Because the 49ers had no game last week, star tight end Vernon Davis returned to his native Washington, D.C., for a few days. Time and again, he ran into friends who greeted him the same way.
"The first thing they said to me was: 'Your coach is crazy,"' Davis said, laughing.
Davis assured them that Jim Harbaugh is perfectly sane. But the perception is understandable. Harbaugh's list of eccentricities includes his warnings to players to be on the lookout for Frederick P. Soft, a 4-inch-tall man who sits atop shoulder pads and whispers messages of complacency.
Harbaugh has also nearly instigated a fistfight with an overly exuberant postgame handshake. And he has sweaty, 300-pound behemoths in his locker room enjoying the same corny singsong routine he learned from his parents. (Jack Harbaugh: "Who's got it better than us?" Kids: "Nobody!")
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Oh, and one other thing: Harbaugh has made the 49ers relevant again.
Considering the team's prolonged slide, that might be the craziest thing of all.
A victory over Cleveland this Sunday at Candlestick Park would improve the 49ers' record to 6-1 for the first time since 1998, when Steve Young was at quarterback and Jerry Rice was the leading receiver.
"They're changing the Bay Area," said former running back Roger Craig, who won three Super Bowls with the 49ers. "Fans are frenzied again. They're like, 'Oh, man, the 49ers are back."'
The 49ers had wandered off for the better part of the past decade, a wayward dynasty suddenly hanging with the wrong crowd: Only the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions have gone longer since their last postseason appearances.
No playoffs since 2002. No Super Bowl since 1994. No shortage of embarrassment under fired coaches Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary.
"They have an identity going on," Rice said. "Jim Harbaugh has this team moving in the right direction."
Only nine other teams since 1990 have opened a season 5-1 after starting 1-5 or worse in the previous season. Most surprisingly, the 49ers look like a different team despite having almost the exact same personnel as they did in 2010.
The only major difference is Harbaugh, who was lured from Stanford University with a five-year, $25 million offer in hopes that he could do for the 49ers what he did for the Cardinal. (Stanford finished 1-11 the year before Harbaugh arrived and had won the Orange Bowl by the time he left.)
Because an NFL labor dispute disrupted training camp, most people figured it would delay Harbaugh's impact on the 49ers by a year or two.
But David Shaw knew better. "I kept telling people, 'Don't be surprised if it happens quickly,"' said Shaw, who replaced Harbaugh as Stanford's head coach after spending five years on his college staffs. "Jim walks into the room with all the confidence in the world, and he's unshakable.
"It doesn't matter what the opposition is. It doesn't matter what the problem is. Jim walks in and says, 'How are we going to get this done? Don't tell me why we can't get it done. Tell me how we're going to get it done."'
The 49ers' revival is based on simple messages and complex game plans. Harbaugh, for example, is fond of the mantra, "The team, the team, the team" — a rhythmic phrasing he learned from coach Bo Schembechler while playing at the University of Michigan.
The message sounds familiar to those who were part of the 49ers' glory years. Quarterback Joe Montana recently recalled that Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh had no patience for selfishness.
"If there were 'me' guys on our team, they did not last very long," Montana said. "Walsh brought with him the importance of believing in each other. Ronnie (Lott) used to say it best: You don't have to like the guy next to you, but you have to be able to trust him out on the field."
Harbaugh drove home his team-first message once final roster cuts were made in September. He left blue-collared work shirts in every player's locker — a fashion statement for the everyman.
Craig said: "Harbaugh makes everyone feel, like Bill Walsh used to say, like they're an extension of each other."