My Sportsman: Jim Harbaugh

Publish date:

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 3. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.

Jim Harbaugh wasn't taught to simply try his best. That's not the way Jack Harbaugh raised his kids. Jim was told to attack every endeavor "with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind."

Harbaugh used the famous phrase after being announced as Stanford's football coach last year and he has lived up to those words. If the Sportsman of the Year went to the best coach or the best player or the best team, Harbaugh would never be in the running. But if squeezing every ounce out of yourself and those around you means anything, Harbaugh wins going away.

No coach has gotten more out of his team than Harbaugh has at Stanford, which went 1-11 last season. His success as a coach wouldn't have surprised Bill Walsh, who hand-picked Harbaugh for the job before he passed away last summer. During the seven months the two spent together, Harbaugh took notes each time they spoke, saving every play Walsh drew up on a napkin as well as the message last December that asked if he'd be interested in the Stanford job.

Everyone remembers Harbaugh's shining moment this season. In case you forgot, you can look up: "Biggest upset in college football history."

It was the culmination of everything Harbaugh had preached to his players since his first practice on The Farm: Stanford 24, USC 23.

It wasn't as if Harbaugh tiptoed into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He has poked and prodded USC coach Pete Carroll, saying Carroll would only be at USC for one more season. The comments irked Carroll, who wasn't used to being grandstanded by any coach, certainly not a rookie who should bow down to the Trojans' five-consecutive Pac-10 titles.

"There's no way I'd ever try to understand what that's about," Carroll said in response to Harbaugh's comments. "Thanks, Jim."

Yes, thanks, Jim for giving me some motivation to beat you by more than the 41-point spread. Thanks for giving USC's players a reason to play hard against a cellar-dweller with a 17-44 record over the past five years.

This was the equivalent of a nerd challenging the bully to a fight on his turf and poking fun at him in the process. But this nerd knocked him out and ended USC's 35-game home winning streak.

The mastermind behind the greatest upset in college football history was Harbaugh. Not so much for his Xs and Os, but his persona and prose. He inspired his team before the game by telling them they would win. He told them the game was their moment and all they had to do was believe in themselves and each other.

"All of our lives you're told so many things you can't do," said Harbaugh. "You're not fast enough, you're not smart enough, a thousand times no, a thousand times can't, until all the no's become meaningless."

On October 6, the Stanford players said, "Yes."

Yes. Thanks, Jim.

Agree with this selection? Give us your pick for Sportsman here.