NFL Coaches’ Postgame Handshake Not Necessary, But Still Serves as Sign of Sportsmanship


NFL Coaches' Postgame Handshake Not Necessary, But Still Serves as Sign of SportsmanshipEditor’s note: Each week, two members of’s editorial staff will debate a topic via email in a feature called “Field Judges.” We’ll post the conversation and the ruling on

Niners coach Jim Harbaugh and Lions coach Jim Schwartz got into a little tussle after their game Sunday. Schwartz took offense when Harbaugh, in Captain Comeback’s words, “shook his hand too hard.”

This caused ESPN’s Tom Jackson to declare that coaches shouldn’t have to shake hands after games at all.

“Just give a little wave,” Jackson said. “If you’re friends, you’ll talk later. If you’re not friends, you won’t.”

Does the obligatory handshake illustrate sportsmanship, or is it a hollow show for fans? This week’s debate pits Senior Assistant Editor Mike Hurley against Patriots beat writer Jeff Howe.

Hurley: OK, so there’s mass hysteria this week due to two guys who have no business fighting getting into a little brouhaha at the end of a football game. Personally, I don’t think the showdown had anything to do with the required handshake so much as it did Jim Schwartz losing all control, but I’ll play the game.

The handshake at the 50-yard line was likely once a nice tradition. Now, it’s a charade. Will Bill Belichick shake Eric Mangini‘s hand?! Will it be sincere?! Will it be long?! How long?! How long?! Who cares? It’s become a silly, contrived event, with 20 photographers crowding around to get “the” shot of the handshake. Ironically, the chaos just ensures that all 20 photographers will get lousy shots of their “moment.”

What makes the handshake useless is that players and coaches interact with each other before the game, too. Just this morning, I saw a clip of Belichick and Rex Ryan sharing a laugh with each other before a game. Of course, their handshakes are considered cold and heartless, because one of the two inevitably just lost a division game.

There was also the clip in Bill Belichick: A Football Life that showed Belichick and former assistant Josh McDaniels agree to talk after the game, not on the field. The media blew their lack of handshake as some sign of hatred, but really, it was just Belichick hating the dog-and-pony show handshake.

The concept of two head coaches shaking hands is a good one, but its development into a moment that gets discussed, debated and dissected in the media for a week or longer has made it a complete sham.

Howe: So, because the media over-analyzes the postgame handshake, it should be outlawed? This is the new age of the NFL, a league that has become so popular that every little detail must be covered. Some of it, like the handshake in a lot of cases, seems a little much, but people eat it up. That’s why we’re debating its merits right now. The people who are sick of hearing about it already are still reading these very words right now.

The handshake is a symbol of sportsmanship and adds a human element to the postgame. Football is a passionate game, and the emotion is a conductor to rivalries. The handshake can add an element to that factor, too.

And who doesn’t love a good fight, even if it’s between two middle-aged men over a handshake? That was nothing compared to the ridiculousness that usually ensues when two grown men fight over a cougar in the Back Bay.

Hurley: That’s all well and good, but even Belichick is on my side. He said on WEEI on Monday that “it’s become something a lot different than what it was really intended to be or what it really is.”

To recap, that’s Belichick not saying “it is what is,” but actually saying “it’s not what it is.” If Bill’s on my side in a football argument, I’m feeling pretty good about my position.

Howe: It’s not like Belichick came rushing to your defense here.

All I’m saying is a spat between Harbaugh and Schwartz — which didn’t even draw a fine — shouldn’t cause the ban of postgame handshakes. Would we be having the same discussion if Brad Marchand slapped Daniel Sedin in the handshake line after the Stanley Cup?


Tough to pick a winner out of such big losers, but here goes: Jeff’s point of sportsmanship and all that bull is too strong of an argument, even it means going against Bill Belichick. It also doesn’t hurt to toss in a line about Thelma (or Louise?) getting slapped around by Marchand.

I say keep the handshakes going and hope for more postgame spats during them -– what better way to cap off an emotional game than Jim-on-Jim violence (broken up by Ron Jeremy? Seriously, who was that guy?!) or, going back a few years, Belichick and Mangenius being forced to touch each other.

Sure, it’s not necessary, but if it doesn’t serve as a sign of good sportsmanship, it sure offers some top-notch entertainment whether it’s coaches fighting, camera men shoving or nothing more than an awkward hug.

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