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Lowell Cohn: Harbaugh's time of triumph


GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Welcome to Jim Harbaugh Unchained. Grab onto his shirt and hang on for the ride.

Harbaugh strides into the postgame interview room, his 49ers having beaten, out-toughed the tough Green Bay Packers in their place in the face-burning cold. So, Harbaugh, strides into the room and vaults onto the stage. He grins. Perfect teeth. Good genes or great orthodontist. He gets going, goes on a verbal run, a downhill run goal line to goal line. A burst.

"You didn't think we were going to pull it out, did you?" His burst is rapid fire. He's laughing. This is the laughing Harbaugh. There are so many different Harbaughs. This one is the nicest -#8212; Mr. Joy.

"This is not our first time," he says. He laughs. He can't stop laughing. You think he will get the giggles and the teacher will throw him out of the class. "We've got a lot of tough guys and they generate a lot of toughness."

He comes down hard on toughness, articulates both syllables: Tough. Ness. "And clutch. Clutch performances. Crabtree. (He omits some first names. He's entitled. You know who they are.) Kaepernick. T. Brock. Lotta guys. Bowman. Willis. Vernon Davis. Frank Gore. Offensive line. Great protection all day."

He inhales. Needs to inhale. Someone asks a question. Were Colin Kaepernick's runs called? Kaepernick ran seven times for 98 yards, just murdered the Packers. Unbelievable performance.

Harbaugh is at ready alert at the word Kaepernick. "There wasn't a whole lot called out there today (i.e. penalties). Our receivers were getting grabbed. I think Colin saw that. Took matters into his own hands. He was around the edge a couple of times so fast. (Harbaugh is speaking faster now.) Fifteen, 20 yards. If it was a yard, it was 20. It was unbelievable the way he was getting the edge. Just clutch. Colin Kaepernick is, I think, we could all agree a clutch performer. It's not his first time doing this."

It sure isn't. The 49ers won their previous two games at the end. They are relentless. They wait till the end for checkmate. Last week against the Cardinals, they won 23-20, same score as the Packers score, won on a field goal at the end. Sound familiar? Before that they beat the Falcons at the end on the Navorro Bowman pick.

Checkmate.

Checkmate is what the Niners do.

Back to the postgame news conference. I ask Harbaugh to explain how Kaepernick is clutch? The Harbaugh eyes widen like he just drank a tub of coffee, Peet's French Roast. He says, "Someone that answers in the clutch time of the game on the important down at the time when it matters most. That's what I'd call clutch. He's Kaepernick tough."

Which means Harbaugh has introduced a new compound adjective -#8212; "Kaepernick tough." It is tougher than the normal tough. It is more durable than Superman. It's a bird. It's a plane. It's Kaepernick!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Harbaugh keeps going. The Niners public relations guy is trying to cut him off, but Harbaugh doesn't hear. He's in another world. He's in Victory World. He's talking about Kaepernick, the runner:

"The unique part is just how much ground he covers with the strides. Just how fast he gets an edge. Just how much ground he covers when he steps up into the pocket. They go quick -#8212; 5, 10, 20. It's happening pretty fast. I think that's unique. I've never seen that before. The play that Colin, if he'd have thrown it, would have been batted down, but he pulled it back and then scrambled for the first down. That's just clutch. Tough. Great."

Harbaugh in love.

He's in love even though once Kaepernick made a mistake. The 49ers had to call timeout on the very first play of the second half because Kaepernick forgot his wristband, the band that contains the plays. Even Superman had his Kryptonite.

It's a minor point. An interesting point.

Let's leave Harbaugh, at least for a moment -#8212; leave him wandering around the hallway outside the visitor's locker room high-fiving even people he doesn't know. And let's say this.

Aaron Rodgers. Remember him? Great quarterback. Flat-out great. And he kept the Packers in the game. Made two heroic throws almost getting sacked. But he didn't win the game.

Kaepernick won the game. Kaepernick outplayed Rodgers.

Early in the fourth quarter, Rodgers led the Packers to a TD -#8212; Green Bay ahead 17-13. Welcome to the Danger Zone, 49ers. What did Kaepernick do? He led a TD drive of his own. Get this. It was a four-play drive that took a minute and a half. Fast. Dazzling. The crown jewel of the drive was Kaepernick's 24-yard run. Well, he also threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis to end the drive.

What happened next? The Packers scored a field goal. All credit to Rodgers. It's just that he got the Packers to the Niners' 6 and couldn't get in the end zone.

Big mistake.

Why?

Because checkmate loomed. (You chess players, can checkmate loom?)

Kaepernick began the Niners' final possession at their 20 and carefully -#8212; relentlessly -#8212; moved down the field. You could feel the Green Bay doom. At the end -#8212; to set up the winning field goal -#8212; it was Frank Gore running four times in a row. Fitting. Tough guy tearing the heart out of the Packers.

Afterward, Joe Staley spoke about winning close, winning hard. Spoke about it in the happy tumult of the locker room: "It's what we did last week against Arizona. It had the same feel. We come through at the end. We might make it tough on ourselves sometimes by not scoring early. When the game's on the line, we usually come through. Obviously, you want to score 60 points and win by 50. That's easy. It's more fun to do that. It's kind of stressful (winning at the end). The main thing is just winning."

That is the worldly summation of an offensive lineman -#8212; offensive linemen are the most normal of all the players.

But come on, you want to hear Harbaugh one more time, right? This is Harbaugh on Crabtree. Let the words ring out. Let them explode in your heads.

"The greatest catcher of all time. Michael Crabtree. Catches everything. It's unbelievable. In the Northern Snow Lands, in the tropics -#8212; sunny scenes -#8212; he's catching the football. When you throw a football, he'll be catching it. If my life depended on it and if someone had to catch a ball, it would be Crabtree."

Thus spake Jim Harbaugh after the playoff win. Harbaugh Unchained.

<I>For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.</I>