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Lowell Cohn: Jim Harbaugh has turned tough guys into winners

  • San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh gets ready to blow the whistle as the team warms up prior to an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

SANTA CLARA - I'm going to quote Jim Harbaugh at length. I hope you find these quotes interesting and revealing. They come from the weekly Monday news conference, Harbaugh looking back at the season, Harbaugh looking forward to next Sunday in Green Bay. Playoff time.

Someone asked about rookie wide receiver Quinton Patton who had a good game in Arizona:

Harbaugh: "He made two really good catches, both highly contested. On Anquan's (Boldin) long run that set up a touchdown in the first quarter, Quinton had a wonderful block, came from the opposite side of the field and really sprang Anquan for the big yardage. I like the way he competed, like the way he came through, like the way he made the tough catch. I always liked that about him. I really think he's a competitor, competing for balls, competing to get in position to make a block, competing when he's running with the football."

Key phrases and words from this monologue, a monologue that came from Harbaugh's heart: highly contested, wonderful block, competed, tough catch, competing, competing, competing.

Here's more Harbaugh, Harbaugh on the nature of his team:

"I like our team very much in the regard that they're a very competitive group. They're fiery competitors that every single week they bring that competitiveness and that desire to win and the desire to prepare to win, put themselves in the best position possible. On Sundays, they fight and they're prepared to do it for the entire game. And what more can you ask as a coach? It's a professional group, a competitive group and a group that fights. They've been doing what they need to do when they need to do it."

Key phrases and words from this monologue, a monologue that came from Harbaugh's heart: competitive, fiery, desire to win, entire game, fights.

Let's do some textual analysis. Let's pretend we're budding literary critics analyzing a text in an English class — an honors seminar — the professor tough, serious, interesting. Let's be that class and let's ask what Harbaugh values in a player and a team. Good place to start.

He wants — values, admires, needs — players who compete until the bitter end. He has those players, and that's why, in the past two weeks, he beat Atlanta and Arizona at the bitter end. No one competes harder or longer or more seriously than these 49ers. He wants receivers who block, receivers not afraid to venture over the middle, who love to go over the middle. He does not particularly want sleek, fast, elegant receivers. The Greyhound Crew. He wants receivers who go body to body with cornerbacks.

He wants a team that fights. Fighting takes place in infinite ways and "fighting" implies a state of mind, a Niners' state of mind, something like: "I will almost die on the field trying to win. Are you (name the team) prepared to go there with me?"


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