Saturday, January 8, 2011

Why I Root for Jim Harbaugh

Back in 2004 in my junior year at the University of San Diego, I need an athletic spark to keep me watching. The previous football season, we won our division but no playoff because of a tiebreaker. The basketball team, defending West Coast Conf champs, went 4-26 and won only 1 game in conference. The joy of being a beautiful school that's barely a blip on the local radar, let alone the regional radar.

We're a tiny Catholic school with almost no athletic tradition outside of baseball. Football is 1-AA, Basketball is playing 2nd fiddle to Gonzaga and outside of baseball, there isn't much to root for.

We needed something to fire up the sports program. And we got it that previous winter hiring a former NFL veteran with zero head coaching experience named Jim Harbaugh. I knew of his NFL cred - that Hail Mary attempt in the 1996 AFC Title Game was one of my first sports memories - but had no idea how'd he be as a coach. It was a big name hire and just maybe we'd see some improvement, if not some buzz.

His first year we went 7-4 but there was an excitement at the games because we an NFL alum leading us and some great players to build around. Some skinny freshman from Oakland named Josh Johnson had me thinking he'd be a Michael Vick type once he developed into his body a little bit. And then it all came together quickly.

The fall of my senior year (2005), the Toreros went 11-1. We became the first team in school and Pioneer League history to beat an Ivy League program, a win that happened on my 21st birthday. We won the Division I-AA Mid-major national championship and Jim Harbaugh was already a legend in 2 seasons.

Next year, we repeated at 11-1 and mid-major national champs. Josh Johnson became one of the top quarterbacks in the nation as a junior as a 1-AA All-American who led the division in 4 categories. For the first time ever, we had national attention on our program and the man we had to thank was Harbaugh.

He left after that season to go to Stanford. Y'all know how that story went, culminating with a 12-1 season this year and a 40-12 pasting of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

I always root for Harbaugh because before he molded Andrew Luck into an NFL quarterback, he did the same for Johnson, now the backup in Tampa Bay after being the 1st player drafted in school history. Before he built Toby Gerhart into an angry, hard runner that dominated the West Coast, he won in San Diego with similar guys like Evan Harney, JT Rogan and John Polk. Before he made Stanford into a national power that defeated USC twice at home and became a Top-10 team two years straight, he built my alma mater up and made Saturdays worth looking forward to at my school.

He also was kind enough to be interviewed by a friend after the final game of his 2004 season and treat him with as much respect as any other reporter. I held the camera and it was technically my first experience as part of an interview.

I don't know how he'll do in the NFL. Only Jimmy Johnson has successfully transitioned from college to pros. But with a great team in my hated San Francisco 49ers, I wouldn't be surprised if he did well. This is his dream he earned paying plenty of dues and after helping my school achieve unbelievable dreams, I'll keep on rooting for his success.

Congrats Coach. Thank you for helping me have a lil more Torero Pride to end my college career.

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