The following column originally posted just after the 49ers Nov. 17 loss to the New Orleans Saints. The red and gold went on to win eight straight to set a date Sunday with division rival Seattle. Then, as now, we called for a Harbaugh/Carroll match-up to exercise the demon both men have — which is, the other.
49er head coach Jim Harbaugh left his displeasure over the game-costing penalty on linebacker Ahmad Brooks on the field Sunday. His very public attempt to bottle it is cause for pause and ponder and brought to light the most important question of his NFL coaching tenure to date:
Who, in fact, is coach Harbaugh’s Manemy?
A Manemy is the man you consider your equal, but is at once your rival. He may be operating in a different sphere or under different circumstance but you know he’s out there. You’re intrinsically if not famously aware of his actions as he is of yours.
Your Manemy is not your Bromance: Bromances are lopsided relationships where one’s admiration and the other’s need to be admired turns to a skewed kind of friendship.
Your Manemy is not your consigliare: Though technically an advisory position, the consigliare is one who is appointed and can therefore be removed at any time (see: Tom Hagen’s diminished role in the second Godfather).
No, a Manemy is one who sees you from the opposite foxhole, recognizes your plight even as he pushes against you. And, if given the opportunity, would probably hear you out — and be heard …then destroy you.
That face-to-face, that one chance (and sometimes it is only one chance) to dump out all your …stuff to the only man who gets it, before he tries to dispatch of you, is more rare than finding a linear plot in a Harmony Korine flick.
Take James Bond. Though his rivals are only equaled by double entendre skanks he’s bedded, it was Dr. No that was his only true Manemy.
The pair were equals in wit:
Dr. No: Unfortunately I misjudged you. You are just a stupid policeman whose luck has run out.
Dr. No: SPECTRE. Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Revenge and Extortion. The four great cornerstones of power, headed by the greatest brains in the world.
Bond: Correction, criminal brains.
Dr. No: The successful criminal brain is always superior. It has to be.
Dr. No: That’s a Dom Pérignon ’55. It would be a pity to break it.
Bond: I prefer the ’53 myself.
Charming ideas and analysis:
Dr. No: A unique feat of engineering, if I may say so. I designed it myself. The glass is convex, ten inches thick, which accounts for the magnifying effect.
Bond: Minnows pretending they’re whales. Just like you on this island, Dr No.
…And polar opposites in philosophy; if a Manemy relationship could be distilled into one simple exchange, this would be it:
Bond: Your disregard for human life means you must be working for the East.
Dr. No: East, West – just points of the compass, each as stupid as the other.
Famous Manemy pairings throughout history far outnumber and outlast the yang of the Bromance.
After all, Bromances fade. Significant others become spouses and spouses become one half of a parental unit and the half-life of the Bromance does then recede into the ephemera. All the while, a labored search for a rival to become your Manemy can span years, decades, careers …lifetimes.
Not everyone is as lucky as, say, Jay and Conan, the squid and the whale, Clinton and George Bush Sr., Ali and Frazier, Sam Malone and Gary from Gary’s Old Town Tavern, Kasporov and Deep Blue and Chestnut and Kobiayashe — these folks faced their foes, the human embodiment of their existential crisis — looked into the endless reflection of self and inhaled the intoxicating vapor of the great nothing.
This is why Manemies are the most famous of all great loves. None moreso than the Greatest Manemy Pairing of all time: Neil McCauley and Lt. Vincent Hanna — criminal and cop in the seminal Manemy romantic comedy, Heat.
I believe Pete Carroll is Harbaugh’s Manemy; both surly former Pac-10 (not 12, not yet) head coaches whose backgrounds are opposite swings of the pendulum.
The perfect splicing of the middle-aged white alpha Docker-and-mock-t gene.
Carroll grew up in the lily white mean streets of Marin County and Harbaugh as decidedly blue collar rust belt in Michigan as the media makes him out to be. Fiery adversaries for the West’s private institutions of record in USC and Stanford to division foes in perhaps the most underrated, or at least overlooked, division in all of professional sport — the NFC West.
Carroll even took a classic page from the Manemy playbook and uses one of Harbaugh’s cast-offs, cornerback Richard Sherman, who has labeled Harbaugh a bully outside the lines while leading his secondary to push around 9ers receivers within them — to do his dirty work.
Even the spouses are involved in this coil. Harbaugh’s wife says she “doesn’t like Seattle”, Carroll’s wife played volleyball for UoP back in the day and most likely thinks Seattle is much nicer than Stockton.
Harbaugh quotes Hootie. Carroll is a Deadhead.
They are one another’s Manemy manifested.
…And yet, despite the differences, Carroll surely watched with bemused empathy, as only one’s Manemy counterpart can, Harbaugh’s stomach-in-throat silence postgame Sunday.
The younger of the Harbaugh coaching clan was unable to speak mid-season on the duplicity of passers not eligible to be touched above the shoulders when in the pocket but eligible to taken down like a gazelle looking for a creek to cross when scrambling outside of it — because he’d already plead his case for increased protection of the quarterback before the season began.
Had Harbaugh had the benefit of a chance encounter with Carroll prior to his pre-season remarks, he probably could’ve both clarified his position and directed his disdain to his Manemy instead of Legolas-locked linebacker Clay Matthews:
“You’re hearing all the tough talk right now,” Harbaugh said Sept. 5. “You’re hearing some intimidating type of talk, the same thing we were hearing a couple of years ago. It sounds a lot like targeting a specific player. You definitely start to wonder.”
…Because that’s the rub of having a Manemy: He’s never there to warn you against the pitfalls he is specifically interested in watching you stumble upon.
Unfortunately for Harbaugh, his next Manemy encounter is set for Dec. 8 when Carroll’s Seahawks plan on clinching the division on the 9ers’ home turf.
Maybe that’ll happen. Or maybe in true Manemy fashion, when the cameras are off, the pair will instead grab a cup of coffee and dish their dreams in a diner à la Manemys for life Hanna and McCauley.
Something along the lines of this:
Jim Harbaugh: I have one where I’m drowning. And I gotta wake myself up and start breathing or I’ll die in my sleep.
Pete Carroll: You know what that’s about?
Jim Harbaugh: Yeah. Having enough time.
Pete Carroll: Enough time? To do what you wanna do?
Jim Harbaugh: That’s right.
Pete Carroll: You doin’ it now?
Jim Harbaugh: No, not yet.