By TED SILLANPAA
Jim Harbaugh was nothing more to me than a football coach who turned the 49ers around, led them to consecutive NFC Championship games. While members of the media who try to deal with him do nothing but complain about his bullying, all I really thought about was that the Niners started winning again when Harbaugh showed up.
The 49ers led the Falcons 28-24 with 3 minutes, 53 seconds in the fourth quarter Sunday. It was third down-and-2. Matt Ryan spotted Harry Douglas in man coverage down the right sideline. Then, 49ers’ defender Carlos Rogers lost his footing and Douglas appeared ready to catch pass and score a go-ahead touchdown.
Ryan lofted a pass toward Douglas, who was so open …. soooooooooo open. Ryan didn’t throw the pass out in front of his receiver, though. Douglas had to stutter-step and make the catch awkwardly, as he fell to the turf. He seemed to secure the ball with his hands, before it somehow moved to his chest then to his stomach before, as God alone was my witness, I swear still that the ball fell to the ground.
My reactions, in order, were:
“Oh, *&^^!!” when Rogers fell down and a touchdown appeared certain.
“Oh, yes!” when I realized Ryan underthrew slightly and forced Douglas to make that acrobatic catch that would prevented a TD.
“He trapped it!”when I saw that Douglas trapped the ball.
Watching with my entire family, including my older sons who know cheer aloud in the living room and exchange high-fives like every Joe and Jerry SuperFan, I didn’t make a sound. It’s not my style when I’m just a guy with a couple bucks bet on a big game.
When I played ball, coached it and sat through those insufferably close games that often seem and seemed to be in the hands of my sons … I thought winning was a matter of life and death. Legendary NFL head coach George Allen once said that “Everytime you lose, you die a little bit.” I agree.
When things clearly didn’t go my way, particularly a judgment call or a rules interpretation, all I cared about was that my teams and I had spent hours (my sons and I spent years) preparing to win in big moments and nobody was going to steal a win without hearing about it. Got a problem? Too bad.
Jim Harbaugh’s insanely angry reaction to the Douglas call is what I want from the guy coaching the team I’m rooting for because it’s the reaction I would have, maybe even today if my youngest son got jobbed pitching in a big baseball game. (Go ahead. Click the link. Harbaugh’s reaction is embedded there.)
I fell for Harbaugh because he doesn’t care about anything but his players, his plan and winning. He is not of the generation of adults (many of whom have taken over major roles in the media) who believe that winning isn’t everything. Don’t tell Harbaugh that trying really hard and accepting the outcome is the goal in any game. And, don’t tell him that winners don’t make the rules in society.
We play to win the games. And, when you devote your life to getting to the Super Bowl and you think it’s been snatched from you by a muffed call, you’re not human if you sigh, adjust your headset and check the scoreboard for down and distance. (You are, however, an NFL coach not named Harbaugh.)
Society has tried to teach us that the outcome of the game doesn’t really matter that match. Be cool. Calm. Win and lose with grace. Set a good example. I disagree with all that and when I saw Harbaugh’s reaction I realized he’s a coach after my own heart.
If you were sipping a beverage and snacking on chips and salsa on Sunday, you have no idea how Harbaugh could get that upset. If you’ve spent days, weeks and years with teammates or coaching players with whom you’ve built relationships, you couldn’t understand how a coach could react any other way.
Well, I couldn’t understand how a coach could’ve reacted any other way because I would’ve reacted that way. I have reacted that way.
Harbaugh’s reaction, and his ability to coach football teams to championships, won me over Sunday. I know that if I met him and had to interview him for a story he would bully me and treat me with disdain. If his relationship with me or any other media guy ever has anything to do with winning, let me know.
It’s not Harbaugh’s job to please members of the media or fans who have no idea what leads to making a quarterback change late in the season. OK?
Harbaugh cares like fans want their coach to care. Then, he goes back to doing what his teams have done since he got his first head job and wins.
Winning is all that matters. Harbaugh coaches like it.
I love that.