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Jim Harbaugh Is Going Mano-a-Mano With The SEC

Partaking in a classic pastime - musing about Harbaugh. This time with history.

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The History of Wrestling, & Harbaugh

Do you know what the oldest sport in the world is? I'll give you a minute. Competitive rowing? What about diving? Sprints or long-distance running? What about throwing an object long distances, or keeping one off the ground between two people? According to the History of Sport page on Wikipedia, the earliest evidence points to track and field activities and wrestling as the earliest sports of man. Cave paintings in France, dating back to 17,300 years ago, seem to depict acts of sprinting and wrestling. More cave paintings in Mongolia, 9,000 years ago, show a wrestling match surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. If track and field is at the core of what the human body can do, then wrestling - the art of leverage, of strategy, of endurance, with headlocks, takedowns, and Half Nelsons - isn't far behind.

In fact, the history of wrestling is as rich and fascinating as you could imagine. Wrestling is depicted on ancient Egyptian tombs of Pharaohs. It was also a popular martial art in ancient Greece, where the story of Zeus' rise to power as the leader of the Earth took the form of a wrestling match against his father, Cronus. In the 4,000-year old Epic of Gilgamesh, considered to be the first great work of literature ever made, Gilgamesh (who was probably a real person) proves himself as a leader by wrestling Enkidu.

Arabic literature has even depicted Muhammad as a wrestler, once defeating a skeptic. King Francis I of France once beat King Henry VIII of England in 1520 after Henry spontaneously challenged Francis to a wrestling match (more details here). In Asia, wrestling predated and grandfathered the martial arts that the land would eventually become famous for. Here is some more detail about the history of China's wrestling, which in its earliest form took the name "jiao di," or "horn butting."

"Jiao li" (角力) was first referenced in the Classic of Rites during the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1,046-249 BCE). Jiao li supplemented throwing techniques with strikes, blocks, joint locks and attacks on pressure points. These exercises were practiced in the winter by soldiers who also practiced archery and studied military strategy.

In the modern day, sports have gotten a little more complicated, but the core is still there. Sport rarely strays far from leverage and strength, from using your head and not quitting. And as I look at Jim Harbaugh single-handedly take it to the 'traditional powers' of the SEC, I can't help but equate this fight to a large, nationally televised wrestling match. A metaphorical sport, made of words and actions, that is life.


Not many coaches take out the time to write 1,750-word long pieces for upstart sport sites like the Players' Tribune. You could say that Jim Harbaugh just did it to curry favor with Derek Jeter, a life-long fan of the university who helped Michigan pull off its 'Signing of the Stars' event last week. You could say that Harbaugh was doing it for any number of reasons, I suppose, but in a larger, simpler sense, he wanted others to see what he sees. A love of Ann Arbor. A love of a place that he calls home, and where other people might call home and have an amazing experience like he had.

Whether Harbaugh is using the media or the fine print of tall NCAA rule books, the fact remains that he is not just trying to win games. He is trying to change the landscape around college football. When Harbaugh was growing up, Ann Arbor was a cornerstone of college athletics, and one could argue (given the history between football and college) a cornerstone of football itself. But by the time Harbaugh returned for a "third homecoming," that distinction had become tenuous. The program had run out of ingenuity - fallen behind the game rather than leading it. Harbaugh's mission was to change that, and it was inevitable, really, that he'd have to take on the new big kids on the block sooner rather than later.

Re-enacting an ancient tradition of worshiping the Earth. Credit: Guang Nu, Getty Images

And boy, has he ever. Harbaugh was hired in the same coaching cycle as Jim McElwain at Florida, Tom Herman at Houston, Pat Narduzzi at Pitt, and Paul Chryst at Wisconsin. Three of those men, along with Harbaugh, won 10 games in their first season. Statistically speaking, Harbaugh's success so far is not unprecedented.

But look outside the stadium, get your finger on the pulse of the game, and you will see that absolutely no one has changed the tenor of the sport, in such a short period of time, as the guy that most people said wouldn't ever be a part of the college game. Harbaugh has done this with satellite camps and satellite spring practices, with essays and friendships with rappers. He's gone on Twitter and said plenty of things, and also climbed trees for fun - an activity that, long, long ago, was simply considered living life, but now is somehow strange.

Along the way, Harbaugh has leveraged Michigan's strengths and managed to use the panache of the SEC against itself - making the SEC look petty and unprepared for a challenge instead of confident and fierce. He has probed for weaknesses and found them. And with the rumored addition of a phenomenal Florida high school coach to Michigan's football staff, that foothold will only get stronger. Maybe in a few years, a top college assistant like Jeremy Pruitt heads north, rather than joins a school like Alabama.

"We believe the sport of wrestling is a vital and much needed training ground for successful individuals in all aspects of life. With the need to be decisive, to react, to assess risk and to develop a cognitive approach to success, wrestling can teach and enhance skills that will propel them toward their individual success." ~Wrestling Prep

Time and leverage. Advantage and patience. The SEC might not believe it, but Harbaugh could ultimately crack the code that takes away much of the advantages that Southern teams have with recruiting talent - the Jimmies and Joes who walk through the door today could start looking around the country tomorrow while teams that don't reside in the South put more time into recruiting those condensed areas of talent. It could force Southern schools to improve their stadiums and their academics to compete with programs like Michigan. That would be difficult to do.

And what might this do for Michigan? All good things, certainly. Other Big Ten programs are slowly learning from Michigan, even managing to take a few of our coaches or recruits. Meanwhile, Michigan gets the best and the brightest to support its rich ongoing tradition, a tradition that will only get bolstered by the talent headed to Ann Arbor. Even though Harbaugh hasn't yet won a Big Ten title, it feels like his Wolverines are already carrying the banner for the Big Ten, changing the way the league is perceived and talked about around the country. Following Michigan's lead, the entire conference can get stronger, with the Wolverines at the forefront.

And that championship will surely come. Michigan's quick resurgence may have seemed impossible just over a year ago, but really all it took was returning to fundamentals - very old fundamentals - and using them in a new way. Leave it to an admirer of history, and one of the most competitive coaches in the game, who will use any sport imaginable to train his players, to think of something. All in all, it's been a pretty amazing first year - and foundation - for Jim Harbaugh's tenure.

Hitting the Links Loved 'The Big Short'

Recruiting Wrap: Michigan Wolverines

Sorry about the short HtL today, but there just wasn't much around the Interwebs. We'll start off with a well-organized piece by ESPN on Michigan's recruiting.

Jim Harbaugh-SEC Feud Is Good For College Football

A very good, more quote-driven article on the same topic, and this was before Greg Sankey's even more recent comments deriding Harbaugh.

Tyrone Wheatley, Sr. In The Players' Tribune

A very easy read that tugs on the heartstrings. For those missing Grantland, I would recommend perusing TPT every once in a while. Chauncey Billups just penned a letter to his younger selves, and Jay Williams wrote and spoke persuasively about marijuana. The site is going through a lot of Michigan content, as well, including this older piece by Jabrill.

Good luck to Daronte in the NFL. Daronte mentioned that he'd slept in his home only a few times in the weeks leading up to Signing Day, so while his new opportunity will be challenging, it will also give him time to focus and concentrate on coaching.

Four-Star DT Haskell Garrett Commits To OSU

Apparently Haskell hadn't visited campus before deciding to commit, so keep that in mind as a small asterisk. Still, a great pick-up if it sticks.

Tom Allen Brings Faith, Confidence To Indiana's Defense

"Historically speaking, Tom Allen will have as much security in his new job as a Spinal Tap drummer or a henchman for Dr. Evil." Well played, Mr. Bennett. Well played.

Another bit of IU coaching news: Mark Hagen will be coming in to coach the d-line. Seems like a very good hire.

The Best Offensive Minds In College Football

Relevant to the Big Ten through the general absence of familiar faces. Urban Meyer makes the cut, and Kevin Wilson probably deserves a nod as well, but the Big Ten could have used a high-profile addition this year, especially on the offensive side, rather than suffering mostly high-profile defections like Shoop and Aranda.

Josh Ferguson Highlights

I've praised Ferguson many a time already, but here's a good farewell video for a great Illinois running back.