Jim Harbaugh has accomplished a few things since Mike Ditka buried him under an avalanche of profanities nearly two decades ago.
That makes it more plausible for Harbaugh, entering his first season as the San Francisco 49ers' head coach, to define the incident, though unforgettable, as but one experience among many that prepared him for his current role.
"I love the way Coach Ditka treated me; I love Coach Ditka," Harbaugh said from the recent NFL owners meeting. "People have such the misconception that because I got yelled at, somehow that my -- it's almost offensive that people would think that your ego was that fragile, because you got chewed out by a coach, this has scarred you to this day."
To review, an audible Harbaugh called as the Chicago Bears' quarterback against Minnesota in 1992 produced a game-turning interception, which ticked off Ditka, his head coach, and precipitated an all-timer of a tantrum that hastened the coach's demise and changed the course of a franchise.
There were mitigating factors -- Harbaugh's intended receiver never heard the audible, for one -- but Ditka's reaction melted away all nuance.
Ditka later apologized, held up Harbaugh as a model player for his own sons and said he thought the sideline incident played a role in his firing after the season.
As for Harbaugh? He played well enough with Indianapolis years later to earn a spot in the Colts' Ring of Honor. He coached well enough at Stanford to become the second member of that 1992 Bears team to lead the 49ers. He overcame a few setbacks, too, including the Colts' 20-16 loss to Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game after Harbaugh's Hail Mary pass nearly connected on the final play.
"There have been some things, now -- things that harden you," Harbaugh said. "I feel like a hardened guy, as hard as hen's teeth."