ON FOOTBALL: Focus on the game, not handshake
In celebration of a huge, perhaps season-defining win, Jim Harbaugh delivers a roundhouse handshake and backslap of Jim Schwartz. A scrum breaks out, with coaches and players involved.
That is the lasting image of Sunday's game, in which Harbaugh's 49ers went into Ford Field and edged Schwartz's previously undefeated Lions. Coaches' postgame meetings on the field rarely grab the spotlight - and certainly shouldn't. Not even this one.
It has because, as the traditional handshake goes, this was contentious and physical, though that hardly seemed Harbaugh's intent. And because those meetings always are shown by the TV cameras, when one of them isn't tame and imminently forgettable, it causes a frenzy.
In recent years, there were the Bill Belichick-Eric Mangini ''Do I really have to do this?'' deals, which, to his credit, Mangini turned into a running gag.
Or Todd Haley's snub of then-Broncos coach Josh McDaniels after Haley's Chiefs lost 49-29 in Denver last year. Haley apologized the next day and when they next faced off, KC winning 10-6, McDaniels got a postgame hug and a pat on the head from Haley.
Just as notable was Belichick's behavior following the 17-14 loss to the Giants in the 2008 Super Bowl. With the clock stopped and 1 second remaining, Belichick headed onto the field to meet New York coach Tom Coughlin even before Eli Manning could take a knee to officially end the game. Belichick looked like a bad sport, particularly because he once worked on the same staff with Coughlin, considered one of the classiest coaches in the league.
Schwartz was upset by Harbaugh's lack of protocol. The Lions coach also might have been peeved that earlier in the game, Harbaugh, a first-year NFL coach, didn't know a particular play couldn't be challenged; some thought Schwartz yelled out to the 49ers' sideline about learning the rules.
Harbaugh was involved in similar incidents at the college level, most notably in an exchange with Pete Carroll when Harbaugh was coaching Stanford and went for a 2-point conversion late in a rout of Carroll and Southern California.
Regardless, there is a procedure to follow, win or lose - although neither coach is being fined.
''Fortunately, there was no fighting and thus no basis for a fine,'' a league spokesman said. ''However, both coaches told (NFL executive VP) Ray Anderson today that their post-game conduct was wrong and will not happen again. We believe their response is the correct one and that their postgame conduct going forward will be more appropriate.''
Tony Dungy would like to see that happen.
''You go shake the other coach's hand, you congratulate them, show the sportsmanship. It is something expected,'' former Colts coach Tony Dungy told The Associated Press. ''I remember in 1981, Chuck Noll and Sam Wyche didn't shake hands after a game and you would have thought the world came to an end. It has just become the thing you do. Walk across field no matter how the game ended up, whether you are personal friends or not, and you shake hands.''
Dungy mentioned Sunday night on NBC's ''Football Night in America'' that he couldn't understand why Schwartz would chase Harbaugh toward the tunnel.
''What happened was very surprising to me and not the example you want to set,'' Dungy said. ''I was in a security line today at the airport and a fan said he was glad we talked about it on the show, so he could teach his boys what is sportsmanship and the proper way to do things.
''It surely did take away from (the win). You do keep your poise and you do congratulate the other team.''
Mangini and many other coaches on the pro and college levels believe the handshake is necessary - in great part for the reasons Dungy cites. The ceremony never is comfortable for the loser, but it's a whole lot less comfortable for, say, the team just beaten in the Stanley Cup playoffs that then lines up, player by player and coach by coach, for a long line of handshakes with the victorious opponent.
''I think there's a lot of truth to that, the elements of sportsmanship are why maintaining the handshake is important,'' said Mangini, now an analyst for ESPN. ''We ask our kids to congratulate the other team and I think that is a good policy. It's easy to be disappointed with a loss and the ability to show sportsmanship is difficult; it's really easy to be gracious when you win, the talent is to be gracious when you incredibly disappointed.''
Mangini sees another element to what happened at Ford Field. Coaches constantly preach to players about showing self-control and not to display their frustration, especially when it can lead to game-changing penalties. When something happens like the confrontation between Harbaugh and Schwartz, it makes it harder for coaches to insist on such discipline when they violate their own instructions.
Texas Longhorns coach Mack Brown isn't so sure the handshake is a tradition worth keeping.
''I don't think it should be a requirement for two (coaches) that don't have respect for each other or like each other,'' Brown said. ''Players usually handle it much better than the coaches.''
Indeed, players from both teams often form prayer circles following a game, and their greetings to each other seem more genuine.
Some 49ers not only had no problem with the postgame hubbub, they were inspired by it.
''It was something you don't see every game,'' 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. ''As for how that kind of went down, as a player I was pumped up about it. His whole demeanor kind of rubs off (on) the players. We get to see firsthand how competitive he is and how much emotion he shows.''
So did the rest of the nation at the end of a signature win. It was not pretty on either side.
AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley in San Francisco, Teresa M. Walker in Nashville and Dave Skretta in Kansas City contributed to this story.
Barry Wilner can be reached at http://twitter.com/wilner88