I will admit, I do not always attack the day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind, particularly when I drink decaf and/or listen to Warren Zevon albums.
I am a writer, which means cynicism and procrastination and laziness are central elements of my job description. The downside is, I often find myself refreshing Twitter and zoning out to Seinfeld reruns while wondering why I have so much difficulty getting things done.
Which is why I decided to spend some time living like Jim Harbaugh.
I was hoping that by approaching my existence with a newfound ferocity, while also purchasing polyester slacks and violating the rules of a kosher diet, I could pick up some of that magical mojo.
I have spent a great deal of effort attempting to comprehend the Michigan coach’s worldview, and not always in the most empathetic ways, given that I am an alumnus of a rival Big Ten program that lost to Harbaugh’s team by 39 points this season. But I am not alone in this feeling. As Harbaugh has ascended from Stanford to the San Francisco 49ers to his current job overseeing the no. 3-ranked Wolverines—who play Urban Meyer’s no. 2 Ohio State this weekend in the most anticipated game of the college football season—he has emerged as one of the weirdest and most idiosyncratic voices in the sport.
He is so intense and eclectic and combative that The Simpsons literally made a joke out of it a few weeks back. And as much as it pains me to admit it, he is also undeniably excellent at his job, which involves motivating young men to run through proverbial walls (and/or the Purdue defensive line, which is more like bursting through silly putty).
I was hoping that by approaching my existence with a newfound ferocity, while also purchasing polyester slacks and violating the rules of a kosher diet, I could pick up some of that magical mojo. Here’s what actually happened.
Spongebob Is an Intense Metazoan
Odd pop culture proclivities is one the part of Harbaughian lore that I could get behind, because it involved watching television.
“I model my behavior by him,” Harbaugh said of SpongeBob Squarepants a few weeks back, in the wake of that Simpsons joke. “What a great employee he is. He is a go-getter, he’s always got a bounce in his step. He’s got pizzazz, he puts his heart and soul into making those patties. I think he’s awesome.”
A confession: I had no idea what sort of patties Harbaugh was referring to. I had never watched an episode of SpongeBob before; I knew it only as a comforting and colorful refuge for overactive toddlers and hardcore stoners. I did not know why it would appeal to Harbaugh, so I watched the first-ever episode, an eight-minute short entitled, “Help Wanted,” which involved this overenthusiastic ocean dweller angling for a job at an undersea In-n-Out known as the Krusty Krab.
Very quickly, it made sense. SpongeBob literally did attack the day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. He woke up to a foghorn of an alarm clock, and repeated to himself, “I’m ready,” over and over and over again, which I imagine is the same exact thing Harbaugh does on gamedays. Then he applied for a job, and the owner of the Krusty Krab dispatched him to find a rare spatula that likely did not exist, which I imagine is what Harbaugh felt like when he feuded with 49ers owner Jed York.
“When you lie in Judge Judy’s courtroom, it’s over,” Harbaugh says. “Your credibility is completely lost… If somebody does lie to you, how can you trust anything they say after that?”
But just as Harbaugh endured, SpongeBob found that spatula and then proceeded to produce dozens and dozens of patties—are they actually crab patties or ground beef? Such are the mysteries of the sea, I suppose—to satisfy a ravenous tour group. (This is exactly what happens when Harbaugh faces Rutgers.)
Of course, Harbaugh has also professed to be a fan of Judge Judy Sheindlin, a no-nonsense televisual arbiter who doesn’t put up with bullshit. In fact, a few years ago, Harbaugh showed up in the audience in Judge Judy’s courtroom. “When you lie in Judge Judy’s courtroom, it’s over,” Harbaugh says. “Your credibility is completely lost… If somebody does lie to you, how can you trust anything they say after that?”
Which may explain why Harbaugh, while complimenting Donald Trump’s ability to fuck with the establishment, wound up attending a day-before-the-election rally for Hillary Clinton.
Still, the thing about Judge Judy is that she purposely throws you off your game to rattle you, something Harbaugh does on a daily basis. And I guess the bottom line is that, like SpongeBob, you have to be ready for anything.
The Price of Khakis Is Volatile
A few years ago, Harbaugh’s wife Sarah told the media that her husband had a habit of purchasing $8 pleated khakis at Wal-Mart while on the road. Because I live in the liberal fantasia of San Francisco, I am not within shouting distance of a Wal-Mart, so I had to find my way to the snooty confines of a downtown Target. The only pleated khakis available were made by Haggar, and apparently inflation applies only to pants, because these things cost $32.99.
Were they comfortable? Yes, they were comfortable, in part because I had to scale up a waist size as they didn’t have my own size in stock, and in part because they feature a healthy amount of polyester. They are referred to as “performance slacks” because, you know, ordinary khakis simply don’t embrace the challenge of throwing an out route with quite the same overarching vigor.
I should note that Harbaugh has a practical reason for always wearing khakis (though he now also has a clothing deal with Nike): It makes life easier not having to decide what pants he’s going to wear each morning. It’s one less decision. Which is weird, because I own four pairs of blue jeans and have never consciously spent more than 12 seconds wondering which pair I should wear at any given moment. So for me, adding khakis to the mix only complicated my already addled worldview.
All Work and No Play Makes Me a Harbaugh
I am writing this sentence on a Saturday at midnight after watching roughly 14 consecutive hours of college football—including, of course, Michigan’s win over Indiana in a raging snowstorm that didn’t seem to faze Harbaugh one bit. It’s possible that I may have consumed a couple of alcoholic beverages, but that is not the point; the point is that hard work is the centerpiece of the Harbaugh ethos, therefore I should always be thinking about work, even when I am not working.
“It’s life-giving energy to be able to work,” Harbaugh has said. “I don’t want to miss a day.”
What happens when you do? Well, Harbaugh’s father—also a football coach, like Harbaugh’s brother John, the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens—told him the story of Wally Pipp, the Yankees first baseman who sat out a game in 1925, lost his job to Lou Gehrig and never got it back.
I don’t want to become the Wally Pipp of… well, whatever the hell I’m doing… therefore, here I am, burning the midnight oil with sentences that may not entirely coherent be but you know how it is when you can’t stop and just go on keeping till I don’t know whatever nonsense words come out just so there are words on the page and Mike Sager doesn’t come along to steal this spot you know how it is…
Milk and Meat
Here’s the thing: I’ve never liked milk. I find the taste of it disgusting; I find the very idea of adult humans drinking it disgusting. I am not lactose intolerant, but I certainly do not approve of lactose’s lifestyle, particularly when I am consuming a healthy portion of medium-rare bovine.
But this is what Harbaugh does. There is photographic evidence of it. His recommended diet: Steak, milk, water and sleep. Therefore, I had to try it. I had to give it a shot. I had to consume a slab of cow with some life-affirming mammary-gland liquid. Take the cow full-circle, so to speak. And so on a recent Sunday morning I shoveled a big ol’ ribeye into my gullet as part of a dedicated brunch.
And then: the milk. And the milk was as horrific as I remembered it to be. It completely distorted the taste of the meat, to the point that I nearly choked. I suppose it was an infusion of protein, but I found myself gagging, desperate for a glass of water. It reminded me of my 21st birthday, of the cement mixer shot that put me over the edge and made me never want to ingest anything ever again.
That said, I still managed to finish the steak.
There’s virtue in being organically strange, as Harbaugh is, and coupling that with a maniacal work ethic. I envy that his Herculean efforts appear to happen so naturally.
So what did I take away from this experience, other than the fact that cow byproducts exist on different planes of consumption for a reason, and that the deep sea is a manic and colorful place, and that drinking and writing only mix well if you are in fact Ernest Hemingway?
I suppose there is a certain merit to attacking life, to getting after things. I found my e-mails and texts getting more aggressive; I found that tweeting out Gordon Lightfoot songs based on flimsy historical pretext, as Harbaugh has been known to do, is a good way to make people wonder if perhaps you simply understand the world in a way they never could.
There’s virtue in being organically strange, as Harbaugh is, and coupling that with a maniacal work ethic. I imagine in Jim Harbaugh’s brain, meat and milk really do go together beautifully; I imagine Judge Judy really is a no-nonsense legal mind equal to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I envy that his Herculean efforts appear to happen so naturally.
That said, I am still a writer, which means I am still given to procrastination and self-doubt. I will never possess Harbaugh’s bounce or his pizzazz. But I am slightly more ready than I was yesterday. And while I may not attack every day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind, I will at least own the proper pants to do so.
Photos by Jason Doiy