Good thing it was a handshake and not a forearm bash, circa 1988.
Jim Schwartz might’ve ended up in intensive care.
To hear him tell it, anyway.
“There’s a protocol in this league,” the Detroit Lions’ coach whined after his club came up on the short end of the scoreboard for the first time this season, a 25-19 decision at the hands of the Niners. “I went to congratulate coach Harbaugh and got shoved out of the way.”
Wait a second. A “slap on the back” is now a “shove out of the way”? Really?
My, my — some folks just don’t wear losing very well.
In his defense, Schwartz hasn’t had to wear a loss all year long, so perhaps he was just out of practice.
It is sure to become the most overanalyzed postgame handshake in modern history — or at least since Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll played dueling “What’s your deal’s” following Stanford’s 55-21 win over USC in 2009. In this one, Harbaugh really put his hips into a wind-up, hard, slap-shake, coupled with the “How the hell are ya!” back-slap when he exchanged pleasantries with Schwartz following his team’s fifth win in six starts.
The only thing missing was the fake gut-punch that two old buddies offer one another when they haven’t seen each other in a while, and if Schwartz was wondering, as Carroll once did, what Harbaugh’s “deal” was, I believe we have the answer.
Harbaugh’s deal is emotion. Unbridled, unrestrained and unapologetic emotion.
And it works.
“That is totally on me,” the 49ers’ first-year coach charitably offered after the game. “I shook his hand too hard. I really went in, and it was a strong, kind of slap-grab handshake.”
It was indeed. And the strong slap-grab handshake touched off a near melee as the over-reacting Schwartz chased Harbaugh down the field to confront him, but if you think Harbaugh regrets any of it, you haven’t been paying attention.
Asked about his overly emotional style, Harbaugh doubled down following the fracas, telling reporters, “It fires me up a lot ... if that offends you or anybody else, then so be it.”
Not to worry, coach. No one who owns a stitch of red or gold clothing is offended.
That would-be fist-pumper wearing blue and silver, on the other hand? The guy whose own passion and energy has been on display after each of his five season-opening victories? Not so much.
Upon further reflection, the fiery Lions coach would probably admit, at least in the privacy of his own office, that he was less upset by Harbaugh’s mirror-image expression of joy and enthusiasm than he was by the play of his previously undefeated team.
Schwartz’s Lions had done enough to limit the resurgent Alex Smith for most of the day, before surrendering the 6-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass to Delanie Walker with less than 2 minutes to play. Even more upsetting to the Lions’ boss had to be the way the Niners’ offensive line handled his boastful defensive front, allowing Frank Gore to gash the Lions for 141 yards on just 15 carries while allowing just two sacks of Smith.
The Niners’ defense, by contrast, got to Matthew Stafford five times, with rookie Aldon Smith dumping the Detroit QB twice.
Harbaugh was hired to rebuild the 49ers, and virtually everyone associated with the franchise believed he would do so. But 5-1 already? Just six games into his rookie season? That’s worth a slap-shake, a back-slap, a high-five and a fist-bump — no matter who you are.
Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.