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Cohn: Harbaugh gets in touch with his inner child


SANTA CLARA

My working hypothesis is that Jim Harbaugh is 11 years old. Sure, he's been on Earth almost half a century, but deep inside he is 11.

This is no putdown of Harbaugh. I am extremely fond of 11-year-olds. I myself reached my peak at 11 and it's been downhill ever since.

On Monday, Harbaugh held his season wrap-up news conference and it was revealing in ways Harbaugh probably doesn't understand. Near the end of the session, the Chronicle's Eric Branch, who used to work for The Press Democrat, asked an easy-to-answer human-interest question.

"How did you spend your time after the game? What did you do last night?"

Harbaugh shot Branch a look as if Branch had asked about Harbaugh's sex life. Harbaugh giggled nervously.

"I was a ..." He giggled again. "Is this California?" he demanded. "Where everybody just wants to know how you feel, what you thought, how you did, how your pinky feels?"

The pinky reference was a direct shot at me. I was the pinky asker. Harbaugh stood there, his jaw rigid.

"You're part Californian," I reminded him.

Harbaugh still didn't answer.

"We want to hear an answer to the question," I told Harbaugh.

"You demand an answer to the question?" he said.

I imagined the prepubescent buzz in the voice of an 11-year-old as he blew off his mommy.

"You're not the boss of me. I don't have to tell you if I don't want to."

"I'm requesting," I said. "I would never demand from you. Share with us what you did last night if you feel comfortable doing it."

"I don't. I don't feel comfortable."

"Is that a California thing?" I asked.

"It's a Midwestern thing," he said proudly. And with that, he exited the room and the season, stage left.

For a Midwesterner, he owes a lot to California. He attended Palo Alto High School, was an assistant at the Raiders and head coach at the University of San Diego and Stanford. Now he represents one of the proudest sports franchises in the state. He walks among us but he isn't one of us. Maybe he has contempt for what we are.

Harbaugh is more California than I am — unless you consider Brooklyn the eastern end of California. Branch and I were giving Harbaugh a chance to show his human side. And he showed it. He really did.

In Harbaugh's human side, a real man does no introspection. Nothing good comes from introspection or feeling your feelings. Looking into yourself is the essence of California and that means being touchy-feely and not manly like him. For him, California must mean finesse and chardonnay and watching films with subtitles.

We learned more about Harbaugh's human side from earlier moments in the news conference. One writer asked what he learned from the season, a dangerous question which might lead to, hold onto your hats, introspection.

"I thought, &‘We're a well-coached team,'" Harbaugh said.

Note: My mother always told me, "Don't blow your own horn, son."

Praise for Harbaugh is not for Harbaugh to give, unless you remember he's 11. I believe he also was suggesting, "We coached well enough to win."

He continued. "(The game) didn't have the ending we wanted. The football gods had a different ending in mind."

Oh, he got screwed by the football gods. Now, Harbaugh was going all metaphysical on us. Forget that the New York Giants were on the field and "the football gods" weren't.

Asked if he needs an upgrade at wide receiver — he needs several upgrades — Harbaugh said, "I'm not going to turn this press conference into a personnel meeting." (In other words, "I don't have to tell you if I don't want to.")

Asked what he knows about coaching that he didn't know before the season, he said, "I don't have that list in front of me."

On Vernon Davis' penalty for standing on a platform and posing after he caught a TD pass: "I was disappointed in the call that that was a penalty. To me, that was no different than Lambeau Field where they leap up into the stands. I was disappointed in that call in this type of game."

I'll get back to that one in a moment.

The conversation swung around to Ahmad Bradshaw's apparent fumble, which the Niners recovered, except it wasn't ruled a fumble.

Harbaugh: "My opinion — that was a fumble. I'm sure the league will defend it and the officials will defend it. But to me, the play was continuing. I felt like it was a fumble, felt like it was analogous with the Tuck Rule."

Invoking the Tuck Rule was the living end. The notorious Tuck Rule and what it did to the Raiders against New England 10 years ago continues to be an outrage in the NFL. It is perceived as one of the greatest injustices any team had to endure. The ruling on

Bradshaw does not exist at that level and it certainly did not affect the outcome of the game as the Tuck Rule did.

Let's use Harbaugh's invocation of the Tuck Rule as a way to summarize his post-playoffs world view. Harbaugh always has perceived his Niners living in an us-against-them world.

The "them" has grown. Now it includes the league and the officials. They are against the Niners and favor the Packers. Even the football gods are among "them."

And nothing about the loss to the Giants was Harbaugh's fault. He and his coaches did just fine.

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.