SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – It would be nice if Jim Harbaugh was getting nationwide attention this morning for turning the sad-sack San Francisco 49ers into perhaps the NFL’s most interesting comeback story of the season.
Instead, most of the talk is about Harbaugh’s breach of postgame etiquette (relax, I’ll address opposing coach Jim Schwartz in a moment) after the Niners’ thrilling 25-19 win over the Lions in Detroit.
In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the video clip. Here’s my take: only the grouchiest of grouches could begrudge Harbaugh his immediate joyous romp onto the field (and even his shirt-untucking chest bump with lineman Alex Boone, though the mind boggles trying to imagine Tom Landry or even Hank Stram doing that).
No, where Harbaugh crossed the line was his failure to rein things in as he approached Lions coach Jim Schwartz. It’s a simple bit of civility to master: look the opposing coach in the eye, offer a firm handshake, say “Nice game, Coach,” and move on. Like any other bit of good manners, you can question the sincerity of the act, but without good manners, where are we?
I’ve heard the argument that Harbaugh’s behavior is important to the persona he’s trying to build for his team (and we saw the same act at Stanford). Not good enough for me; there’s no sin in treating your opponent with respect, even as you try to mop the field with him. We often ask our athletes to serve as role models for our youth; it’s fair to ask coaches to do the same.
Now: Jim Schwartz. No halo for this guy, who should have just seized the high ground and ignored Harbaugh’s faux pas. Chasing Harbaugh down the field and turning an act of rudeness into a near-brawl? Classless and inexcusable. Another fine lesson to young people, who we often advise to “just walk away” from trouble.
I am increasingly troubled by athletes (and coaches) who confuse joyful celebration with disrespect for an opponent (see Milwaukee Brewer Nyjer Morgan for a series of examples). Sometimes the line is hard to discern; baseball is full of countless disputes over just how slow a home run trot can be before it becomes disrespectful.
But knowing the right way to behave after a football game is no more difficult than knowing which fork to use at the banquet table. Watch the best-behaved person in the room and follow the lead.
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