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Coaches' scuffle exemplifies what 49ers, Lions are all about

DETROIT -- You'll hear about how disgraceful it was that Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh had a run-in near the tunnel at Ford Field after the 49ers' coach led his team to a 25-19 win over the Lions on Sunday.

To hell with that.

In the 49ers locker room, Alex Smith flashed a sly smile and said he wasn't quite sure what happened, only catching a glimpse as each team rushed to its coach's back. Smith then told me this game was the most physical one he'd ever been a part of.

The explanation of how these two clubs -- sadsacks for most of the past decade -- became capable of staging that kind of metaphorical street fight, with big NFC stakes to boot, ties in nicely to the incident that resembled the beginnings of an actual streetfight.

The confrontation between Schwartz and Harbaugh wasn't contrived, or a ploy by either man. It was real.

Did Harbaugh swagger over to the Lions' coach after his Niners threw a flurry of fourth-quarter finishing blows? Yup, and he punctuated that with some sarcasm in his press conference. Did Schwartz overreact in looking for a brawl? Sure he did, and he didn't back down later.

Good for them both.

"Coaches are competitive, too. They're like football players," 49ers tight end Delanie Walker explained by his locker with a broad smile. "And this was an emotional game. It came down to the last minute. They were 5-0, and we came in there and took it from them. That can get very emotional. Things happen, words are exchanged. I can see why it happened."

Nice explanation there, but here's the piece of what Walker said to me that I remembered most walking out of that jublibant room: "We came in there and took it from them."

Might as well have been Harbaugh himself saying it. In fact, in a non-verbal way, it's almost like that's what Harbaugh was saying as he charged across the field toward Schwartz.

On NFL Network
"NFL Replay" will re-air the 49ers' 25-19 win over the Lions on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 9:30 p.m. ET.

» NFL Network schedule

The important thing here is that this is a sign, clear as day, that the 49ers have become Men of Harbaugh, inheriting their coach's traits. And even in a loss, the Lions showed the exact same qualities.

When Schwartz was running down Harbaugh outside the tunnel, it was not unlike the way his defenses in Tennessee used to play, or his team in Detroit plays now. You aren't going to get the last shot on Schwartz without retribution.

"Went to congratulate Coach Harbaugh and got shoved out of the way, didn't expect an obscenity at that point, so it was a surprise to me at the end of the game," Schwartz explained. "Obviously, you win a game like that, you're excited and things like that, but I think there's a protocol that goes with this league."

Harbaugh's retort was to basically raise an eyebrow to the whole thing, then dump salt in the wound.

"Yeah, yeah, I was just really revved up, and it's totally on me," he said, smirking. "I shook his hand too hard. I mean, I really went in, and it was a strong kind of slap-and-grab handshake, kind of like the same as I've been doing with (49ers linebacker Blake) Costanzo and a few of the other guys."

Harbaugh went on to say that "I do get emotional, (the game) fires me up. If that offends you or anyone else, so be it."

Take this to the bank: The players on both sides loved seeing their coaches get after each other. Each leader has instilled a fighter's mentality in his team, and this was the manifestation of that approach. Proof positive that the Niners and Lions would follow Harbaugh and Schwartz into dark allies, if either asked.

“Of course I would,” Walker said, when I posed the question to him. “The man is awesome. He’s almost like a dog, ready to attack at any moment.”

I say, enjoy the show. And enjoy that, in this age of chuck-it-around-the-yard-all-day offense, we had a couple of teams going at it Sunday that are a little more Mike Tyson than Muhammad Ali when they get in the ring.

Which is the way their coaches would have it, and the way they did have it coming off the field.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

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