ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Revenge of the Handshake, call it what you want.
The hype is already starting for the prime-time showdown Sunday between the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers because it’s a rematch between two fiery coaches who nearly got into a fight on the field.
The last time they met, Week 6 last season, the 49ers rallied in the final two minutes for a 25-19 victory in Detroit. What happened next will be shown on replays repeatedly between now and kickoff.
It was a postgame handshake that went bad.
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, a former University of Michigan quarterback, was so giddy about the comeback victory that he actually pounded Lions coach Jim Schwartz on the back during their awkward exchange after the game.
Schwartz took exception and chased down Harbaugh, leading to an altercation between the teams that could have gotten really ugly if cooler heads didn’t prevail.
Schwartz tried to downplay the whole controversy during his weekly Monday news conference. He did, however, confirm that he and Harbaugh have talked since the incident.
“Oh, sure, I’ve seen him a bunch of times since,” Schwartz said. “There’s a bunch of NFL things that go on after the season.”
And how did those handshakes go?
“Without incident,” Schwartz said.
Asked if there were any apologies delivered, Schwartz answered: “I’m not going to go into what we talked about. We’re making too big a deal about it already.”
Harbaugh was also pressed on the topic during his news conference in the Bay Area.
“Our approach with the mini-controversies are really to give them the attention that they deserve, which isn’t much,” he said. “Now, people that will use that to promote this game or any other game, I think are really missing the point.
“The game is just so much bigger. As a rule of thumb, I have too much respect for the men who play this game, on both sides. And too much respect for the game to give it anything less than what it deserves.”
Reporters tried a few more times to get Harbaugh to discuss the subject in more detail, but he wouldn’t budge.
Privately, Schwartz probably hasn’t forgotten about it, won’t forget about it and would love to beat Harbaugh badly. Schwartz wouldn’t be the competitive coach that he is if that weren’t the case.
Publicly, though, he would like it to die down so he doesn’t have to answer any more questions.
“That’s long in the past,” Schwartz said. “It just seems so long ago that that occurred. When two teams take the field, that’s not going to be on one player’s mind.”
Maybe, maybe not.
For at least one Lions player, the game Sunday at Candlestick Park in San Francisco is viewed as a definite chance for revenge, partly because of the coaching confrontation.
Starting cornerback Chris Houston, who is hoping to return to the lineup after missing the opener because of an ankle injury, called it a “Week 2 statement game” for the two NFC rivals. Both teams are 1-0 and considered possible Super Bowl contenders.
“I think that was our first loss (after a 5-0 start), just the fight the coaches got (into),” Houston said, recalling the events of Oct. 16. “We definitely got our coach’s back. We want to go in there and try to pay them back for last year.
“I know their head coach is going to have them pumped up. Schwartz, he ain’t going to do too much talking. We’re just going to go to work. May the best man win.”
Some of Houston’s teammates know the handshake hype is coming, and they’re not as interested in getting involved in the issue. To them, it’s much ado about nothing.
Or so they say.
“People love drama,” linebacker Justin Durant said. “Drama always sells. The two teams just have to go out there and play. It’s not a fight for the two coaches.”
Added defensive end Cliff Avril: “Y’all are going to hype it up more than what it is. At least in my book, there’s no revenge-type thing going on.”
Still, there has to be some curiosity, even for the players, about the next Schwartz-Harbaugh meeting at midfield, doesn’t there? They’re going to have to stop and take a peak, too, right?
“Everybody’s going to be looking for it; nothing’s going to be there,” Lions safety Erik Coleman said.
Added Durant: “I’ve got bigger problems, like (running back) Frank Gore and (tight end) Vernon Davis, to worry about.”
For everyone else, the anticipation for Sunday and all the crazy hype that goes with it is likely to continue throughout the week. It will be billed as Schwartz vs. Harbaugh, Round 2.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Schwartz said of the focus on the two coaches. “The NFL is a very scrutinized thing. There’s something to the scrutiny in this league. I mean, it comes with it.”
That’s why football fans will be watching utnil the very end Sunday, regardless of the score and even though deep down they know it’s probably going to be the most built-up, uneventful handshake in the history of mankind.
Schwartz said rookie cornerback Bill Bentley is making progress after leaving Sunday’s game with a concussion in the fourth quarter.
Whether Bentley will be cleared to play against the 49ers is another matter.
“He has to pass a protocol to be back, and that’s an objective thing.” Schwartz said. “That’s not a subjective, ‘Well, we think he’s doing fine.’
“He has some hurdles that he needs to cross, but we’re optimistic.”