Plenty of people suffer through longer commutes than San Francisco to Santa Clara. Yet when you aren’t forced to make that drive, it’s pretty easy to makes excuses why the time stuck on 101 or 280 is worth it. As for covering the 49ers, one could just as easily watch the press conferences online and grab the preliminary injury reports off Twitter from the beat writers. Plus, the 49ers public relations staff is nice enough to send transcripts, audio and reports on which players either missed practice or were limited due to injury or illness.
So there are only a few reasons to make the drive down, only to make the even longer drive back during evening rush hour: to ask questions in person, check out locker room interviews that aren’t transcribed, hit up a player for a one-on-one interview, or take photos at the beginning of practice.
But the main reason comes in the form of one man, a figure who makes sure that even the most mundane days become interesting: Jim Harbaugh. Ever since his arrival, the San Francisco 49ers have been one of the most talked about, interesting and unpredictable organizations in the NFL. And unlike a team like the Cowboys, Jets or Browns, they’ve managed to win while consistently providing headline material.
Here’s a list of dramatic occurrences since the 49ers signed Harbaugh, presented in chronological order.
Yeah, it’s been like this from the start. It isn’t often that two teams get into a game of tug-of-war with a head coach, but that’s what happened when Dolphins owner Stephen Ross made then-coach Tony Sparano look like the lamest of ducks with his pursuit of Harbaugh. Michigan, Harbaugh’s alma mater, also showed interest. Luckily for the 49ers, Jed York prevailed.
The 49ers came into the game with a 4-1 record as Harbaugh’s first season was starting off in surprisingly positive fashion, but most people expect the up-and-coming Lions to improve on their 5-0 mark at home. Instead, Alex Smith and the 49ers came back from four points down in the fourth quarter to win 25-19. After the game, Harbaugh (who according to some reports was irked by something Jim Schwartz said to him before the season at a coaching function) gave the Lions head coach a strong backslap that Schwartz didn’t take kindly to. “I shook his hand too hard. I mean I really went in and it was strong and kind of a slap-grab-handshake. … So, that was on me,” Harbaugh said afterward.
After Smith led the 49ers to their first NFC title game in 17 years, Harbaugh wasn’t satisfied (which has been a theme throughout his coaching career). He and Greg Roman traveled across the country to watch Manning throw at Duke, and were one of the last three teams in the running for Manning’s services, along with the Titans and Broncos. Harbaugh’s explanation/denial: “It’s phony, even the perception we were pursuing him. … We were evaluating him.”
4. Harbaugh responds to Jim Trotter
The 49ers beat Seattle 13-6 in Week 7 of the 2012 season. Trotter, an NFL reporter for Sports Illustrated, suggested that the 49ers’ conservative play-calling in that game showed how little confidence the team had in Smith. Harbaugh had this response:
H: I think it’s just a lot of gobble, gobble, turkey, you know?
Q: What is gobble, gobble turkey?
H: Just gobble, gobble, gobble turkey from jive turkey gobblers. I think that paints a pretty good picture.
This health scare has largely been forgotten, but Harbaugh had a cardiovert to deal with an irregular heartbeat two days before Colin Kaepernick made his first career start against the Bears. He only missed one practice (and was as active as ever before the team’s next game, throwing and catching passes like always).
It was the most controversial midseason quarterback switch in the last decade, maybe longer. “It sucks,” said Smith, who believed his only crime was being honest about the concussion symptoms he faced after a vicious hit in a game against the Rams. Harbaugh liked what he saw in Kaepernick, and after the pursuit of Manning several months earlier it was clear that Harbaugh’s eyes would wander constantly as long as Smith was the starter.
49ers fans have been calling them the “Seadderall Seahawks” for a while now, and Harbaugh added fuel to the fire with his comments during minicamp. The remark that bothered the Seahawks and their fans the most: “You always want to be above reproach.”
“If you’re going to go to the face, come with some knuckles, not an open slap.” In a related story, Packers fans hate Harbaugh with almost the same intensity shown by Seahawks fans.
The 49ers played one of their worst games of the season against Indianapolis, but the most surprising thing was that Smith, who many thought would play sparingly, was on the field for every defensive snap. It’s unknown how others within the organization like Trent Baalke and Jed York assumed Smith would be used, but how the situation played out opened everyone up for criticism, including the 49ers head coach.
Pretty sure we’re all familiar with what has been going on. PFT broke their version of the events, Browns owner Jimmy Haslem said there was an “opportunity” to acquire Harbaugh, York said Florio’s report wasn’t true and later issued a more nuanced denial on MMQB.
So there’s 10 morsels of drama, and I didn’t even include anything about Brandon Jacobs, Harbaugh’s sideline demeanor or Judge Judy. Harbaugh doesn’t seem like a person who has crazy stuff happen to him due to happenstance. He hates the word “comfortable,” strives to push everyone (including himself) to the brink on a daily basis, and seems to invite chaos. This quote Tim Kawakami tweeted while I was working on this post yesterday sums it up pretty well:
Best NFL exec quote I’ve heard: “Can Harbaugh work in a dysfunctional situation? You know, I think that’s when he’s the most effective.”
— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) February 24, 2014