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Harbaugh finds new ways to motivate unbeaten 49ers

  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith celebrates at the end of a win over the Detroit Lions during an NFL football game in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. San Francisco won 27-19. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

SANTA CLARA — Jim Harbaugh considers Muhammad Ali the most competitive athlete of all time — in anything.

Harbaugh got so giddy hearing father Jack's stories of recently spending a Ravens practice alongside Ali in Baltimore, San Francisco's coach shared it all with his players at the first possible chance.

That was last Tuesday, when the team returned to work following a season-opening victory at Green Bay. Five days later, the 49ers (2-0) dominated the Detroit Lions in Sunday night's 27-19 victory that showed this team is among the NFL's best on both sides of the ball and special teams with so many different ways it can win.

"One that Muhammad's wife told my dad is when he was young and training he had to take the bus to school every day, 2 1/2 miles with the other kids," Harbaugh said. "Rain, sleet, snow, humidity of the Louisville springs and falls, Muhammad would walk to the bus stop and all the kids would get on the bus and Muhammad would run and follow the bus to school every single day. Everybody thought he was crazy."

Harbaugh, the reigning NFL coach of the year, clearly is finding different ways to motivate in his second season. Though that didn't keep him from throwing in the old standby of "Who's got it better than us? Nobody!" reference Monday when asked about his former Stanford team beating Southern California yet again over the weekend.

Now that Ali visited his big brother, John, back East, Harbaugh figures it's time for the boxing icon to come see the 49ers.

And why not baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays, too?

"We've been working (to make it happen)," Harbaugh said. "Grew up with a lot of Muhammad Ali stories. We all think in the Harbaugh family that Muhammad Ali is the greatest sports competitor this world's ever known."

Perhaps when Jack Harbaugh is in the Bay Area three weeks from now following back-to-back road games at Minnesota and the New York Jets and a week in Youngstown, Ohio, just like last year to keep his players' body clocks properly adjusted without adding two extra flights to the challenge.

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