NFL: Let’s all be good sports, agree to end the postgame handshake; Ravens-Steelers rivalry

On Sunday, December 2, 2012 at M&T Banks Stadium in Baltimore, MD, the Pittsburgh Steelers bested the Baltimore Ravens in a National Football League contest, the outcome of which could have a major impact on both teams’ postseason plans.

Pittsburgh was without Ben Roethlisberger, its MVP candidate and two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Minus his contributions, the Steelers had lost the first Ravens game two weeks prior. The following week the team lost to the Cleveland Browns, turning the ball over eight times, more than any NFL team since 2001.

So, this second Ravens game was practically a must-win for Pittsburgh. In fact, Ravens v. Steelers is fast becoming the most combative in the NFL. But more on that later.

The game was followed by the traditional postgame handshake between the two coaches, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin and Baltimore’s John Harbaugh–an exchange that could have best been described as “testy.”

While it wasn’t as bad as the one the Ravens coach’s brother Jim had with Detroit Lions’ head coach Jim Schwartz last year, it looked like it could have easily degenerated into that kind of confrontation.

Jim Harbaugh was a pretty good NFL quarterback with the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts. He was Stanford’s head football coach before moving on the same position with the San Francisco 49ers. After a game at Detroit, Harbaugh used perhaps a bit too much exuberance for Schwartz’ liking:

This past Sunday, the other Harbaugh was the loser, but seemed upset that Tomlin did not offer more enthusiasm to his good sportsmanship handshake and comment:

Harbaugh stared at Tomlin walking away in a manner that made you think the Baltimore coach believed he was Cyclops of the X-Men.

There have been many instances of one coach or another blowing off the postgame handshake. CBSSports.com’s Clark Judge has his thoughts on the handshake, and he wrote about them after the 49ers-Lions game last year:

Fining coaches for turning postgame handshakes into WWE throwdowns isn’t going to change anything, but I tell you what will: Getting rid of the handshake altogether.

You heard me. Make it as obsolete as the single wing, now and forever.

I mean, the ritual is overblown as it is. Coaches see each other before games, talk things over and, generally, are civil to each other. They shake hands then, and they should. They’re composed, they’re cordial and they’re ready to play a game of May The Better Team Win.

But that’s before the game.

Afterward, what they want is to get into a locker room and meet with their players. One guy’s delirious; the other not so much, and nowhere was that more apparent than in Detroit where the 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh and the Lions’ Jim Schwartz had to be separated after a postgame handshake turned into a Jerry Springer audition.

“Coaches talk before the game and are pleasant,” said one NFC executive, “because the score is 0-0. But the rawness of winning and losing is so wide that on a scale of emotion it’s 100 million times for the winner and minus-100 million times for the coach who just lost. A lot of times when the game is over these guys have nothing to say. They just want to get into the locker room and talk to their teams.

“I’ve watched postgame press conferences where you could turn the sound off and tell which coaches lost because of the looks on their faces. They look like they need medical attention. There’s a lot of stress on these fellas.”

That doesn’t mean coaches can’t meet afterward. They can if they’d like. It just means they can do what Hall-of-Fame coach George Allen did and wave to opponents as they’re exiting the field. That happens occasionally, but usually by coaches who can’t get to midfield for the customary sendoff because some nut job is in their grills or because there’s a mob that stormed the field or something.Exactly. Which is why we should turn the NFL’s postgame handshake into the halftime marching band and lose it.

What happened in Detroit last weekend is not unprecedented. Heck, last year we had Kansas City’s Todd Haley failing to shake hands with Denver’s Josh McDaniels. We’ve had New England’s Bill Belichick stiff Eric Mangini, and we’ve had Pittsburgh legend Chuck Noll wag his finger in Jerry Glanville’s face after Noll thought Houston players were spearing his Steelers.

The postgame handshake isn’t a big deal except when it is. And it was last weekend because two emotional coaches met after a difficult and long game and behaved like … well, jerks. So it happens. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“I don’t know,” said one head coach. “The problem with that is that we’re telling our kids all the time to shake your opponent’s hand after a game and to be a good sport. To be able to walk across the field and shake someone’s hand … to me it’s modeling. You’re basically saying, ‘I can be a good sport, too.’ ”

Except when it comes to sportsmanship and winning at all costs, I’ll tell you what comes first in the NFL — and it’s not decorum. “Show me a good and gracious loser,” Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne once said, “and I’ll show you a failure.”

There’s also a more commonly-known saying about nice guys that Jim Harbaugh must buy because he’s the coach who only a week earlier had his quarterback throw on fourth-and-3 with four minutes left … which is OK, except he was ahead 41-3.

“Here’s the upshot of this thing,” said our head coach. “We tell our players all the time to play under control and not to take stupid penalties. So how do you yell at someone for taking a 15-yard personal foul when you can’t control yourself after a game? You tell him to control his emotions, and his response is, ‘Yeah, you mean like you?'”

One NFL coach I trust said the minute he watched videotape of the Throwdown in Motown he thought, “These guys are going to regret it in the morning. They just bought a film clip for life.”He has a point. But that’s why I want to abolish the ritual. Hey, coaches in three-piece suits was a ritual once, too, but that’s gone. If these guys can’t behave, then don’t make them. Yeah, I know, it was a couple of guys who spoiled the postgame ceremony for the rest of the group. But isn’t that what usually happens?

So spare them the embarrassment. In the heat of the moment, they’re not thinking about the consequences of their actions. So take the thinking out of the equation by taking the handshake out of the game.

I mean, I don’t know of anything meaningful that is said in postgame meetings, anyway, and maybe Noll would disagree. Nevertheless, I doubt that what he said to Glanville … or what Haley said to McDaniels … or what Schwartz said to Harbaugh … had much, if any, impact. In fact, I know it didn’t with Harbaugh because he said later that he wouldn’t apologize because “apologies seem like excuses.”

Hmmm, I always thought apologies seemed like admissions of wrongdoing. I guess if you can’t admit you were wrong then why try, right? Maybe that’s what Harbaugh was saying. I guarantee that’s not what he was saying after Sunday’s game, so let’s just cut to the chase and figure out how we prevent this from happening again.

I just did. Tell these guys to quit the phony baloney and wave to each other as they’re leaving the field. That way no one gets offended, no one has to apologize and no one has a film clip for life.

Pittsburgh radio talk show host John Madden is known as someone who says what he thinks, whether you like it or not. His column about Sunday’s game has some hometown bias, but he makes some solid points:

Winning is always fun. But even more fun when you beat a jackass.

John Harbaugh is just such a jackass. When Mike Tomlin didn’t put much fuss into their post-game handshake yesterday, the Ravens coach tugged Tomlin back and said, “Hey, I said, ‘Congratulations.’ ” Tomlin seemed only slightly more interested. Good.

Who appointed this pair of clown shoes the arbiter of post-game decorum? His brother, 49ers coach Jim, had the big handshake incident with Detroit’s Jim Schwartz last year. You both put your hands out, and you shake. Anything else, save for the shower.

Ed Reed=ANOTHER JACKASS. Ravens DB Bernard Pollard was heaping deserved post-game praise on Charlie Batch when Reed, mock-coughing, said, “Bull****.” What a LOW-RENT SCUMBAG.

Which is to say, THAT’S MORE LIKE IT. Post-coital animosity is far preferable to what happened two weeks ago, namely Reed and Ryan Clark cuddling. YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO HATE. SO HATE!

Read my timesonline.com column about Charlie Batch’s massive performance. I never thought Batch could win at Baltimore, let alone play so well. But, in this case, I’m OVERJOYED to be wrong. Batch is PURE CLASS. If that’s his NFL swan song, WHAT A WAY TO GO.

Make no mistake, the Steelers need Ben Roethlisberger back. Batch did great. But Roethlisberger’s NFL MVP candidacy became even stronger in Ben’s absence.

The Ravens-Steelers rivalry is well on its way to becoming the most bitter in the NFL, if it’s not there already. It is true that the Ravens team has only existed since 1997 (before that, they were the Cleveland Browns), and the rivalry has only really meant something since 2009 (the first year the Steelers beat the Ravens in an AFC Championship game). Some would say that it’s not in the same class because it doesn’t have the history of, say, Bengals-Browns, Raiders-Chiefs or the grandaddy of them all, Bears-Packers (the first two NFL teams), to name but a few.

Maybe so.

But, just ask anyone from Pittsburgh or Baltimore what they think of the other team. If you have a sensitive disposition, you might want to cover your ears.

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