NEW ORLEANS -- San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was understandably unhappy after losing Super Bowl XLVII by the agonizing score of 34-31. Losing to his older brother, as he did to brother John, had to put a little more salt in the wound. Also, the fact that the 49ers outgained the Ravens by 101 yards probably didn't help Jim's mood. And it's true that referee Jerome Boger's crew made some very "interesting" calls in this game.
However, when it behooved Harbaugh to ease back from the officiating issue, try to appreciate one of the best Super Bowls ever played, put the spotlight on his brother, and shine the bad stuff on for another day, the man Mike Ditka once called the most competitive player he ever coached just couldn't do it.
"You know, I really want to handle this with class and grace, and we had several opportunities in this game," Harbaugh said just a few minutes after the game ended. "We didn't play our best game, and the Ravens made a lot of plays and battled back. They competed to win. But there's no question in my mind that it was a pass interference, and hold on [Michael] Crabtree on the last one."
The play Harbaugh was talking about happened with 1:50 left in the game. The 49ers had fourth-and-goal at the Baltimore five-yard line, and after two incompletions to receiver Michael Crabtree, Kaepernick put the ball up again in Crabtree's direction. It certainly looked on the play that Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith held Crabtree's jersey long enough for a flag to be thrown, but no flag was forthcoming.
"I mean, I haven't seen the play yet," Crabtree said after the game. "I'm sure I'm going to watch film. I'm a football player. I'm going to critique myself and figure out ways to get better. I can't wait to see it on film. I was just really determined to make the play, and he got his hands on me. I feel like he got his hands on me, and I guess the refs said he made a good play."
Harbaugh, who will become apoplectic over what he perceives to be the smallest miscarriage of justice put upon his team, went completely ballistic on the sidelines towards the end of the Super Bowl. It was understandable, to be sure -- the play effectively ended the game, and given the way Boger's crew was calling things at times, Harbaugh may have expected a different result.
"I thought he made a lot of good throws the entire game," Harbaugh said of Kaepernick. "One was a little high. There was a lot of fourth-quarter comeback there. But again, in my opinion, that [last] series should have continued."
That wasn't the only call that got quite a bit up Harbaugh's nose. With 8:35 left in the game, and the Ravens up 31-29, cornerback Chris Culliver was called for pass interference on a Joe Flacco pass to Torrey Smith from the Baltimore 22-yard line. That foul, which did seem questionable on its face, took the Ravens from third-and-9 at the 22 to first-and-10 at the Baltimore 36-yard line. Culliver was toasted through most of the game, but Harbaugh didn't seem to have as much of a problem with that.
"I didn't think that was interference, either, on that second-to-last drive," Harbaugh said after the game.
Two plays later, after a two-yard run by Bernard Pierce, Flacco threw a short pass to Anquan Boldin and the officials gave Boldin what seemed like a generous spot. Harbaugh chose to challenge the spot, and it was overturned on review.
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Harbaugh later balked at another play in which he believed the Ravens should have been called for offensive pass interference. He also had a major problem with what he perceived to be offensive holding when the Ravens took an intentional safety with 12 seconds left in the game. Punter Sam Koch ran around in the end zone for a few seconds to run down the clock, and Harbaugh didn't like anything about that.
"I still haven't gotten an explanation when they took the safety -- the Ravens can't tackle us and hold us. It's good scheme on their part to hold as many people as they can, but they teach people to basically tackle when you're taking a safety. But not one holding penalty was called. It was very curious, and I never got an explanation on that stuff."
Harbaugh tried to deflect all the hot air after that last quote -- after a while, it must have seemed to even him that he was taking this stuff past its logical end.
"I realize that I'm on the side of the San Francisco 49ers -- I'm the coach of the 49ers, and I'm probably a little biased. In my mind, I would think it was obvious, but they didn't see it that way."
Yes, when you're a really hyper-competitive individual who just lost a Super Bowl, you can be expected to go a bit off the rails. But Harbaugh devoted an abnormally high percentage of his media session to the officiating issues, and it wasn't as if his team didn't have enough shots at a win no matter what. There's also the matter of the holding call that should have been on Crabtree ... well, sure it might have been holding, but why on earth didn't Harbaugh, with the best offensive line in the league and a dynamic rushing attack, fail to ground-and-pound it? All he had to say about that was "We had some other plays called."
In the end, that's the primary issue I have with what Harbaugh did after the game. I've talked with him in several media settings before, and he's a guy who always wants to control his environment. Even when he's asked intelligent questions, he will sometimes treat those questions with scorn, derision, and sometimes, even abject silence. It's frustrating and humiliating to deal with, and Harbaugh can't have it both ways. If he was forthright and straight up about everything else, we might at least back up and think, "Well, at least he's true to form."
But that's not the case here. Quite simply, Jim Harbaugh went off the grid at the worst possible time, and cheapened his own team's efforts in doing so. It was a great Super Bowl, and the 49ers should be congratulated for helping to make it so.
Their coach, however, took a different path.
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