Friday, January 25, 2013

Caught Between Two Geniuses

I'll say it right up front: I have a great job. I'm the grown-up version of the kid who was curious about everything, read every scrap of paper he could get his hands on, and never stopped asking questions.

So anchoring the news at KCBS is pretty cool. The John Madden thing?  Well, that puts it over the top.

For more than a dozen years, I've been lucky enough to be the guy who greets the legendary coach and broadcaster and moderates a 7-or-8-minute chat. It's usually about sports, often about football, and always unpredictable. We don't script anything. Heck, we don't even choose a topic in advance.

Every now and again, we'll book a guest to join the conversation.  As you can imagine, it's not hard to convince sports figures to spend a little time with John Madden.

This morning, we had what broadcast producers call "a good get":  Jim Harbaugh. My colleague Steve Bitker made the request; despite the mad pressure on his time, the Super Bowl-bound Harbaugh said "yes".

You can hear the whole segment here. What you can't hear or see is what it felt like to sit in the middle of this. Madden has been saying for two years now that he's a huge fan of the job Harbaugh has done with the 49ers, arriving after the 2011 lockout to push the Niners to the brink of the Super Bowl--and then going one step beyond this year.

So Madden told Harbaugh how much he respected Harbaugh's coaching. To which Harbaugh replied, "Bullcrap!" We're all pretty sure that's the first time we ever heard that word on KCBS. Just to be clear, Harbaugh repeated it.

His point: Madden was "The Man" in this conversation.  And as if to prove it, Harbaugh asked Madden, whose Raiders won the Super Bowl  36 years ago, for advice. So Madden offered, "The team that complains the most usually loses. The other thing that I know is, you haven't done anything yet."

That's when Harbaugh said, "Hang on. I'm writing this down." And judging by the silence on his end of the line, he was writing it all down.

Unaccustomed as I am to shutting up, this seemed like a good time to do so. Here was a true legend handing a few pearls of wisdom to the hottest coach in the business--and Harbaugh was listening. It was like having a front-row seat to a moment in sports history. Of course, I couldn't leave well enough alone and asked a question, probably a lame one, and Harbaugh put me right  in my place, saying "Hey, we have Coach Madden here!" In other words: back off, Radio-Boy.

We did get inside his busy mind a bit: Harbaugh shared his thoughts on what he likes to see in a good team meeting (everyone engaged) and on his recent posting of high school photos and scouting reports on players' lockers (a fun way to remind them of how their football careers began).

But what we'll always remember is the self-assured coach of a Super Bowl team asking for advice from an elder, and writing it down.

No bullcrap there.