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Jim Harbaugh's Manning rant phony but effective

First things first: San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh's denials about his "flirtation" with Peyton Manning were laughable.

"It's an erroneous perception that we were flirting with Peyton Manning," Harbaugh said Wednesday. "I keep hearing that over and over again. It's silly, and it's untrue. It's phony. Even the perception that we were pursuing him ... we were evaluating him."

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Stop. Harbaugh's denials are phony. He suggested that Alex Smith and Peyton Manning could have somehow co-existed. There's no way that could have happened. Harbaugh's argument about not wanting to pay Manning is even worse.

"For further evidence, we would not have given any player out there in free agency a sixth of our salary cap, and let six or seven of our own guys go," Harbaugh said. "Hopefully that sets the record straight. I don't want you to keep reporting the silliness and phoniness."

The 49ers knew Manning's contractual needs before they flew to watch him work out. They wanted in on the Manning sweepstakes. They were a finalist. They delayed signing Smith because of it. Until that point, the 49ers had successfully kept their interest in Manning a secret. The news got out, but Manning chose the Denver Broncos. It's not like the 49ers ever turned down Manning.

"Yeah there was interest," Harbaugh said. "We evaluated it and pursued it. Er, evaluated it and there were conversations. I'm not going to go into all the personal conversations."

Harbaugh knew exactly what he was doing Wednesday by bringing up the topic unprompted. He was putting to rest a question that a lot of 49ers players are probably thinking. He was closing ranks. He was cultivating an "Us vs. Them" mentality for the 2012 49ers.

It doesn't matter if we believe Harbaugh's words. It matters if his players believe him. It matters if Alex Smith believes him.

There are different ways to run a team -- it's hard to imagine Bill Belichick or Mike McCarthy pulling a stunt like this. But this method works well for Harbaugh, who is naturally fiery and combative.

When Harbaugh speaks, his team listens.

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