All Jim Harbaugh had to do was shake John Schwartz’s hand. And if he wasn’t feeling very magnanimous in victory, Harbaugh could simply have made eye contact with his fellow NFL coach, turned and run off the field with his players to howl at the moon in their locker room.

But no. There had to be an obligatory handshake Sunday after Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers beat Schwartz’s Detroit Lions. The handshake escalated into a confrontation of gestures and sharp words.

Can’t we all just get along?

“Most people aren’t at their best when they’re at their most emotional point,” said Dave Leitao, the new coach of the Maine Red Claws. He was speaking Tuesday as an observer of human behavior rather than comparing one sport to another.

Or as Brad Church, former Portland Pirates fan favorite and current Junior Pirates coach admitted, “I’ve been known to wake up the next morning with my foot in my mouth after my emotions peaked the night before.”

Where’s the love? Trampled by our all-about-me-society and drowned by the sludge of trash-talking that never stops. At almost any level.

Al Bean has spent nearly two decades watching University of Southern Maine teams and their coaches line up to shake hands with opponents after games won or lost. He holds his breath sometimes, wondering if sparks from the game will reignite.

“Is it really sportsmanship or is it a ritual?” he asks. “I’ve got mixed feelings. The kids go through the line slapping hands, saying good game, good game. I think it’s pretty meaningless for the most part.”

He would rather see players and coaches seek out their counterparts on the field or the court on their own. In other words, Harbaugh and Schwartz should have felt free to not meet. Why fake respect?

After the handshake, Harbaugh placed his hand on Schwartz’s back. Hard slap or shove, it doesn’t matter. Schwartz reacted like salt was rubbed into an open wound.

“In those moments my mind isn’t on the other coach. I’m thinking about what I’m going to tell my players,” said Leitao. “I’m not thinking of pleasantries.”

Unless the respect between opposing coaches has been earned. The point is, coaches and players shouldn’t be acting from a script. Appreciation for the other side should come naturally.

Church has a different perspective, drawing from a lifetime in hockey.

“You don’t leave the ice without showing your respect to the other player. It’s part of the game. The hockey world is a very, very small place. You’ve crossed paths, met or heard about almost everyone you’ve played with or against.

Understood. Although Church couldn’t fully explain how after three periods of mayhem, hockey players can throw a switch and revert back to compassionate humans in the minutes after the final horn.

He coaches players ages 16 through 20. A very small percentage have the potential to become pros. Most go on to college careers. When Church talks hockey, it’s about life’s lessons and things like accountability. Hockey pros don’t line up until the playoffs. In high school, juniors and college, it’s after every game.

Church wants his players in that line. “At some point it won’t become meaningless.

“Nothing good ever happens when your emotions are at their highest pitch. You need to play with emotion but you have to control your emotions and I don’t care what sport you’re talking about.” And when the game is over, he says, you’re moving on to another part of your life and interacting with people.

Greg Stilphen, the former Deering High football coach, is an emotional man who needed time to decompress. A handshake and a few words sufficed.

“There’s nothing you can say to a losing coach right after the game other than, good job.” A day or days later when it was natural and unscripted, he’d talk to the man who stood on the opposite side of the field.

In today’s 24/7 media watch, sport doesn’t need more personality issues or confrontations to sell itself. Less is better.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:
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Twitter: SteveSolloway