SANTA CLARA, Calif. Of course San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh had nice things to say about Ric Flair.
An ESPN reporter asked Harbaugh on Wednesday about Flair becoming persona non grata in Charlotte. That came after pro wrestler Flair, a longtime Charlottean, told the 49ers they were in his heart (as opposed to the Carolina Panthers, the 49ers’ playoff opponent Sunday).
Harbaugh sounded a little befuddled, then replied, “I think Ric Flair is a fantastic guy. He spoke very highly of Carolina.”
So then Harbaugh was asked about divided loyalties, drawing this response:
“What’s the matter with having two favorite teams? In my opinion, that doesn’t make you a bad person.”
Some background on Flair’s trip to Wisconsin, to address the 49ers before their victory at Green Bay: Harbaugh said defensive tackle Justin Smith suggested early in the week that Flair would be a great pregame speaker, so Jeff Ferguson, the 49ers’ vice president of football operations and sports medicine, reached out to Flair to make the appearance.
“Yeah, it was cool,” Harbaugh said Monday. “Got the red blood pumping the night before the game.”
Apparently it did the same to some angry Panthers fans.
Feels slighted: It’s pretty clear 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is ticked off by how long he lasted in the 2011 draft.
The Panthers chose their quarterback, Cam Newton, No. 1. Four other quarterbacks – Jake Locker (eighth), Blaine Gabbert (10th), Christian Ponder (12th) and Andy Dalton (35th) – were chosen before the 49ers selected Kaepernick 36th overall.
Kaepernick, who has a Super Bowl appearance to his credit, was asked Wednesday if he gets any extra motivation playing against the team that chose Newton over him.
“It’s not something I’ll forget,” Kaepernick said twice with a stern look.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera told Bay Area media during a conference call that Carolina liked Kaepernick a lot entering that draft.
Too far to go: Before becoming the 49ers’ coach, Harbaugh had great success as Stanford’s coach. But he failed to sign a bookworm linebacker out of Ohio who could have made a big difference.
Harbaugh calls missing out on that linebacker – now Panthers star Luke Kuechly – “tragic.”
“Everything was great out there, but it felt so far away,” Kuechly told Bay Area media of choosing Boston College over the Cardinal. “They always say a plane flight is a plane flight, but it was a long plane flight. My parents wouldn’t be able to get to many games. At (Boston College) on the East Coast they were able to get to a lot of games in the ACC. The distance more than anything was the deal.”
Kuechly said the next time he met Harbaugh – at the NFL scouting combine – of course Harbaugh razzed him a little about choosing the Eagles “but it was all in fun.”
Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell