JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO / Contra Costa Times

Owen Wilson and fellow actor Vince Vaughn were sideline guests of 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh during Sunday's victory over the Lions.

Mays, Ali top Harbaugh's wish list for 49ers' visitors

Published: Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012 - 1:41 pm

SANTA CLARA – Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are great actors and interesting people, and Jim Harbaugh said it was an honor to host them during and after Sunday's win over the Detroit Lions.

But if Harbaugh could pick any two visitors to talk to his players, it would be two of the greatest of all time – Willie Mays and Muhammad Ali.

Harbaugh said he already has invited Mays, the Giants' Hall of Fame center fielder and one of the Harbaugh family's heroes.

"We've been working on it," Harbaugh said Monday. "I don't want anything from him. I just want to go up to him and shake his hand and tell him that me and my dad think he's the greatest baseball player in the history of the game. That's all I really want to do. Someday I will, hopefully."

Beginning last year, a steady stream of what Harbaugh called "extraordinary kind of guys" has spent time with the 49ers, and Harbaugh said he wants that to be part of the team's culture.

Harbaugh is a military history buff, and the recent list of invitees has a distinct military theme.

There was a Navy SEAL – "whose name we can't mention," Harbaugh said – as well as a general, Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Col. Jim Minick, a boyhood friend of Harbaugh's, has spoken to the team.

And Harbaugh was so taken by Sgt. Dontae Skywalker, the team's docent during a visit to Arlington National Cemetery last year, that he later invited Skywalker to a game and named a play after him.

On Sunday, Harbaugh went Hollywood.

Wilson and Vaughn are in the area filming a movie, "The Internship," in which two recently unemployed 40-somethings try to navigate Google's intern program. Wilson called the 49ers recently about attending a game, and Harbaugh obliged.

The "Wedding Crashers" duo stood discreetly on the sideline in 49ers garb during the game. Afterward, they went into the locker room and took part in Harbaugh's "Who's Got it Better Than Us?" postgame ritual.

"It was great being around those two extraordinary people, but they're just normal people, too, and we just really like that," Harbaugh said. " … It's an honor for us to share our sideline with them."

Harbaugh's other dream invitee is Ali, who recently attended a Ravens practice. Harbaugh's brother, John, coaches Baltimore. Ali chatted with their father, Jack, who relayed two stories to Jim, and Jim in turn told them to his players last week.

One of the stories involved Ali's famous 1964 fight against Sonny Liston in Miami. The hotel that staged the fight was segregated, and even though Ali trained there, he wasn't allowed to stay there.

Instead, he had to lodge at a hotel five miles away. Ali refused to take the easier route and ran the five miles before his training sessions.

Said Harbaugh: "Every step of that run, he would tell himself, 'Somebody's going to pay for this.' And that was going to be Sonny Liston."

Asked what he wanted his players to take away from the story, Harbaugh said it was up to them.

"We don't break it down, Barney-style, at the end of a story," he said. "We don't try to tell people what we think the message is or what it should be. We just put it there, and they relate to it in the ways they relate to it."

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