SANTA CLARA (AP) — Jim Harbaugh would love it if his postgame handshake with Detroit coach Jim Schwartz last season was ancient history 11 months later.
If only. Not this week. Not with two unbeaten NFC powers set to face off in prime time Sunday night, when the Lions visit the reigning NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park.
Harbaugh refers to it as a “mini controversy” and “completely irrelevant,” eager to keep the focus on the players for both teams. Running back Frank Gore insists that everybody has moved forward, especially after a 30-22 season-opening victory Sunday at Green Bay.
“Our approach with the mini controversies are really to give them the attention that they deserve, which isn’t much,” Harbaugh said Monday. “People who will choose to 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 (more) than it deserves.”
After a 25-19 comeback win last Oct. 16 at Ford Field, Harbaugh infuriated Schwartz with a firm handshake and backslap. The men had to be separated as they left the field.
“We’re past that. Coach isn’t worried about that,” Gore said Monday, a day after rushing for a crucial 23-yard touchdown with 8:41 remaining against the Packers.
As surprising as that moment was, Harbaugh’s players got a bit of a thrill seeing their leader become so charged up after a monumental win that put them at 5-1 on the way to a 13-3 record and a run to the NFC championship game.
Yet there were the constant hassles of having to answer questions about the incident from friends and family everywhere, not to mention from the media.
Harbaugh didn’t even want to address whether his players were fired up from the handshake. He said afterward he would work to improve his postgame greetings, though he also wouldn’t elaborate Monday on how that’s going.
“To put it next to the game itself is missing the point in my opinion,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t really know that I have any more that I could possibly add to it.”
Schwartz, whose Lions won their opener 27-23 at home against the Rams, said Monday that he and Harbaugh have seen each other several times since that infamous fall day last season. And their handshake greetings went off “without incident.”
“That’s long in the past,” Schwartz said. “That 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.”
Neither Schwartz nor Harbaugh wanted to discuss the topic — even though everybody else certainly will do just that all week.
The highlight reels of the handshake are already rolling.
“I’m not going to go into what we talked about,” Schwartz said. “We’re making too big a deal of it already.”