Jim Harbaugh was the first active NFL player I ever interviewed. It was the summer of 1997, and he was riding high as “Captain Comeback” thanks to the Colts’ wild ride to the AFC Championship Game just two seasons prior.
I had recently been named the summer sports editor for the Ball State Daily News, and, well, there just wasn’t a lot of sports news to cover on campus during the summer. So I packed up a photographer and we headed over to AU to drop in on the Colts’ training camp.
I was following around one of the team’s interns as though he was a Sherpa leading me through the Himalayas. My eyes were wide, and my mind was racing.
Harbaugh somehow calmed me down.
We talked for what seemed like a half-hour, but likely closer to 10 minutes. He was patient with a green reporter asking every question that popped into his head.
As we spoke one-on-one, I was acutely aware I was cutting into his lunch time. But when I finally wrapped my interrogation up, he headed not for one of the nearby dorms to chow down but to a line of fans behind a fence to sign autographs.
I was impressed with the class and patience he showed that day, but my experience is at odds with the fiery head coach who now leads the San Francisco 49ers into Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens and his brother, John.
Jim Harbaugh already has put the media on notice. There will be no free passes like the one I got at AU nearly 16 years ago.
He’ll answer questions about the matchup with his brother until he deems they’ve gone far enough. Then it’s over, at a time and date of his choosing.
The directive is not about a show of power. It’s about his players.
Harbaugh doesn’t want this coaching battle to overshadow the men in the trenches who ultimately will decide Sunday’s championship game.
And that’s where picking a winner in this one gets really difficult for me.
Usually, I have a clear feeling. I’m not always right, of course, and I’m in a bit of slump. I picked the last two Super Bowls poorly, going with the AFC champion in each case and then watching them fall short.
So should I switch tactics and go with the Niners and the NFC? Or should I heed the fact that I’ve picked the Ravens to lose in every round of this postseason and been proven wrong each time?
Do I put my faith in pixie dust, Joe Flacco’s suddenly magic right arm and Ray Lewis’ last ride? Or do I go with grit, the elusiveness of Colin Kaepernick and the better regular-season resume?
So many options, and so few column inches remaining.
I’m searching for a gut feeling and coming up empty.
Give me the Niners, I suppose.
And then watch out for a parade in Baltimore.