Jim Harbaugh, in his short stint as the 49ers coach, has done one important thing that the previous coaches have been unable to do: keep the team away from distractions. Mike Singletary, Steve Mauricci and Mike Nolan all had issues (heightened by the media) that caused nothing but problems for the organization. As head coach, there is one day though, that Harbaugh is infamous for, and that is the handshake with Detroit Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz. After last year’s October 16 meeting, the handshake seen round-the-world has also come to be known as “Handshake-gate.”
The game itself was a blockbuster, featuring the still unproven 49ers with only one loss on the road against the undefeated Lions. San Francisco won the match up due to an exciting fourth quarter rally, which set up the moment that will now forever be brought up whenever the two coaches meet for a handshake. After taking two completely different emotional roller-coaster rides in the span of about 2 minutes, two men known for their intensity met in the middle of the field, where Harbaugh’s “aggressive” handshake and pat on the back infuriated Schwartz, who gave chase to bark a few disparaging remarks. Harbaugh, never the one to back down, stood his ground and the two exchanged words before being separated by amused players and security.
Both Harbaugh and the players have tried to shift the focus from last year’s post game scene to the match up this year, which will once again pit two of the NFC’s best against each other, and rightfully so. Any focus or attention on what happened in last year’s contest is a waste of effort for the players and coaches. But there is no denying the popularity the topic was given at the time of “Handshake-gate,” and the incident is still getting talked about in the wake of the impending second meeting.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh, brother of Jim Harbaugh, was asked about the handshake at his press conference this week, in which he made light of the situation and compared it to the famous handshake between Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee at the end of the Civil War. Despite the 49ers best efforts, there is certain to be a lot more questions and comments in the next few days.
Outside of the unwanted attention though, is the fact that it sparked the team, and has had a part to do with the 49ers’ (1-0) recent success. In a way, the handshake served as announcement to the league that the 49ers were relevant again. The players saw their coach with the same fire and desire that they have, and it solidified the bond between the two, ensuring that Harbaugh will always get the most out of each and every player, on every down. No doubt this aided in their recent climb out of the NFC cellar and back into the conversation.
For the team it is a distraction, but at the same time it’s something they should reflect on. This time the tables have turned, and they do not want to be on the other end of that handshake. It’s the 49ers who will be at home and the overwhelming favorite to beat a very talented team. Although both coaches have made up and claim to have moved past it, there is no doubt that if the Lions pull off the win, Schwartz will be looking to exact a bit of revenge, and regardless of who wins the game, it will be the most anticipated post game handshakes in recent memory.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.