Republicans vs. Democrats. Yankees vs. Red Sox. Team Edward vs. Team Jacob.
Now we can proudly add Jim Harbaugh vs. Jim Schwartz to the list of never-ending, unbelievably stupid rivalries that exist in our society.
The ridiculous handshake-backslap feud that shook the world to it’s very core this past weekend has been analyzed, re-analyzed and re-re-analyzed from just about every angle over the last three days. Between ESPN and the NFL Network, we have gotten details regarding the firmness of the handshake between Harbaugh and Schwartz, the speed with which the former’s hand traveled before colliding with the latter’s back, and the temperature in the stadium at the precise moment of impact.
At this point, you know what side you’re on. The battle lines have been drawn.
Team Harbaugh vs. Team Schwartz.
Eric McErlain of The Daily Caller wrote a piece in which he praised Schwartz for his pitbull-like reaction when Harbaugh improperly squeezed his hand or, whatever the problem with the handshake was, and said “part of me wants to play for Schwartz right now.”
He reasoned that because Harbaugh “acted like a jerk while delivering an insincere post-game handshake,” his counterpart had every reason in the world to, you know, randomly chase him down the field and ultimately do nothing.
This point of view deserved a bit of contemplation because McErlain is a smart guy and his reasoning sort of makes sense – if you agree with the general premise that Harbaugh was in the wrong on Sunday.
Problem is, he wasn’t.
Three days later, after countless replays, I still fail to see what exactly Harbaugh did that was so wrong. Remember, we analyzed the postgame incident almost as soon as it happened and, here is how we saw it:
“After an emotional game that his squad ultimately managed to win 25-19, Harbaugh jumped up and down on the sidelines like he had just won a playoff game. It was sort of endearing in a way, and it provided a great window into why the 49ers players had rallied around him the way they had. … There he is, celebrating and hop, skip and jumping towards midfield, oblivious to the fact that Schwartz is running his way. At the last second, he spots the Lions head coach and his outstretched hand and reciprocates the gesture. Only he has a bunch of momentum and shakes his counterpart’s hand too hard and gives him a slap on the back.”
Harbaugh was jubilant as soon as the game ended. He clearly had no intention of slighting or, disrespecting or, insulting anyone. He couldn’t care less about Schwartz or the rest of his Detroit Lions players and quite obviously forgot about the impending handshake. As soon as he spotted Schwartz coming with his arm extended, he reacted. Yes, the momentum from Harbaugh who, mind you, was already jumping up and down and running around beforehand may have made the whole exchange awkwardly rough, but that’s as far as the criticism can go.
Frankly, I would love to play for a coach like Harbaugh. This is a guy who brings a certain level of excitement and emotion to every team he coaches and, amazingly enough, the players soak it up. In less than two months of regular season play, Harbaugh has single-handedly altered the entire way of thinking in that Niners locker room to the point where you can see their renewed sense of pride every single time the players step onto the field.
It’s also worth nothing that the Lions have much better pieces on their roster than the Niners do on theirs. There are no Matthew Staffords or Calvin Johnsons in San Francisco. Harbaugh never got a Ndamukong Suh to build around. He’s had to do the dirty work himself, convincing a bunch of guys to go to battle with, yes, Alex Smith leading the charge. Behind Frank Gore and a lot of players most of you haven’t heard of, the Niners have established themselves as the class of the AFC West. (Not in the traditional sense where you’re the class of the AFC West if you’re not completely terrible)
San Francisco’s success thus far has been the direct byproduct of Harbaugh’s leadership and motivational style. Don’t forget, they were supposed to take over the division last year and never did. There’s a reason why things are different this season.
At the end of the day, give me a coach who knows how to revolutionize a franchise despite a shortened preseason. Give me a coach who can make do with shotty quarterbacks and chronically-injured running backs. Give me a coach who isn’t so jaded that his only public displays of emotion come when his team does something wrong.
Give me the dorky-looking guy who half raises his shirt when his team clinches a six-point victory over a team that didn’t even make the playoffs the prior year.
Give me Harbaugh any day of the week, but especially on Sunday.