"Harbs:” The Jim Harbaugh not everybody knows

"Harbs:” The Jim Harbaugh not everybody knows
January 31, 2013, 5:15 pm
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In the course of doing the book “Tales from the Chicago Bears Sideline,” I was treated to a number of tales about Jim Harbaugh furnished by teammates, and Jim, from his playing days. Such as:

In 1988, Jim was getting impatient to be on the field and playing football. He’d been the Bears’ No. 1 draft choice in 1987 but was behind Jim McMahon and Mike Tomczak on the depth chart and had thrown all of 11 passes his rookie season.

So Jim started badgering special-teams coach Steve Kazor to put him in covering kicks. Kazor (and coach Mike Ditka) said OK.

Bad idea.

“That idiot,” former Bears receiver Glen Kozlowski told me. “He’s got the gloves on, getting all psyched up to be the tough guy. I was out for a play after hurting my knee on a previous punt so I focused on ‘Harbs’ running down under a kickoff.

“Harbs is going down the field, yelling like a madman, and he gets jacked. I mean, jacked. Somebody blindsides him and he goes flying through the air, all the way out of bounds. His helmet is turned around and he’s looking out the earhole.

“Ya know,” Koz concluded, “Harbs never chirped about covering kicks again.”

A former teammate told me that Harbaugh once lost his wallet and it had $1,200 in it at the time. Remarkably, Jim didn’t miss the wallet for three weeks.

“The hilarious thing wasn’t that he didn’t miss $1,200,” his teammate said, laughing. “It was that he never went into his wallet. That’s how clueless Harbs was!”

Mike Ditka really didn’t want to draft Harbaugh when Jim was coming out of Michigan in 1987. Mike wasn’t a big scout of college players and he hadn’t liked what he’d seen in a bowl game so was arguing against taking this Michigan kid in the first round.

On draft day, Ditka wanted defensive end/linebacker Alex Gordon. Player personnel chief Bill Tobin, who had scouted Harbaugh, was (rightly) concerned about health issues with Jim McMahon. The tiebreaking vote came from Michael McCaskey, and Harbaugh became only the second quarterback drafted by the Bears in 36 years.

Bears tight end Jim Thornton was a legendary physical specimen, biceps about the size of the normal person’s thigh. One day “Robocop” got to Glen Kozlowski’s house and discovered he needed a collared shirt for a function that he, Koz and Harbaugh were attending.

“Go up and get something out of the closet,” Koz told Robo, who came back downstairs in a shirt that, with his build, looked painted on.

“Harbs takes one look and deadpans, ‘Robo, Koz meant take something out of his closet, not his kids’.’”

Harbaugh became a team leader and not afraid to speak his mind, which is amply in evidence this week leading to the Super Bowl and always has been.

After the 1991 season, in which the Bears went 11-5 but lost 52-14 in their final game to fall into a wild-card game, which they also lost, Mike Ditka made comments about a number of his players being “overachievers” and how he was “just playing the hand I was dealt.”

Harbaugh, the starting quarterback, said later that those comments left hard feelings and scar tissue in Ditka’s relationships with his players.

“If you have a coach saying, ‘These [personnel] guys are sending me a bunch of overachievers’ and ‘this is the hand I was dealt,’ there’s not a lot of harmony there, you know,” Harbaugh told another reporter and myself at Halas Hall one day. “Guys talked about that a lot.

“It’s kind of a slam. Tom Waddle is a good player. How is he an ‘overachiever?’ You’re either good or you’re not. It’s tough to read that.”