Harbaugh-Payton tension is tangible

January 12, 2012, 7:39 pm
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In the summer, people thought New Orleans coach Sean Payton dialed up a bunch of blitz packages for the exhibition game with the 49ers because he had an unpleasant experience with Jim Harbaugh.

Then Payton said that didnt happen at all, that he always does that to get the packages down right. And that he doesnt have a problem with Harbaugh.

Well, let us suggest a third path. That the first two things are equally true -- that he didnt deliberately blitz Alex Smith into a thin gray paste, and that he isnt a big Harbaugh fan.

And one more thing: That it doesnt really matter either way.

Sean Payton and Jim Harbaugh are the same guy -- a football coach with an unshakeable belief in his role as the smartest guy in the room. They are not easy to get along with, either as superiors or subordinates, but they deliver a better quality of groceries than most others, so they get a pass.

Except with each other. Coaches are alpha males, and they like each other in the same heart-touching way that firemen enjoy arsonists.

So lets say that Payton and Harbaugh are not chums, or even close to it. Lets even say that if people didnt complain so much about HandshakeGate in Detroit, theyd probably just flip each other off after the game.

In fact all coaches would do that, because all football coaches divide the world into two circles -- people who can help them succeed, and Communists.

So thats a given. And now we can move on to what matters -- the players on the field and how they perform. Or we can continue to fetishize the coaches and their personalities.

We are fascinated with coaches for two reasons for winning a lot, and for losing. And losing is defined by not winning a lot.

But in an ideal world, if you could strap coaches to chairs before a game and give them a drug to remove their inhibitions, they really would try to beat the hell out of each other with whatever iron-based object they could reach -- and thats either Vince Lombardi and Tony Dungy, or Mike Ditka and Todd Haley.

So yes, we can report with great confidence that Sean Payton and Jim Harbaugh do not care for each other, and if they could, they would cheat ferociously to subdue each other. And that is true for the other 30 coaches as well.

So what we have here is no big deal; at best, a mild sidebar to kill time before kickoff. Their true value for purposes of our entertainment is as technicians and motivators for their players, and their secondary value is as self-salesmen (to the extent that they bother) to the outside world. Most notably the people who pay them. And you don't care whether they're friendly, correct or sworn enemies. You really don't.

So Sean Payton and Jim Harbaugh probably didnt expend a lot of extra energy on their exhibition schedules. They know that nobody gets paid off in August. If it helped get their teams ready, fine. If it didnt, it was wasted energy.

And as for Sean Payton and Jim Harbaugh as pals and compatriots in the joint venture that is the National Football League? Well, lets just say that any photo of them sharing beers will either be doctored or staged. Theyre good with that. And so should we all be.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.