SANTA CLARA, Calif. - His coaching career began with the Oakland Raiders, for Al Davis, 11 seasons ago. Only now, said Jim Harbaugh, in charge of the San Francisco 49ers, does he comprehend the mantra with which Davis approached football.
"I was a young assistant," Harbaugh said Monday, "and I didn't understand how profound the statement 'Just win, baby' was, even when I was there.
"I thought I knew, but I didn't know to the extent that I know now. Just win, baby."
Which the 49ers did Sunday, defeating Carolina. That made San Francisco the first team to reach the NFC Championship Game after losing in the previous Super Bowl since the 1977 Minnesota Vikings -- and making the 49ers one of only 12 teams in NFL history to qualify for a conference championship game three straight years.
They lost two seasons ago to the Giants at home, then won last year at Atlanta. On Sunday, they will play at Seattle, where earlier this season (29-3) and late last season (42-13) they were overwhelmed at CenturyLink Field, outscored by a combined 71-16.
So even though the 49ers defeated the Seahawks, 19-17, on Dec. 8 at Candlestick Park, Harbaugh justifiably was asked about poise -- his team's -- and noise, the ungodly racket raised by Seattle fans that makes it almost impossible for visiting teams to hear their own signals.
"Our team's been in good primers, been through tough environments," Harbaugh said.
Referring to his team's 23-10 playoff win over the Panthers a day earlier, he said: "I thought our team played with a lot of poise. I thought that's the one thing that really stood out in a lot of areas.
"Good football players, good team. Defense played extremely well. That's very important in road games. Our players have competed and persevered and come out victorious. Those are the facts."
An inescapable fact: Harbaugh, from the time he was at Stanford, and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, from the time he was at USC, do not get along. In 2009, Stanford ran up the score on USC, 55-21, and at the handshake, Carroll asked Harbaugh, "What's your deal?"
As far as the media making the rivalry between the coaches instead of between the teams, Harbaugh said, "It would be as irrelevant now as it had been then when people made a bigger deal of it. So, irrelevant, irrelevant."
Perhaps, but it's also pertinent, pertinent.