The Handshake Heard Round the World

You’re 5-1 for the first time in roughly a decade. That doesn’t give you the right at the final gun to go romping across the field, slapping the opposing coach on the back, barely shake his hand, while screaming obscenities like a banshee. Do myself, the rest of the NFL and its fans a favor in the future: Act like you’ve been there before. You tell your team not to take stupid penalties by taunting or taking their helmet off, or other things that usually draw the ire of the officials and the Commish.

The San Francisco 49ers did something Sunday that no team up to that point had been able to do and that was beat the Detroit Lions. They didn’t just put more points on the scoreboard either. The 49ers really had their way in this game controlling the ball on offense (who knew anyone would run for 100 yards on that D let alone 200+ as they did?) and their defense got enough shots on Matt Stafford that he never seemed comfortable in this game. Both teams are 5-1 and could very well meet in the playoffs if they keep this play up. Why act like a complete ass after that performance? Jim Harbaugh took away from the best performance his team has had on the field, and yes, that includes clocking Tampa 48-3 the previous week. This game was on the road in a difficult early game after flying east. Let your players have their moment of satisfaction. Save the crazy antics for the locker room.

This wasn’t the Super Bowl. Yes, the stadium has hosted it, but just because you beat one of the remaining undefeated teams remaining in the league, doesn’t justify acting like you just won the Holy Grail of the sport. If you want to act like a fool, that’s fine. Players, coaches, staff, they all have fun, but not on national television. Go to the locker room and do whatever you want there. We don’t have to see it. We don’t WANT to see it. It should be a private moment shared between players and coach. The coaches have responsibilities that far exceed those of their players.

These men are the leaders of their respective teams. They’re the, supposed, voices of authority on the practice field, in meetings, pre-game, during the game, and after it. The coaches of the NFL are out in front more than probably any of the four major sports. They decide plays, personnel, whether or not to go for it on 4th down. The cameras airing the game are in their grills constantly. We rarely see and hear from the players during the week, but the coaches are addressing the media daily after practice. Is it too much to ask that they act professional even if they don’t like or respect one another. At least show us a little decorum. You can go to your locker room and trash the other guy all you want. It’s out of the public eye.

I am not taking all blame away from Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. His actions to turn back and yell at Harbaugh for his slap and, from all reports the obscenity yelled were justified. Waiting and then running over half the field to confront him was not. The confrontation required several players from both teams as well as team personnel to break up were not. Some will argue that not confronting Harbaugh would mean a lack of respect in the locker room. I say the opposite is true. Schwartz was also telling, and successfully, for them not to do anything which would cause them to beat themselves in the game. Chasing him lowered him, on that point alone, to Harbaugh’s level. Let me be straight: Harbaugh alone was the instigator in this. He is the one sole reason why the coaches are receiving more press than the game of the week from a standings perspective.

I understand that Harbaugh comes from the ranks of college coaches. His players have bought into the fire and passion he brings to work each and every day. It’s why a team that went 6-10 a year ago with virtually the same roster is today sitting at 5-1. He has gotten to the players in a way that the two previous coaches could not. Hell, anyone that can get Alex Smith playing like he actually knows what he’s doing out there should be the front runner for Coach of the Year and Sainthood. It’s a miracle. At the same time, that fire and passion need to be laser-like in its focus. That, for the most part, has occurred in San Francisco. Harbaugh blew it Sunday. If players are going to be held accountable for their actions at both the team and the league level, he should be made to pay for Sunday.

The NFL has already set the precedent. It fines players for the smallest misstep of its, in my opinion, moronic rules on things like what cleats or gloves they wear or celebrating touchdowns. If those petty issues are worth $10,000 a piece, there’s no way that nearly brawling in the end zone of Ford Field isn’t worth at least that much, if not more for Harbaugh for starting it. If this were Frank Gore and Calvin Johnson going at it, we’d be talking at least $25,000 and maybe both missing their next games. The league, in its infinite wisdom, has chosen not to fine either of them. In so doing, it has implicitly condoned their actions. Players must act professional and can’t enjoy the game they’ve played and loved since they were children, but their head coaches can act like assholes. Makes perfect sense to me.

Don’t think the players haven’t noticed the double standard.


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