|49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll have a history that dates back to 1987. (US Presswire)|
During a conference call with Pac-12 media before No. 2-ranked USC's trip to Stanford in September, USC coach Lane Kiffin was asked about the relationship between him and Stanford coach David Shaw.
"It's a little more friendly rivalry, a little more respectful, than it was for the last couple of head coaches," Kiffin said.
Kiffin, of course, was referring to Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll (USC) and San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh (Stanford), whose relationship drew a significant amount of attention during the three years they overlapped in the former Pac-10.
Harbaugh was hired to take over a Stanford team that went 1-11 in 2006. Weeks after he was hired, he made it clear USC, and Carroll, were in his crosshairs.
In comments that could easily be interpreted as an attack on USC's recruiting efforts, Harbaugh told CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd: “(Pete's) only got one more year (at USC), though. He'll be there one more year. That's what I've heard. I heard it inside the staff."
The Los Angeles Times got in touch with Harbaugh shortly after and asked if USC wide receivers coach John Morton, who previously coached on Harbaugh's staff at the University of San Diego was the leak. Harbaugh said only that he'd heard it from “multiple people secondhand.” Morton would later leave USC after the 2010 season to join Harbaugh's first staff in San Francisco.
“Regardless of Pete, when we got here to Stanford we wanted to compete with the top teams and the top team in our conference was USC,” said Shaw, who served as Stanford offensive coordinator under Harbaugh. “In order for us to improve, we put the target on the top team, the team we knew that we needed to try to beat.
“USC was playing great football and we were not, but we wanted to, so we aimed at the top team.”
By the time Stanford and USC met for the first time at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Trojans (4-0) were the No. 2 ranked team in the nation and Stanford (1-3) had only beaten San Jose State.
None of that mattered. In what is now considered one of the biggest upsets in college football history, Stanford, a 41-point underdog, upset USC 24-23 on a last-minute touchdown pass from Tavita Pritchard to Mark Bradford.
Harbaugh poked the bear, then beat the bear. Call it his coming out party as a coach on the national scene.
“Jim Harbaugh has never snuck up on anyone in his life,” Shaw said. “That's the mentality that we wanted to take on.”
So a rivalry was born? Not quite.
Harbaugh and Carroll had a lot of history already.
When San Francisco hosts Seattle on Thursday, it'll be the 18th time since 1987 that Harbaugh and Carroll are on opposite sidelines for a regular-season football game.
Before they coached against each other, Carroll schemed against offenses Harbaugh was a part of as a quarterback. In fact, when the Bears drafted Harbaugh in the first round of the 1987 NFL Draft, Carroll was a defensive backs coach for Minnesota, which was in Chicago's division.
If Harbaugh had made his NFL debut a week earlier, it would have been against a Carroll-coached secondary. Instead, his only appearance of the year came at San Francisco in a game that both Joe Montana and Steve Young played in and both Jerry Rice and Dwight Clark caught touchdown passes.
Harbaugh's second career appearance came the next year against … Minnesota. Carroll's secondary limited Harbaugh to 4 of 9 passing for 38 yards. He was one of three quarterbacks to appear for Chicago as the Vikings won 31-7. The Vikings and Bears played three other times -- without Harbaugh playing a significant role -- before Carroll took the defensive coordinator job with the Jets in 1990.
The nickname “Captain Comeback” was given to Harbaugh following a performance in 1995 for the Colts, but it could have come five years earlier against … Carroll.
When the Jets traveled to Solider Field for a Monday Night Football game in 1990, Harbaugh was the starting quarterback for the Bears (3-0). The Jets (1-2) built a 13-3 lead headed into the fourth quarter and had the ball and a 13-6 advantage at the two-minute warning.
"The New York Jets, barring disaster, will have a very happy plane ride back to Gotham," said broadcaster Al Michaels as the game went to a commercial break.
For the Jets, disaster followed.
Steve McMichael forced a fumble and Harbaugh went to work. He eventually hit Neil Anderson for a game-tying touchdown as regulation ended. Then, in overtime, he punched in a 1-yard keeper with 18 seconds left to give Chicago the win. [Video: Final two minutes of the game]
That wouldn't be the final time Harbaugh engineered a game-winning drive against a Carroll-coached defense. Five years later, Harbaugh was the quarterback for the Colts and Carroll had just been hired as the defensive coordinator for the 49ers following their Super Bowl win against San Diego. San Francisco finished the season ranked No. 1 in total defense, but was shocked 18-17 by Indianapolis. Kicker Cary Blanchard kicked a game-winning 41-yard field goal with 2:36 left to provide the winning margin. [Video: Watch the first 1:35]
Their paths crossed two more times during Harbaugh's playing career, both wins for Carroll in 1997 when he was in the first year of his three-year stint as the head coach of the Patriots.
Their next meeting wasn't until Stanford's shocking 24-23 win a decade later, when they first met as coaches.
USC and Carroll bounced back strong in 2008 with a 45-23 win in now Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez's lone season as the starter for the Trojans. [Video: Stanford highlights]
The following year is when Harbaugh vs. Carroll became pop culture with the infamous “What's your deal?” game. [Video: Stanford highlights]
After Stanford scored a touchdown to go up 48-21 with about six minutes left, Harbaugh elected to go for two.
The Cardinal didn't convert, but the message remained the same and it didn't resonate well with Carroll, who asked Harbaugh during the postgame handshake, “What's your deal, you all right?”
Harbaugh responded: “Yeah, I'm good. What's your deal?”
The saying "What's your deal?" was later used by the Stanford marketing department to sell ticket packages.
In the postgame press conference, Harbaugh was asked why he went for two.
“I thought it was an opportunity,” he said, “the way we were coming off the ball, the way our players were playing -- that it was the right thing to do.”
Carroll fielded the same question.
“I'm wondering, like you,” he said. “In that situation, they get to do whatever they want. Sometimes, you make the decision for your own team's attitude.''
Carroll made the decision to leave USC following that season to coach the Seahawks and drafted Stanford CB Richard Sherman in the fifth round. Sherman came up with a pivotal play against USC when he returned a Matt Barkley pass 43 yards for a touchdown to make it 42-21 Stanford in the fourth quarter. Carroll also added undrafted wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who led Stanford in receiving in 2010, to the Seattle roster in free agency.
Despite Carroll's departure, he wasn't completely out of mind on The Farm. After Stanford beat Washington 41-0 in 2010, a team coached by former Carroll assistant Steve Sarkisian and former USC defensive coordinator Nick Holt, Harbaugh was heard addressing his team by reporters.
The message was relayed by the Seattle Times:
"Dominating! We kicked their ass every which way! One hell of a job on both sides of the line! Dominant, dominant!"
According to the Times, Harbaugh then referenced Carroll, Kiffin, Sarkisian and Holt, and said, "What are you guys, 5-1, 6-1 against that group (in his four-year tenure)? That's the highest-paid coaching staff around!"
Stanford went on to finish 12-1 with a victory in the Orange Bowl and Harbaugh made the jump to San Francisco, where, like in his rookie season, he had two games a year against Carroll waiting for him.
Since then, the rivalry has been calm. Both coaches downplayed the perceived rift before both games last season -- a pair of 49ers wins -- and Carroll was complimentary of Harbaugh on Monday.
“He's done a fantastic job at Stanford and getting this thing started,” Carroll said. “You can't do a whole lot better than he did last year. He was that close to being on top of everything.
“Just like last week, playing against Coach Belicheck. That was a great honor and a challenge. Jim and I have had some battles, and we'll have some more. Hopefully there'll be a good one this week.”
Going into the 18th battle, Harbaugh is in the lead: 10-7.
Pete Carroll vs Jim Harbaugh, since 1987
|Year||Carroll's Team||Pos.||Score||Harbaugh's Team||Pos.||Score||Winner||Note|
|1987||Vikings||DB Coach||7||Bears||QB||27||Harbaugh||Harbaugh did not appear.|
|1987||Vikings||DB Coach||24||Bears||QB||30||Harbaugh||Harbaugh did not appear. He made his NFL debut the next week vs SF.|
|1988||Vikings||DB Coach||31||Bears||QB||7||Carroll||Harbaugh makes second career appearance.|
|1988||Vikings||DB Coach||28||Bears||QB||27||Carroll||Harbaugh did not play.|
|1989||Vikings||DB Coach||7||Bears||QB||38||Harbaugh||Harbaugh does not attempt a pass, but has one carry for -1 yard.|
|1989||Vikings||DB Coach||27||Bears||QB||16||Carroll||Harbaugh did not play.|
|1991||Jets||Defensive coordinator||13||Colts||QB||19||Harbaugh||Bears pull out miraculous win in OT.|
|1994||Jets||Head coach||16||Colts||QB||6||Carroll||Harbaugh was 12 of 21 for 95 yards.|
|1994||Jets||Head coach||25||Colts||QB||28||Harbaugh||Harbaugh did not play.|
|1995||49ers||Defensive coordinator||17||Colts||QB||18||Harbaugh||Harbaugh sets new career highs in completions, yards|
|1997||Patriots||Head coach||31||Colts||QB||6||Carroll||Harbaugh is 30 of 38 for 241 yards.|
|1997||Patriots||Head coach||20||Colts||QB||17||Carroll||Harbaugh goes 22 of 41 for 310 yards, 2 TD|
|2007||USC||Head coach||23||Stanford||Head coach||24||Harbaugh||Stanford wins as 41-point dogs|
|2008||USC||Head coach||45||Stanford||Head coach||23||Carroll||Mark Sanchez and USC win big|
|2009||USC||Head coach||21||Stanford||Head coach||55||Harbaugh||"What's your deal?"|
|2011||Seahawks||Head coach||17||49ers||Head coach||33||Harbaugh||Doug Baldwin has a 55-yard TD for Seattle.|
|2011||Seahawks||Head coach||17||49ers||Head coach||19||Harbaugh|
David Akers kicked a 39-yard FG with 2:57 left to win.