Who needs the Bard when we have the San Francisco 49ers? Talk about your drama.
From quarterback Colin “I’m not the baby daddy” Kaepernick to defensive end Ray McDonald, arrested but not yet charged with the abuse of his pregnant fiancée, the stories are endless if not always entertaining.
The latest narrative centers on teensy-bit-excitable Coach Jim Harbaugh, who may or may not be steering the team next year, even if the Niners win the Super Bowl. Harbaugh has already been to the dance, so to speak, where he and his miners lost to the Baltimore Ravens, who are coached by his brother, John. (You can’t make this stuff up.)
So Harbaugh, Jim, is pretty good at what he does. But there are rumors, and here you can take your pick: He’s too hyper, contorting his face on the sidelines like something out of “Chicken Run”; he treats the guys in the locker room like the college kids he once coached at Stanford; he did wrong by then-Niner QB Alex Smith by secretly courting Peyton Manning when he was a free agent. (Ultimately, Smith would go to the Kansas City Chiefs after losing his starting job to a concussion and Kaepernick,)
Enter SF CEO Jed York, who only fanned flames by tweeting that the team is trying to win a Super Bowl, not a personality or popularity contest. Translation: “Yeah, Harbaugh’s a jerk, but he’s our talented jerk.” (Remember the Ravens tweeting that Janay Rice was sorry for her role in the incident in which husband Ray cold-cocked her? Maybe NFL team leaders should just stop tweeting.)
Perhaps Harbaugh is, as his critics say, crazy. Or maybe he’s just crazy like a fox, drawing the storm to himself like a media lightning rod to protect his players – or create an us-against-them mentality that binds the players to one another.
Kaepernick – whom Harbaugh chose over Smith and thus might have something to lose if the coach goes – has said he’d “go to war with him.” (Doesn’t that imply against him? Never mind, we know what you mean, Colin.)
And guard Alex Boone warned critics to leave Harbaugh and his teammates alone, “because they don’t want me coming after them.”
(The post on the link is accompanied by a woman crying – perhaps a reference to the Niners as Whiners. Given everything that has transpired in the NFL this season with regard to domestic violence, however, the pix and Boone’s threat were probably not the wisest choices.)
Still, never underestimate a coach or manager’s ability to rally the troops. In the late 1970s, I rooted for a magical team, one of my all-time favorites, whose manager was a lightning rod and instilled in his players an us-against-the-world spirit. I’m talking about Billy Martin, the once and future manager of the New York Yankees. (Indeed, George Steinbrenner fired and rehired him so often that he would sometimes announce Martin’s return even as he was going.)
That revolving door policy took its toll on players like Reggie Jackson, he of the delicate-as-a-peach ego. And in my upcoming novel, “In This Place You Hold Me,” Coach Pat Smalley of the hapless New York Templars is a kind of gridiron Capt. Bligh, taking a toll on the entire team. (There the coach is a figure against whom the team rallies.)
I don’t know if Coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets is a Pat Smalley or a Jim Harbaugh. But I do know that the Jets are doing badly enough with QBs Geno Smith and Michael Vick that The Daily News’ Oct. 6 headline screamed “Bring Back Tebow!”
Hey, it couldn’t hurt. But Ryan and company used the Teebster abominably, never giving him a chance. Truth in advertising: The Jets’ treatment of Tim Tebow was the inspiration for my novel “ITPYHM,” the second in my series “The Games Men Play.”
The NFL, though, certainly doesn’t need a writer like me. It’s doing fine in the soap opera department all by itself.