At the Gunn High of Palo Alto, Calif. Class of 1982 30th reunion, John Chovanec, the former all-league football and baseball star, gave me further comedic or psychic grist for the mill for the performance piece cum social sculpture I call the “Harbaugina Monologues”.
It seems that in summer of 1981 Chovanec and Jim Harbaugh were teammates on the local American Legion baseball team. John says that one day in the dugout there was some not atypical banter going on and it came out that although Harbaugh led his Vikings team to the CCS playoffs in months prior, and beat John’s team, his mine and our Titans, Chovanec picked off two Harbaugh passes, or so he said, or thought was true and therefore offered, somesuch verbalizing or utterance, natural, unrehearsed, slightly cheeky, like perhaps the chewing tobacco they might have also been mulling over and issuing, as man-boys, free and easy, in the summertime, wearing baggy flannel, back in the day.
Well in actuality, as he tells me some 31 years later, maybe one of those errant passes was thrown not by Harbaugh (who of course went on to be all Big Ten for Michigan, AFC Player of the Year for the Colts, NFC Coach of the Year 2011 for the Niners, et cetera, and or as I argue: ad nauseum: to become Harbarph) but by Paul Kraft.
So although it is now baseball season, back to his story, and they’re now temporarily teammates, the distinction between “picked off twice” or once was enough to get both players off their duffs and at each others’ throats, nose-to-nose, mega-rotay visor-to-visor such that, according to “Chevy”, the other Post 375s soon had to intervene. Chev may have been baiting Jim, of course, like Lester Hayes, but doesn’t say that.
Further, he says – and if I am giving him too much benefit of the doubt here let me admit that his nickname “Chevy” is also the same brand name of the famous manufacturer who employed both my pappy and my grand-pappy –from 1919 to 1988 the Weiss’s were professionally a Chevy clan, and I currently drive a Chevy Cruze, and I sold Chevy’s in the summer of 1984, to among others the great college football coach and player Bill Campbell, who had moved to town from Rochester to work for Apple; Campbell bought a maroon Celebrity — the rift continued all summer and into the next fall’s football season when, as Chovanec and Harbaugh and the other opposing Gunn-Paly co-captains met at midfield for the pre-game coin flip, Harbaugh greeted Chovanec with an icy stare and stony countenance. You see the famous dust-ups with Pete Carroll of USC (“what’s your deal?”) and Jim Schwartz of the Detroit Lions had precedents.
Chovanec knows considerably more football than I do – me, the second receiver for the league co-champion 1978 Terman Tigers flag footballers, although I did play basketball against Jim Harbaugh in fall winter of 1980-81 – and corrected me or at least begged to differ on part of my Harbaugina Monologue backstory and analysis; he says Harbaugh was perhaps “lucky” as a player but “damn good” as a coach whereas I say that he perhaps got to Stanford the year after the Cardinal laxed the admissions standards and or took over the Niners just in time for Singletary’s motivational tactics to kick in. And I will be proven correct on this one of these years.
As I augment and embellish the work-in-progress open mic performances of “The Harbaugina Monologues” with other people’s takes on the Harbaugh story and my little ditty, I am open to someday turning, to sing his praise. For instance, recent former Palo Alto Mayor Peter Drekmeier says, contradictory to the initial reports and genesis of my tale, that Harbaugh was inclusive of all his teammates and not exclusive nor alienating, by the end of his lackluster 6-6 second season. “Jim acknowledged everyone’s contribution; even that of kicker Drew Van Horne,” the former Mayor (and tight end, Paly class of 1983) said.
But the gist of the story is: Harbaugh came to Palo Alto in 1980, was a three-sport star for two seasons for Paly BUT, and it’s a crucial “but”, the biggest “but” this side of Montana, a Fat Albert “but”, a caveat the size of the Grand Canyon, Harbaugh played and won in such a way that he alienated his opposition certainly, and maybe his own guys. At least that’s the story coming out of South Palo Alto, since 1981, where we are not only sticking with but adding to it. He’s Harbarph, of “The Harbaugina Monologue” (except when there are minors present, who have never heard of Eve Ensler, when it is “The Harbaugh-Haters Monologue” or “The Harbaugh Monologue”).
Eric Cohen, another Gunn classmate at the reunion, suggested that I might read “Blind Side” by Michael Lewis. He said I might also study Spalding Gray, and or write out and rehearse these riffs. Eric, a SAG-AFTA actor, MFA with Paul McCarthy at UCLA and former Gunn hurdler, said he would consider reading “The Harbaugina Monologue” and portray me and my angst someday somewhere on stage, which would add a whole ‘nother side to the production and project. (And it’s not too far off-topic to mention that before “The Harbaugina Monologue” I had a project or a notion that Steve and Eric Cohen, “The Flying Cohen Brothers” comic strip heroes, should wrestle Eugene Robinson, of “Fight…”, like Andy Kaufman versus Antonio Inoki; not to digress but I also once tried to get Eugene Robinson to wrestle Keith Boykin, Eugene to play a black Pansy Jones — the Robert Ryan role — in “The Set Up” and, if this is not too plastic for “Plastic Alto” Austin Willacy to wrist-wrestle Gordy Quist from Band of Heathens; to come full circle, but not as far as Juan Marichal braining John Roseboro, I texted Eugene about could he train me to take a retaliatory punch some day from Jim Harbaugh?)
So far I’ve stood up four times at Philz open mic, and once at a karaoke truck at Eric Fanali’s Rockage event. I’ve described this project to potential confederates about 20 times and added their reactions to the mix. Actually point of fact, Quist, mentioned is a former Dartmouth starting linebacker turned songwriter and Texas rocker who, although probably never met Harbaugh but does certainly, as I try to do, bridge Monsters of Midway and Pirates of Penzance. And there’s of course the 1982 fake Campanile newspaper, the Palo Alto Crapanile which also explored the topic of Harbaugh.
For what it’s worth, if not too tangential, coaches I rank above “Our Boy Jim” include: Al Davis, Bill Walsh, Sam Wyche, George Seifert, John Ralston, John Madden, Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi, Buddy Teevens by a Granite State mile and former Titan all-league quarterback, my classmate Chris Strausser, the offensive line coach for Boise State, who is allegedly taking a close look at Bellarmine senior to be tailback Aaron Chapman (son of another of our classmates, Andre Chapman, who was at the reunion and looked like he could still run a 4.9 forty).
Chovanec is a director at Apple. And I wonder if he’s met Campbell.
If it’s not too extraneous here I am also now recalling that Jim Yardley, the Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter and one-time Titan footballer says that he sacked Harbaugh twice that game. I wonder if those too probably involved Kraft not Harbaugh, who some recall was yanked for changing the coaches’ play-call from “hand it to Ford” so that he could pass.
This entire process and script falls somewhere between John McPhee’s “A Sense of Where You Are” and scraping something suspect off the bottom of your Saucony.
HTFBH. Outro: Rancid “Keep ‘em Separated”
edit to add: Bill Campbell captained the last Columbia Lions championship team, the year before Jim, John or I were born, in 1961, and then coached there; I corresponded with him briefly when he was at Intuit and I was a pr guy in Silicon Valley, in the late 1980s; I approached him at the Old Pro about a year ago, about Ben Parks; Ben Parks who worked with Henry Ford, the NFL black pioneer; Henry Ford’s son Marc Ford is the guy Harbaugh was supposed to give the ball to, when he changed the plays; it all fits. All things are connected, as Jack Thompson, the Throwin’ Samoan would often say. Or was that John Zorn? (It was Chief Seattle).
edita 30 minutes later: Or as Greg Zlotnick said, in my 8th grade yearbook, about my penchant for reciting a certain comic’s routine in Drama Class: “George Carlin is funny; but you are not George Carlin”. And I truly regret that Ring Lardner is not here to do an Alibi Ike jobber on Our Boy Jim. “I had malaria that season so only hit .356”. I’m no Ring Lardner but at least can read him.
edita, three weeks after that: Drekmeier emailed me today with this link, to Harbaugh and his “tweets”. I wrote back to mention, sans link, about David Feldman and Harbaugh. Here is that link. I haven’t actually read the Chron piece, or calculated how it fits my project. An email conversation in today’s age is like dialogue from an Ionesco play: not sure which part of the conversation is actually being fully heard. I could easily add five minutes about Feldman to my 60 minute Harbaugh monologue but will save that for later. It occured to me that if someone like Feldman was slightly more neurotic, that his monologue about his ambivalence about his teammate would be much more compelling that mine, by a former rival. Splitting the difference, maybe someday Feldman would read The Harbaugina Monologue as a guest principal.