This is your litmus test as a 49er fan, and its not one youd planned on taking this soon into the new boys tenure.
But you dont get to pick the missions you take, you take the missions youre given, and this is yours:
Are you okay with Jimmy (Knuckles) Harbaugh, the guy whos spoilin for one, because he doesnt seem ever to lose, or are you more prone to liking the more traditional cool, stylish prototype, the Walsh 380-I?
The answer determines exactly what youre about, and we make no judgments either way. We just show you the facts, and the facts are that this is no coach like youve ever had before. In fact, for you old-timers, this is the antithesis of the coach you grew up with, whether you grew up with Dick Nolan or Bill Walsh.
In fact, there may be only one 49er coach who comes close to Knuckles impolitic but effective approach, and that was Red Hickey in the late 50s and early 60s.
Red, though, was more cornpone than attitude, and his great contribution to global peace and harmony was the shotgun formation, which won them three of their last four games in an otherwise lost season. He talked up the shotgun like it was polio vaccine, and after trading Y.A. Tittle IN 1961, he also came up with the less revered three starting quarterbacks plan in 1961 (John Brodie, Steve Spurrier and Bobby Waters) that got them four wins in the first five games. A revolution was born.
And killed in week 6 when the Chicago Bears readjusted their defense and Hickeys career readjusted him right into a scouting job with the Rams and later the Cowboys by the end of September 1963. He was fun while he lasted, though.
This is Jim Harbaugh today, although his gimmick seems to be a defense that eats human beings and an offense that does just enough, enough times to get the day won.
Oh, and theres that con-mans grin, the one that says, I know it, and you know, but you cant prove what we both know, so I win again. Its Red Hickey for the new generation Im doing this until you stop me, and Im betting you cant.
It worked at San Diego, though nobody was really looking that much at the time and even though it wasnt nearly the moribund operation that Stanford and the 49ers were when he arrived there. It worked at Stanford, and now its working at San Francisco, with the common theme being him putting a stick on his shoulder and daring everyone else to knock it off and shut him up.
And he knows thats the dynamic, and you know it too. You knew it before the Schwartz Moment, and know it is inescapable. Hes all in, and so are you you either stand by your guy and take whats coming, good or bad, or you disavow any knowledge of his actions and pine for the days when George Seifert was cooler than the underside of a trilobite.
Its called connecting with the fan base. Not be amusing it, but by grabbing it by the shirt front and saying, You in or out?
And right now, because he thinks this decision is binding, youre in. You like being 5-1, and you like the league looking at your team with respect and your coach as though he is a hope chest full of damp dynamite, a man who throws a dinner party and serves Molotov cocktails.
But what is likely to happen is that when the adjustment comes, and it always does, some of you are likely to bail not because youre suddenly a little queasy about Knuckles methods, but because youre not getting the instant gratification youve become accustomed to. He made you like Alexander D. Smith in record time, and dont you deny it, but you will dive off his bandwagon the first chance you get, because youre not really true believers in him.
You are in Harbaugh, though, and he will take you through some lofty highs and some depressing lows. Remember Bill Walsh won a Super Bowl, then went 3-6 and 10-6 before nailing down the second Super Bowl, and dont forget that Eddie DeBartolo fired him a good four or five times between hiring him and watching him retire in 1989.
Point? Nothings always perfect. But for now, Knuckles Harbaugh has you as part of the crew, and if you were a little queasy about the Schwartz thing and Harbaughs mischievous did-you-see-me-school-that-guy postgame smile, youre going in anyway, because Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary didnt work for you at all.
Youll adjust. They all do.