Harbaugh's restored the lore by the Bay By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
The biggest story of Jim Harbaugh's second season was a change at quarterback.
Jim Harbaugh was the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts the last time the San Francisco 49ers reached the Super Bowl.
Known as "Captain Comeback" in his playing days for the ability to pluck a team from the grips of defeat, Harbaugh has been up to his old tricks as head coach of the 49ers.
Harbaugh, in his second year with the storied and five-time Super Bowl champion 49ers, has the Bay area abuzz with confidence that another title is headed back to northern California. A win Sunday over the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII would be San Francisco's sixth, which would match the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most in league history.
The 49ers are undefeated in their previous five Super Bowl appearances, the last of which occurred in 1994, when Steve Young stepped out of the shadows of the great Joe Montana in a rout of the San Diego Chargers.
George Seifert was the coach of the Niners in their last Super Bowl run and worked briefly with Harbaugh later in his career. It was then Harbaugh got to know current offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who was an assistant offensive line coach. Harbaugh and Roman hit it off immediately, then worked together at Stanford in 2009-10, and now have a chance to come out on top Sunday.
Harbaugh was asked about that experience when the team arrived in New Orleans.
"It was a real pleasure to work with George Seifert, to get a chance to know him. I didn't get on the field that year," Harbaugh reflected. "One of the great things was being able to meet Greg Roman, who was an assistant offensive line coach at the time. I was just so impressed with his knowledge of football and the kind of guy he was. We struck up a very good friendship within the first couple weeks I was there. I made friends right off the bat. Later, getting a chance to work with him was a real great thing for us."
Perhaps through osmosis Harbaugh was able to become a successful coach, having dominated the college ranks with the Cardinal and earning a shot at the professional level. Harbaugh has shown he knows how to win as evidenced by back-to-back appearances in the NFC Championship game and now a trip to the Big Easy for football's ultimate prize.
The Super Bowl is uncharted waters for Harbaugh and his players, but he isn't worried that the novelty of the NFL's biggest stage will play a role in how his team performs. A quote by 49ers safety Dashon Goldson a few weeks ago resonated with Harbaugh, "We get fresher under pressure."
"That bodes well for us," Harbaugh said of Goldson's message.
Fans of the 49ers are ecstatic to have their team back in the forefront of NFL lore. But sometimes teams get too tight or focus too much on the opposition it throws players, coaches and the staff for a loop (i.e. Dick Vermeil in 1980).
Not this team, according to Harbaugh when questioned if he tried to keep a normal routine before arriving in the French Quarter.
"Our team has been really focused on winning, focused on the unity of the team. I think it's really genuine. I think it's the best focus on unity and winning that I've ever seen or been a part of," Harbaugh noted. "This week, we tried to make it like a normal week, being here on Sunday, in the city starting Monday like it's a week leading up to a Sunday game is our plan."
Since a tie with the NFC West-rival St. Louis Rams back on Nov. 11, the 49ers have ripped off wins in seven of their last nine games, including a 28-24 triumph over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC title game. San Francisco stared down a 17-0 hole and stuck with the gameplan, pounding running back Frank Gore up the middle and allowing both quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the defense to play their game. Can you guess what the 49ers will do Sunday? You got it, the same troika will be unleashed.
Kaepernick said that pressure comes from lack of preparation and that Super Bowl Sunday will not have that type of affect on him or his teammates. He said it's just a matter of "going out there and performing physically."
Perhaps the biggest story of Harbaugh's second season was the demotion of starting quarterback Alex Smith in favor of the stronger and more elusive Kaepernick. Similar to what New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick experienced years ago with Drew Bledsoe going down and Tom Brady becoming a Hall of Fame quarterback, Harbaugh has no regrets on his QB switch.
"I thought it was a unique situation. Viewed it that way when it happened," Harbaugh said. "Two quarterbacks that were playing extremely well. Made the decision that we thought was best for our team. We did what we thought would give us the best chance to win games."
That statement draws comparison to Jim Koch, the co-founder and chairman of the Boston Beer Company, who said he would rather put people in bad beer than bad beer into people. Smith may have kept smiles on the faces of Niners fans, but Kaepernick has taken the opportunity to re-ignite a city to new heights.
Several coaches wax poetic and say players won't lose their job to injury. That's rubbish when winning is on the line. Smith, who led the 49ers to the NFC title game a year ago and is known for safely managing a game, sustained a concussion and has been holding a clipboard ever since. Harbaugh said that Kaepernick's play "has been outstanding" since taking the reigns from Smith, but kept the focus on the team and what it has accomplished playing as a unit.
Some may consider the quarterback switch by Harbaugh to be gutsy, which is a term that coalesced his lengthy playing career. San Francisco fans can relate to the athleticism of Kaepernick and the determination of Harbaugh after watching Young evolve into a Hall of Famer for his running and passing skills, and bringing a fifth Super Bowl title back to the Bay area. Harbaugh's known for his passion, not agility, during his time in the NFL and was queried about comparing himself as a player to Kaepernick.
"When Colin is running and the stride that he has, the gracefulness with his stride, the ground that he covers, how fast and quick he is reminds me of myself," Harbaugh said tongue in cheek. "Then I wake up. But when I dream and have visions of how I run personally, it's the way Colin runs."
Harbaugh wasn't the most fleet of foot, though his coaching technique is on the fast track to success. He never forced his ego or a my-way-or-the-highway approach on any of his players, which is why the 49ers have thrived under him. Harbaugh trusts his players and staff, and is getting quite acclimated with pressure-filled situations.
With one gigantic obstacle left to hurdle, expect Harbaugh and the 49ers to continue what enabled the franchise to reach a sixth Super Bowl and return to elite status.