ATLANTA — The thing about bowl games is that you tend to forget there’s a football game at the end of the week. And once you remember, you tend to struggle trying to pin meaning to it.
There are only so many questions and so many storylines after a month without football with a fairly meaningless game as the light at the end of the tunnel. That leads to scenes like Friday morning — Jim Harbaugh and Dan Mullen standing in front of a lavish backdrop with Peach Bowl logos plastered all over the room, some helmets in front of them, a moderator to their left.
The press conference was, for lack of a better term, a sham.
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Harbaugh and Mullen exchange pleasantries, say all the right things. Answer a small handful of questions about the football game — both teams are quite good, according to their opponents —, some newsy questions and some questions that are the verbal equivalent of a 60-foot heave at the end of a half of basketball.
When a question with no predetermined answer — has Harbaugh or anyone representing him been contacted by an NFL team despite his proclamation to ESPN that he would be staying at Michigan — comes up, there’s no interest in answering.
“I don’t really have any representatives,” Harbaugh said. “No agent or anything.”
Then it was back to the same. Everyone is happy to be here. Everyone respects those who chose not to come.
The contrast between the two coaches, if nothing else, was made clear. Each time Harbaugh gave a one-sentence answer, as is his habit, the Florida coach chuckled, and seemed to deliver paragraphs on end.
“I’m still for a larger playoff,” Harbaugh said to a question asking his stance on expanding the CFP, and Mullen laughed to himself. Then he started talking.
“I love the bowl system kind of as it is,” Mullen said. “I think the bowl experience for so many teams is such a special deal. So I don’t know that the expansion of the playoff is going to — it would serve what everybody is looking for.
“The great thing about college football is you kind of enter into the playoff week 1 of the season and you’ve got to perform from game 1 all the way through.
“But the bowl experience, the experience these players get to receive, I think, is special. So I’d hate to see that ruined for not just — you know, that it’s only a special deal. There’s a bunch of seniors on both teams that are going to get to play their last college football game, and one of them is going to get to walk away with that trophy. I think that’s pretty unique in college football, that they get to finish their careers in that way.”
At some point, an awkward silence set in amongst the media and the moderator started prodding for a final question, like a middle school teacher when nobody raises their hand. Finally, someone took it, choosing to ask about Jordan brand, then follow it up by asking what shoes each coaches were wearing.
Never has the contrast in style between Jim Harbaugh and every other coach in America been more apparent.
“I got the Retros 4s,” Mullen said. “I think coach (Harbaugh) got — his style is above the waist. My style is kind of below the waist, right? I’m more ankles down, right, in our fashion statements?”
“I don’t know about that,” Harbaugh said, a confused look on his face. “Don’t know what he’s talking about right now.”
The moderator then asked Harbaugh for a final comment on the Jordan brand.