When it comes to Harbaugh, you're in or you're out


When it comes to Harbaugh, you're in or you're out

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.

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun


A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.