Here is a link to my Sunday column about the 49ers’ final game, such as it is. The full text runs below:
Does anyone remotely connected to the 49ers — ownership, coaches, players, ball boys, trainers, fans — care what happens on the field against the Arizona Cardinals?
I’ll be at the game. My editor assigned me to be there. And it’s important for a writer like me who’s been around sports history to chronicle sports history as it occurs — in this case, Jim Harbaugh’s last game, almost certainly, as coach of the San Francisco/Santa Clara Niners, a team he brought back from the dead, a team he is leaving on life support.
I know the score won’t matter. Or even who wins — although this stuff is important to the Cardinals. I don’t write about Arizona’s issues and you’re not all that interested — I’m guessing here.
Let’s talk play-by-play. A football press box is a quiet domain, mostly because the reporters sit at long tables and write down every play just after it happens while the offensive players huddle up and get ready for the next snap.
I wonder what some archeologist would make of my play-by-play 8,000 years from now: Gore 15. It means Gore ran for 15 yards. On a pass play I draw a diagonal arrow and then write the receiver’s name: Crabtree 4. That means Michael Crabtree caught a 4-yard pass, a shrimp amount like 4 yards being kind of standard for him these days.
I’m not sure I’ll bother with a play-by-play during the Niners–Cards game. What’s the point? Who cares if Gore runs for 15 yards or for any yards? And who in his right mind cares about Crabtree’s average distance on receptions or total distance on receptions or even if he receives anything at all? He’s probably gone after the Cardinals game to preen and pout on some other team about not getting enough passes thrown his way.
The real action in this final game is what you won’t see on the field. The real action is the backdrop or the subtext or the context. Choose your word. And the real play-by-play, the stuff everyone wants to chronicle, is what happens off the field.
Like, will Harbaugh even show up for his postgame news conference?
That sure goes on my play-by-play.
And if he shows up, will he act like the postgame news conference is just any other postgame news conference — “I want to thank my mighty men blah blah.” Or will he be honest, drop the façade, admit the show just closed, went dark and he’s out of here?
Will he announce he’s taken the job as head coach at the University of Michigan — reportedly for $8 million a year, which would make him the highest-paid football coach in the world? It’s been reported emissaries from Michigan are in town trying to woo Harbaugh back to Ann Arbor with an open checkbook.
Will Harbaugh say kind things about ownership — “We’re a team?” Or will he tell how he really feels about Jed York and John York and Trent Baalke? Wouldn’t you love to hear the true truth? I sure would.
All that would go on my play-by-play. “Harbaugh nails Jed for 15-yard sack.”
Or it’s possible Baalke will take the microphone, announce Harbaugh is gone and say, “We’re going in a different direction.”
Or Jed could show up and thank Harbaugh for all his hard work and say Harbaugh is history because, “We’ve had philosophical differences.” Like they disagreed about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
All that is what might happen — or might not happen — in the immediate aftermath of the game. That doesn’t begin to factor in Monday or Tuesday.
The whisper writers will link Harbaugh’s name to a bunch of teams including Michigan. There will be the Raiders rumor. That’s a good one.
The thought of Harbaugh moving over to Oakland and the Raiders getting all that Harbaugh publicity and infusion of Harbaugh’s manic energy, and the thought of Harbaugh making the Raiders matter and Harbaugh sticking it to the Niners — who seem to be declining — would be a dynamite storyline.
Other teams could get linked to Harbaugh. The Jets. The Bears. Manchester United — just kidding.
There’s more. Will the 49ers’ fire Harbaugh on Monday or Tuesday? If they do, they’re on the hook for $5 million. Except they won’t be on the hook if Harbaugh takes a job in the NFL. Then the Niners could deduct what the other team pays him from their $5 million.
Will the Niners trade Harbaugh? It’s possible, but he needs to OK the trade.
Will the Niners make Harbaugh wait and wait before they act while other NFL jobs get filled and, in that way, freeze him out? Of course, he always would have the Michigan escape.
What I’m saying is the Cardinals game is merely a shadow game, an exercise in working up a sweat and, for the 49ers players, trying not to get injured. The real game gets played behind the scenes and on the phones and in text messages. The real game gets played in the next few days or the next few weeks. This is the game you don’t want to miss. Believe me.
Let the games begin.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.