49ers

Jim Harbaugh's unguarded moment

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Jim Harbaugh's unguarded moment

Three days later, it's an image I still can't get out of my mind.Jim Harbaugh, for the first time since becoming 49ers coach a year earlier, unexpectedly revealed a part of himself he had gone to great lengths to hide.He tried as best he could to obscure the pain of the 49ers' gut-wrenching overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game a day earlier.
But at the end of his 22-minute press conference on Monday, his eyes reddened and watered. He wiped his right eye, and then he abruptly exited the podium.

The snapshot in my mind that I'll remember about the end of the 49ers' season won't be Kyle Williams in the locker room accepting words of encouragement from teammates, coaches and others.
RELATED: Kyle Williams -- the day after
It won't be Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes and his teammates celebrating on the field while a stunned Candlestick Park crowd fell silent.My lasting memory will be Harbaugh's brief emotional moment a day later that went unnoticed by many at his season-ending press conference.From my from seat, less than 10 feet from where Harbaugh stood, it was obvious that a simple question prompted Harbaugh to lapse into unspoken introspection.How did you spend your time after the game? What did you do last night?Harbaugh paused. And then he tried his best to deflect the question and change the subject as his eyes told that the true answer would reveal more than he was willing to share."Is it just California that everybody just wants to know how you feel? Care about what you thought, what you did, how you felt, how your pinky feels," Harbaugh said, trying to turn light-hearted. "Is that just a California thing? Back where I come from, nobody really cares. In my opinion, it is a California thing."Actually, it's a human thing.People are emotionally attached to their team. Part of the media's job is to bring the people on the TV sets to life for the general public. People want to root for individuals with whom they can relate.Harbaugh does not want to "peel back the onion," as he likes to say, for fear that he'll show weakness. He often speaks of the "mighty men" in the 49ers' locker room. Perhaps Harbaugh believes the leader of these mighty men must be the mightiest of them all."This team's not defeated by any stretch of the imagination," Harbaugh said just minutes after the 49ers' season-ending loss. "A man can be destroyed, but he can't be defeated as long as this team knows that there's hope."Harbaugh borrowed the thought from Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Harbaugh is a football coach, but there's a lot more there, too. A week earlier, he spoke of Candlestick Park as a fortress, a clear reference to the work of Homer, author of the Iliad and the Odyssey.When speaking about the advantages of practicing in the same weather that the 49ers might play in Sunday at Candlestick Park, Harbaugh said, "Admiral Bull Halsey once said, 'If you're going to fight in the North Atlantic, then you've got to prepare in the North Atlantic.'"(It's difficult to pin down exactly whom first used that quote, but it has been attributed to Admiral Chester Nimitz.)As the season wore on, Harbaugh became more relaxed around the handful of media members who were around his team every day, though you might not have seen any evidence of it when he was standing in front of the group answering questions.Harbaugh began making regular stops inside the locker room to make small talk with reporters during the second half of the season. There was another time early in the season when Harbaugh broke out of coach mode around the media. It was the day the 49ers were leaving Youngstown, Ohio, en route to Philadelphia for their Week 4 game. Three reporters who cover the team shared with Harbaugh their plan to spend that Friday in Gettysburg.Harbaugh seemed genuinely excited to share his thoughts, in great detail, when asked if he had any advice on what to see and what to do. Harbaugh and his family visited the Civil War battlefield several months earlier. A few days later, he followed up with questions of his own about the reporters' visit.We've seen a lot of emotion from Harbaugh this season. He gets excited on the sideline. He gets upset. He can be defiant, stubborn. He's fiercely loyal to his players. And it's difficult to find anything he did wrong during his first year as 49ers head coach.After all, he took over a poorly coached 6-10 team, assembled a strong staff, put a plan into place during the lockout, managed to get the players to completely buy into his program, and he changed the culture inside the 49ers building.The 49ers were a couple mistakes away from playing in the Super Bowl. As a player, he experienced it. As quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, he got tantalizingly close to the Super Bowl, only to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-16, in the AFC Championship Game in January of 1996. Harbaugh, as well as anyone, knows how difficult it is to get this far.It was an emotional loss for players and for fans of the team, to be sure.After the game, Harbaugh tried to hide his own emotions. He made his rounds inside the locker room to inform all the players of a final team meeting set for 1 p.m. the next day. He tried to handle it with a business-as-usual approach.But that evening, Harbaugh spent time with his family. A day later, his eyes told a story about the pain of the defeat. It's a story he did not want to share with the public.Still, there was something there. He showed the human side -- if for just a brief moment. And it made me feel something about Jim Harbaugh that I had not felt since I began covering him.Maybe it is just a California thing.

49ers veteran expected to play in Pro Bowl thanks to Eagles

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49ers veteran expected to play in Pro Bowl thanks to Eagles

UPDATED: The 49ers announced Monday morning that Joe Staley has accepted a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl team. He will replace Dallas offensive tackle Tyron Smith.

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Veteran 49ers left tackle Joe Staley is expected to benefit from the Philadelphia Eagles’ trip to the Super Bowl.

Staley, originally chosen as an alternate, is expected to be named to his sixth Pro Bowl to take the place of Eagles Pro Bowl tackle Lane Johnson.

The Pro Bowl will be played Sunday, Jan. 28, in Orlando, Florida. Members of the Super Bowl participant Eagles and New England Patriots will not play in the all-star game. The Eagles advanced to the Super Bowl on Sunday with a 38-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

The other Pro Bowl offensive tackles representing the NFC are Dallas’ Tyron Smith and Los Angeles’ Andrew Whitworth, who replaced Washington’s Trent Williams.

Staley got off to a rough start last season as the 49ers opened on a nine-game losing streak. The idea of his career coming to an end began to creep into his mind, he said recently on the 49ers Insider Podcast.

But Staley said he had a talk with coach Kyle Shanahan that got him refocused for the remainder of the season. The 49ers finished with a five-game win streak to finish with a 6-10 record, and Staley played well down the stretch.

“I’m so far gone from where I was in that moment early in the year that I’m just focused on next year and, hopefully, years after that,” said Staley, 33, an 11-year NFL veteran. “I feel like I can still play.

“I think this last half of the season I played some of the best football of my career. I feel very confident in what we’re doing schematically with the people surrounding us, and it shows in my own play.”

Staley would join fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who was the only 49ers player named to the Pro Bowl when the teams were announced last month.

Foles frenzy: Eagles fly over Vikings to meet Patriots in Super Bowl LII

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Foles frenzy: Eagles fly over Vikings to meet Patriots in Super Bowl LII

BOX SCORE

PHILADELPHIA -- Hey Philly, maybe it's time to forget Carson Wentz. Nick Foles might be good enough to win the Eagles their first Super Bowl.

Foles was on fire Sunday night against the stingiest scoring defense in the NFL. Philly made big play after big play on both sides of the ball in a stunning 38-7 rout of the Minnesota Vikings for the NFC championship.

Next up after their most-lopsided playoff victory: the Eagles' first Super Bowl appearance since 2005, against the team that beat them then, AFC champion New England.

Foles replaced the injured Wentz in Game 13 and finished off a rise from last place to first in the NFC East. There were plenty of doubters entering the playoffs, but the former starter in Philadelphia (15-3) under another regime has been brilliant.

His best work might have come against Minnesota (14-4) and its vaunted defense that was torn apart in every manner. Foles threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, showing poise, escapability and moxie in going 26 for 33.

In doing so - helped greatly by the Eagles' domination on defense and a spectacular weaving 50-yard interception return TD by Patrick Robinson - Foles ruined the Vikings' hopes of being the first team to play in a Super Bowl in its own stadium

Instead, the Eagles will seek their first Super Bowl crown in Minnesota on Feb. 4; their last championship came in 1960.

OVER AT HALFTIME: Minnesota made it look easy at the outset, driving 75 yards on nine plays, each of which gained yardage. The payoff was a 25-yard throw from Case Keenum to Kyle Rudolph well behind linebacker Najee Goode as Philadelphia's defense looked confused on the play.

That didn't happen again for Philly.

Defensive end Chris Long had a huge hand in Robinson's 50-yard interception return. Long burst in from the left side and got his arm on Keenum to disrupt the throw for Adam Thielen. The ball went directly to Robinson, who sped down the left side, then made a sharp cut to the right and got a superb block from Ronald Darby to reach the end zone.

Inspired, Philly's D forced a three-and-out, the Foles led the Eagles on a 12-play, 75-yard masterpiece of a drive. LeGarrette Blount showed all his power and escapability on an 11-yard surge up the middle for a 14-7 lead.

Turnovers, something Minnesota rarely committed with an NFC-low 14 during the season, hurt again and not only ended a solid drive, but set up more Philly points. On third down from the Eagles 15, Keenum was blindsided by rookie Derek Barnett, and the ball bounced directly to Long.

It was only the second strip-sack the Vikings have been victimized by all season.

A blown coverage - another rarity for Minnesota - on third-and-10 allowed Alshon Jeffery to get wide open for a 53-yard TD, and Philadelphia tacked on Elliott's 38-yard field goal to make it 24-3 at halftime.

DANCING IN THE LINC: Fifty seconds into the final quarter, with the score 38-7, Eagles players on the sideline and waiting to kick off on the field were dancing up a storm and fans were chanting "We want Brady."

They get Tom Brady and company in two weeks.

BACK TO THE BIG GAME: Long won the Super Bowl last year with the Patriots, as did Blount. Now they return on the other side.

QUICK DRIVE: Philadelphia got the ball with 29 seconds remaining in the first half at its 20. Foles hit passes of 11 yards to Jay Ajayi, 36 to Ertz and 13 to Ajayi before Elliott's field goal to end the half.

THIRD DOWNS: Minnesota was the league's best team defending third downs and was third in converting them. Yet Philadelphia went 10 for 14.

NEXT UP: Minnesota returns home to watch two other teams play at its stadium for the Lombardi Trophy.

With the entire stadium singing "Fly Eagles Fly" during the NFC trophy ceremony, Philadelphia can look forward to facing New England in Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4