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Point, counterpoint: Should coaches shake hands after the game?


! Staff Writer Mike Spofford says yes.

So, let me get this straight. Two overly emotional head coaches in the process of bringing two moribund franchises back from oblivion can't quite restrain themselves in the moments after a heated, down-to-the-wire contest and now the league should do away with the postgame handshake altogether?


This is a game in which grown men beat each other up for 60 minutes and for which the league terms certain individuals "defenseless" for the purpose of trying to write rules to protect them, and we're supposed to get rid of one of the rare public moments that restores some civility to the proceedings?

What's next? Replace the coin toss with a rugby scrum to decide who gets the ball first? Set off sirens and spotlights when someone breaks the rules instead of penalty flags? Let's just get rid of all semblance of dignity while we're at it.

Hey, I'm not saying the two coaches need to warm-and-fuzzily embrace each other at midfield after a game or even have a recorded conversation for all to see and hear, but they can shake hands and show some respect for the opponent, even if they're about to head into the locker room and tell their players how much they dislike that guy on the other side.

That's what Detroit's Jim Schwartz should have done, as Tony Dungy pointedly said on NBC's Sunday night show. San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh should have done the same thing and not let whatever was roiling inside him gain the upper hand.

The memo to all is this: Act like you've been there before. I find it ironic that the two men who created this brouhaha are the leaders of two teams forever represented by two players who always acted like they'd been there before – Barry Sanders and Joe Montana. Let's not legislate appreciation for the likes of their presence out of the game.

The NHL has it right on this one. There's something dignified, and sportsmanlike, about seeing players from both teams line up, remove their gloves, and shake hands after seven games of brutality otherwise known as a Stanley Cup playoff series.

The NFL doesn't need to go that far. Players can be left to their own devices as far as postgame interactions go, but the coaches who represent their teams should be able to put the game above themselves and shake hands.

It sets an example, and the gesture says it's not about us, it's about the game. Let's keep it that way.

! Editor Vic Ketchman says no.

The postgame handshake was not the ritual for Vince Lombardi and the coaches of his generation that it is for today's coaches. On occasion, they would meet as they left the field, especially when one of the coaches was the other's former player, but that was the exception, not the rule.

George Halas and Curly Lambeau are said to have never shaken hands, Lombardi liked to meet with the opposing coach before the game, Paul Brown gave fair warning before the game, while Tom Landry and Chuck Noll preferred a subtle gesture while exiting. You want to count up those league titles?

More to the point, most of today's head coaches would tell you they don't want do it, either. So, who started this postgame lovefest and why do so many of us need to see it to feel good about the game we just watched?

Those who watched the "Ice Bowl" obviously didn't need to see Lombardi and Landry shake hands after the game. Can anybody remember having seen it happen?

"I didn't see (Colts coach) Weeb Ewbank cross the field to shake (Giants coach) Jim Lee Howell's hand at the end of the (1958 NFL title) game," long-time Giants GM Ernie Accorsi said in a Boston Globe story that helped define the Belichick-Mangini handshake controversy.

Brown had never been the warm and fuzzy type. Landry did a little wave gesture at the opposing coach as they left the field. Noll would make eye contact and nod and nobody had a problem with that until "Handshake Sam" Wyche came along and literally demanded that Noll shake his hand after Wyche's Bengals had scored a win against Noll and his Steelers.

"I would have appreciated being able to shake hands with Chuck after the game but he ran in. That's all I need. From now on, the rivalry is on," Wyche said.

"You can always tell the rookies in the league," Noll countered. "They complain."

Well, that little exchange seemed to kick off the handshake craze. After that, the media kept a postgame handshake vigil. Why not? It was an easy story if the two coaches didn't shake.

Noll actually got involved in a handshake controversy a few years after the Wyche incident. He exchanged words with Oilers coach Jerry Glanville in a meeting that wouldn't have occurred prior to the Wyche incident, because Noll didn't do handshakes until then.

Wyche was big on behavior. He once grabbed the public address microphone and chastised the behavior of his own team's fans' by insulting another city. "You don't live in Cleveland," Wyche said.

I doubt Browns fans thought that was a sportsmanlike thing to do.

Is this all really necessary? That little display on Sunday between Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh was ugly. Whatever happened to coaches being men of distinction? Can you imagine Lombardi crying about another coach not shaking his hand? Can you picture Halas getting upset … well, would Landry have chased after Harbaugh?

Hey, put them back in coats and ties and fedoras. I liked them better dressed like that. They were distinguished-looking and they acted the part. Once they started wearing sideline gear, it was as though they became players. Maybe that's what happened to Schwartz and Harbaugh.

Pete Rozelle promoted a nonfraternization policy during his time as commissioner. He didn't like the visual that postgame hugs presented to fans. He encouraged coaches to get their players off the field as quickly as possible after the game, lest fans begin to think the battle they had just witnessed wasn't as real as they thought it was. Coaches from that era, such as Bud Grant, complied with Rozelle's wishes.

"I never shook Halas' hand or Lombardi's hand after a game. That was my volition," Grant, the former Vikings coach, said. "You were expected to play out there, to work up a certain lather against the other team. If you were in a fight and when the fight was over, if you lost and you could be happy, then I believe you didn't get prepared for the fight. I don't believe you can change colors that quickly. You can't be a chameleon."

Like so many coaches of his day, Grant would make contact with the opposing coach before the game, "but I'd tell him, 'After the game, I'm not going to shake hands.'"

Current Packers Coach Mike McCarthy could probably live with that. McCarthy goes through the postgame handshake motions ceremoniously, but with as little contact as possible. When asked on Monday about the Schwartz-Harbaugh handshake flap, McCarthy was unable to hide a smile: "I think I'm OK in that situation," he said.

"George Allen never shook a coach's hand after the game. I know that," former Packers GM Ron Wolf said.

Despite that lack of display of sportsmanship, the game grew into the most popular and successful professional sports league in the country. That's what the old coaches that didn't feel a pressing need to shake hands with each other, nor were they as compelled to do so by the media or be vilified, handed over to their posterity.

A lot of fans the past couple of days have commented that they like the Schwartz-Harbaugh handshake flap because it lets fans know the game is for real. Hey, the old coaches did that by not shaking hands and, in the process, they avoided an ugly display and maintained their dignity.

What do you think?

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