year’s bout could have been called the Turnaround Bowl. The 49ers entered the contest with a 4-1 record, fresh off of a 48-3 walloping of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a stirring 24-23 come-from-behind win in Philadelphia. The Lions were a perfect 5-0, three years removed from an 0-16 season.

Heading into the game, the Lions were being tagged as Super Bowl contenders. They had beat the Chicago Bears on “Monday Night Football” the previous week.

But the 49ers showed that they were a team to take seriously, winning the game 25-19.

And Harbaugh was fired up. After the clock expired, he whooped, threw his fists in the air and tried to chest bump offensive tackle Alex Boone. Then, he greeted Schwartz at midfield and the rest is history.

It wasn’t the first time Harbaugh stirred up controversy during a post-game handshake. At Stanford, he had notorious run ins with Cal coach Jeff Tedford and former USC coach Pete Carroll.

The Schwartz handshake only strengthened Harbaugh’s reputation with his players for being just another one of the guys in the locker room. Left tackle Joe Staley told reporters that the incident got him “pumped up.”

But Harbaugh dismissed the suggestion that the handshake fired up his team.

“I really think it’s just a mini controversy, it’s completely irrelevant,” he said.

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Paul Gackle

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