“So what’s Jim Harbaugh really like?”
It’s a question most every sportswriter in the Bay Area gets at dinner parties, barbecues and Little League games. The public is fascinated by the 49ers’ intense head coach, and rightfully so. Harbaugh has dominated the local football scene since he arrived at Stanford seven years ago. He’s the closest thing to Bill Walsh since Bill Walsh.
But none of us can truly answer the question. We don’t really know the guy. And what we do see is carefully managed by his famously cagey and reluctant public persona. He’s an enigma wrapped in a sweatshirt and khakis.
But there’s one guy in the local media who can answer the Harbaugh question with confidence. Anchorman Dave Feldman of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area played high school basketball with the man at Palo Alto High School in the early 1980s. More than 30 years later, the two remain close.
So, what’s Jim Harbaugh really like, Dave?
“He’s just a big softie that loves helping people,” said Feldman.
Huh? We talking about the same guy?
Yup. Feldman is describing Jim Harbaugh, the volunteer. The man who has gone to Peru for five of the past six offseasons to help the disenfranchised. The guy who plays a strange version of rugby and football during those trips with the children of the poor.
It’s an annual trip that Harbaugh says re-energizes him and keeps him grounded. And it’s a trip that was chronicled for the first time by Feldman this past summer, resulting in a Comcast documentary titled “Peruball,” which premieres Tuesday.
“The bottom line is, people will see a different side of him there,” said Feldman, who spent a week in a small Peruvian village with Harbaugh. “He just works the whole time. He’s not into doing charity by just writing a check. He works his ass off.”
So as the 49ers prepare to begin a critical season in Harbaugh’s tenure, a season where some say it’s Super Bowl or bust, a tense fan base might do well to watch this documentary and get some perspective. There’s more to life than the Seattle Seahawks.
The trips to Peru every year benefit the Santisimo Sacramento Catholic parish in the village of Piura. Located in the northwest corner of the country, near the equator, the parish is led by Father Joe Uhen, a man Harbaugh affectionately calls Padre.
From the opening moments of the documentary until the end, you can see the coach has made some significant relationships with the people of Peru. The coach brought three of his children along for this year’s trip, hoping to show them what volunteering is about.
“It’s better,” Harbaugh says in the film, “because you know people. The area, the church, gets better every year.”
Viewers will see Harbaugh helping build new housing for villagers. Toting massive sacks of wheat. And butchering the Spanish language.
“So much fulfillment here,” says Harbaugh. “It’s really just about the mission.”
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SOURCE: The San Francisco Chronicle