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SANTA CLARA -- I compare Jim Harbaugh to Bill Walsh. The comparison is inevitable. I watch Harbaugh work in training camp and I think of Walsh. I compare them.

On Sunday, Harbaugh participated in a special teams exercise. He did not supervise the work. He participated, as if he still were a player. Holding a red foam pad, he crouched in front of a player and the player ran around Harbaugh and the red pad. So did another player and another player, etc.

You wonder if this pad holding was good use of the head coach's time. A teenager could have held the pad just as well. Or better yet, Harbaugh could have told Eric Mangini to hold the pad considering Mangini began his NFL career as a ball boy and gofer and has valuable pad-holding experience. You might even say Mangini has a pedigree in this particular enterprise.

I am not knocking Harbaugh for being an involved, hands-on — or pad-on — head coach. I merely am comparing his style to Walsh's style, a distant, godlike style.

I never saw Walsh hold the red pad. I never saw Walsh participate in a special teams drill. I never saw Walsh participate in any drill. Walsh stood at the edge of the action. He stood alone. He almost never spoke to players, unless the players were named Montana or Young. He watched. He watched silently.

If he was displeased — he often was displeased — he addressed his position coaches. He often yelled at them. "Is that the best you can do, Coach?" "Speed up the tempo, Coach."

You could hear the irritation in his voice, the judgment. He embarrassed his coaches in front of the players. He wanted the players to feel guilt for letting down a position coach and then they would try harder. He wanted the players to bond with the position coach even if the bonding occurred in opposition to Walsh. The bonding meant the team would play better.

I am not saying Walsh's method was better than Harbaugh's. Walsh's method could be cruel, and Harbaugh holding a pad is not cruel. Harbaugh is one of the guys. He feels comfortable being one of the guys and he needs to be one of the guys. He runs around the field yelling "Hup, hup" like he's calling signals in a game.

Walsh never ran around yelling hup hup and never was one of the guys, no matter who the guys were, football or otherwise. He was a loner and an odd duck in the way great thinkers are loners and odd ducks. And he suffered for it.

The 49ers players appreciate that Harbaugh is hands on, doesn't exist in an ivory tower. You sometimes felt Walsh's ivory tower. You almost could see it.

The players like that, after every play in training camp, Harbaugh shouts out "left hash" or "right hash" indicating the hash mark for the next play. An intern could yell the hash mark, saving Harbaugh wear and tear on his vocal cords. But Harbaugh likes to yell it.

Before every offensive play in training camp, Harbaugh ducks into the huddle with Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore and Vernon Davis and the rest. The circle closes and they bend their heads. Harbaugh is one of the guys.

In the huddle, Harbaugh gives the play to the quarterback, actually says the play. It's like Harbaugh is the quarterback, has traveled through a time tunnel and is wearing a helmet and is a player.

It is interesting and endearing to see Harbaugh in his sweatshirt and khakis break the huddle with the young men, but you wonder if offensive coordinator Greg Roman should be calling the plays in the huddle considering he calls the plays in games. But Harbaugh's method must work because he is a very good coach and the 49ers are a very good team.

I never saw Walsh duck into the huddle, but that was long ago and my memory may be wrong. You could argue Walsh's method was better than Harbaugh's. You could argue Walsh won three Super Bowls and never lost any, and Harbaugh hasn't won a Super Bowl.

If you employed that last argument about winning and losing Super Bowls in comparing Harbaugh and Walsh, you would be wrong.

A strange and utterly fantastic phenomenon took hold of the 49ers leading up to training camp. Everyone acts like they won the Super Bowl over the Ravens. If you dropped in from Mars in March, you would have thought the 49ers were the champs.

Forget that Kaepernick could not get the 49ers into the end zone in four plays with the game on the line. Lots of people say he should have got them in, almost got them in, would have got them in nine times out of 10, and it was a pure fluke he didn't. It's like he gets credit for engineering the game-winning touchdown drive.

He has emerged as a superstar, a hero. At the recent ESPYS he got named breakout athlete of the year over Mike Trout, Russell Wilson, Yasiel Puig and Johnny Manziel.

Many experts, so impressed by the Niners, are picking them to win the next Super Bowl, although the Super Bowl loser hasn't come back to win the next Super Bowl since Miami lost to Dallas in 1972 and beat Washington in 1973.

But, you see, the Niners did not lose the last Super Bowl. The 49ers are the first team in NFL history that did not win the Super Bowl but won it, anyway.

Bill Walsh never achieved that.