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Vintage Jim Harbaugh

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Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw are very different people

Michigan v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Like a lot of football fans (and fans of watching sports as a way to escape political holiday chatter), I found myself watching the Michigan-Ohio State double-overtime marathon on Saturday. It left me exhausted. And it made me appreciate the beautiful lunatic that roamed the sidelines at Stanford Stadium from 2007-2010.

Let me preface this: I’m very pro-David Shaw as Stanford’s head coach and very pro-Jim Harbaugh coaching outside the Pac-12—at a healthier distance for us fans to observe him as the entertaining creature he is when he’s not leading the Cardinal. On Saturday in Columbus, we saw Harbaugh in his element—in hysterics, 20 yards on the field after touchdowns and botched calls; Michigan shirt tucked into his Dockers; hands on his knees, making loud noises from his mouth with his 20-horse-power lungs and plucking boogers from his nose with his right pointer finger. Jim Harbaugh is a fascinating, abrasive brand of human being and football coach. And now that he’s 2,000 miles away and six years removed from Palo Alto, we can see his quirks with more objectivity.

For example, here are some things he’s said over the years (in increasing order of pure, self-assured Harbaugh) :

“I don’t take vacations. I don’t get sick. I don’t observe major holidays. I'm a jackhammer.”

(Which hilariously combines two Dwight Schrute quotes: I never take vacations. I never get sick. And I don't celebrate any major holidays and How would I describe myself? Three words: hardworking, alpha male, jackhammer, merciless, insatiable.)

I drank a lot of milk. A lot of milk. Not the candy-ass two percent or skim milk.”

“I truly believe the number one natural steroid is sleep, and the number two natural steroid is milk—whole milk. And three would be water. Four would be steak. I take a vitamin every day — it’s called a steak.”

“I own other pants. It’s gotten to the point where I save so much time a day knowing that I don't have to stand in front of the closet, trying to decide what outfit to pick out. About 15-20 minutes a day — that adds up day after day.”

“Attack each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”

Harbaugh is—intentionally and unintentionally—a very funny guy. He’s fiery. He says things that make me want to run through a wall (of Buckeyes or Spartans or Hawkeyes). He has Russell Crowe’s doggedness from Gladiator, Robin Williams’ gusto from Flubber, and Ron Swanson’s stubbornness and disdain for low-fat milk—which are all well and good from afar but a little tiresome when he’s steering your ship. I’m fine with the Maniac of Michigan until it turns into the Torrent of Tweeting (which it often has).

Harbaugh’s Saturday spotlight made me think of the more stoic Shaw, who’s incredibly collected, thoughtful, and positive—for football coach standards and 44-year old, regular dude standards. He’s an alum and an ambassador for the school and the sport. Under Shaw, the Cardinal has maintained an NCAA-leading, 99% graduation rate over the last three years, which is astounding and completely unsurprising. He’s synonymous with integrity, 11 wins a season, and Rose Bowls.

In the Thanksgiving spirit, I want to end by giving thanks: to David Shaw for his steadiness, Jim Harbaugh for his irrepressible spirit, and a world that allows us to see Jim Harbaugh on a neutral field.

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