One key play in the fourth quarter of the San Francisco 49ers' playoff-clinching victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night captured the difference in philosophy between Jim Harbaugh and his former head coach with the Chicago Bears, Mike Ditka.
"I kind of saw the defense, how they were playing, and we were at what, the inch line?" Gore explained. "And the (linebackers) were playing like 5 yards back. I knew it was a quick hit, and I know I quick-hitted it. I barreled through."
Kaepernick knew Harbaugh would be fine with the deviation from the called play because it worked.
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman similarly freelanced when he aborted an all-out blitz on the game-winning pick six.
Those two plays stand in marked contrast to a pivotal interception authored by Harbaugh in 21-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings back in 1992. Forbidden by Ditka to audible under any circumstance, Harbaugh disobeyed orders and the resultant turnover swung the momentum in a game the Bears led 20-0.
"When the player knows more than the coach, you have a problem," a steamed Ditka said after the game. "I'm not going to put (the careers) of 47 guys in the hands of somebody who thinks he knows more than I know."
Harbaugh's response? "I can't call an audible anymore. He's the coach."
Did Harbaugh's experience under Ditka's iron-hand influence his own laissez-faire approach toward NFL players taking ownership if the situation calls for a change?
"I like it when it works, definitely," Harbaugh told reporters Tuesday. "And I think when a player feels strongly about something, we tend to agree with them unless we have evidence to the contrary. As a former player, I realize that when you put your opinion on the line like that, that you also make it work and they did again last night."
One of the things we most appreciate about Harbaugh is his ability to elucidate football philosophy in colorful terms that fans can easily understand. A good example is his description of Bowman's game-changing play.
"Just remarkable. It's just so, so good that's what makes a football player. Sometimes you see the ball released and you make a couple steps, but what makes him think is his training, his instincts," Harbaugh explained. "I don't know what's the percentage of athletes that can do that or would do that, to have that kind of instinct and ability.
" ... I don't know how many kind of plays like that a coach has in his career. Probably so few that you're going to remember them your entire coaching career. But that was one of those memorable plays."