If the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll and the San Francisco 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh are going to extend their college rivalry into the NFC West, they’ll have to use some livelier words than they chose Wednesday.
It’s been almost 22 months since Harbaugh dialed up a two-point conversion play during the last minutes of Stanford’s 55-21 victory over Carroll’s USC Trojans. Their postgame encounter provided the only tension of an afternoon the coaches are doing their best to ignore as they prepare for a more relevant contest Sunday in San Francisco.
Carroll on Harbaugh’s work at Stanford: “He did a fantastic job there.”
Harbaugh on Carroll: “I have great respect for Coach and what he’s trying to do there in Seattle and everything he’s done in the profession and what he’s meant for the game and for football.”
On a scale of 1-10 – with the 10 representing an Ozzie Guillen rant on, say, the curious popularity of deep-dish pizza – the former Pacific-10 Conference foes barely registered a 2.
Responding to a question from a Bay Area reporter about whether he considers himself a friend of Carroll, Harbaugh replied: “I wouldn’t say I’m friends with any head coach in the National Football League, other than my brother.”
(John Harbaugh coaches the Baltimore Ravens, who on Nov. 24 will face the 49ers in a milestone meeting of sibling head coaches.)
“We’re trying to beat them,” Jim Harbaugh said of the Seahawks. “I’m not trying to be friends with anybody.”
Harbaugh established that much two seasons ago, when he called for the two-point attempt that followed Stanford’s seventh touchdown in the Los Angeles Coliseum. There was no reason to eschew the kick midway through the fourth quarter – the Cardinal owned a 48-21 lead – other than to slap half-a-hundred on Carroll’s team.
Although running back Stepfan Taylor was stopped short of the goal line, Stanford got its 50, and then some, on a Tyler Gaffney touchdown with 2:19 remaining.
After time expired, Carroll approached Harbaugh with a question:
“What’s your deal? What’s your deal?”
“What’s your deal?” Harbaugh shot back.
Harbaugh’s justification for the two-point play that day was as vague as it was lame. He said he saw an “opportunity coming off the ball, the way we were running.”
An opportunity coming off the ball? The opportunity was to embarrass the 11th-ranked Trojans, who, under Carroll, dominated the Pac-10 for a decade. Two days after suffering his most humiliating defeat as a college head coach, Carroll told a Los Angeles radio station that he’d put the incident behind him.
“It’s dropped, I don’t care,” Carroll said. “Will I forget it? No, I’m not forgetting. But, you know, to me, it’s in the past.”
Carroll expounded Wednesday on his perceived frustration with Harbaugh.
“There was no frustration,” he pointed out. “The media said that. A guy on the other sideline gets to do whatever he wants, in any situation, and I have no problem with whatever. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m not one of those guys that reacts and is going to gripe about how a guy played a game or coached a game in the fourth quarter.
“I’ve been in so many of those situations where people think you’re running the score up, or they think that you’re playing your guys to run the score up so that you can get recognition in polls and things like that. I’ve been through all of that and a guy gets to do anything he wants. Nothing fazes me about that.”
So there. Those hoping for a more combative verbal skirmish will have to tune into The View.
It’s too bad Carroll and Harbaugh won’t raise the volume because the Seahawks have lacked a natural rival since their 2002 relocation from the AFC West. The Rams play their home games two time zones away, in St. Louis. They’re less an archrival than an Arch rival. The Cardinals? How are you supposed to muster animosity toward a franchise that was born in Chicago, endured a midlife crisis in St. Louis, and retired to Arizona? How are you supposed to muster animosity toward a franchise that has qualified for eight playoffs in 91 years?
The 49ers, on the other hand, offer delightful possibilities for a trash-talking war of words. Their fans are obnoxious. Their stadium is a dump – the longest hour I have ever spent on this earth was spent waiting for a cab outside Candlestick Park – and their new head coach once called for a two-point conversion during a blowout for the sole purpose of agitating Pete Carroll.
In the improbable event the Seahawks are in a position to pile on unnecessary points Sunday, I’m hoping Carroll celebrates a late touchdown with a two-fingered gesture.
Call it payback, for Pete’s ache.