The Green Bay Packers’ sideline burst into celebration as Mason Crosby‘s 51-yard field goal floated through the uprights. Aaron Rodgers and the offense had swiftly driven down the field to get into Crosby’s range, and he sealed a September win for the Packers over the San Francisco 49ers. The handshake afterward between Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur was as icy as it gets. What will it be like after Saturday night?
Shanahan and LaFleur go way back to their days together on the staff of the Houston Texans in 2008. They would both take their coaching prowess to Washington after that and then go different directions. They had a reunion for a short while with the Atlanta Falcons in 2015 when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator, and LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach. The history runs deep, and they appear to have developed something of a healthy rivalry.
That’s why it took many by surprise that Shanahan ghosted LaFleur after the game. Shanahan went for the casual walk-by, not even looking at LaFleur as he tossed a limp hand out in the direction of the Packers’ head coach. It was colder than a Bill Belichick postgame press conference. Shanahan has since explained himself, per USA Today.
“No, Matt’s my guy. Matt and I are totally good,” Shanahan said. “I was pissed after that game because of how that game just ended. That was a tough one. It took a while to get over, but we’re good. I talk to Matt a lot. He’s done a hell of a job this year. I’ve been real happy for him, but that stops this week.”
The competitiveness displayed in that brief moment has the hype surrounding Saturday’s playoff game dialed up that much more. As for LaFleur, he said after the game back in Week 3 that the handshake would be something that the media would have to ask Shanahan about.
“I’d say you have to ask Kyle about that,” LaFleur said after the game when asked about the handshake. “I know Kyle, and he is ultra-competitive. That’s a tough moment for anybody to be in and I’m sure he was ticked off that we were able to take the ball down and kick a field goal to win the football game. … We’ve had a lot of history together, so I’m not going to let anything come between our friendship.”
Losing in that fashion, regardless of the stakes, is reason enough for Shanahan to have himself a moment. It happens to everyone in some form or fashion, and for the 49ers’ head coach, it just so happened to occur after one of his good friends beat him. Was there more to it, though?
Rumors swirled in the offseason that the 49ers were smitten with the idea of trying to trade for Aaron Rodgers when he aired out his thoughts on the Packers’ front office. His future in Green Bay was in doubt, and San Francisco tried to swoop in and spirit him away. LaFleur isn’t the type to say that upset him, but it couldn’t have thrilled him to find out about it. It’s also hard to blame the 49ers for trying to poach Rodgers. Who wouldn’t? It all adds to this rivalry between these two coaches. So what’s in store for Saturday once the clock hits 0:00?
If the Packers go on to win, it will be wildly intriguing to see if Shanahan takes a deep breath, plasters on a fake smile, and daps up LaFleur. The two are friends. By all accounts, they want each other to succeed — just not in the playoffs when they are facing one another.
LaFleur needs to go in and establish clear eye contact with Shanahan this time around if Green Bay wins. He may have been caught off guard by Shanahan looking straight past him and not muttering a word back in September. This time, LaFleur needs to take control early on.
Perhaps if Shanahan is still avoiding eye contact, LaFleur can head towards him chest to chest with both hands extended as he goes for the double shake. That establishes dominance and would display to everyone who’s taking charge.
Shanahan has the height advantage; we’ve seen that at the previous midfield meetings between the two. If it comes to strong-arming LaFleur, Shanahan can simply do so by staring right over LaFleur’s forehead to establish that he is the dominant party. The bold move would be for Shanahan to wait for LaFleur to start to withdraw his hand, then pull it right back in while continuing to shake it. It would put LaFleur on the spot and force him to shake at his opponent’s pace. It could be checkmate for Shanahan.
The LaFleur/Shanahan postgame interaction will be a great show within a show on Saturday. If Green Bay wins, LaFleur needs to bulldoze his way in with extreme confidence and establish strong eye contact. If Shanahan isn’t having it again, maybe LaFleur can go for the direct hand-on-the-shoulder treatment with a slight pat as he wishes Shanahan a healthy and happy offseason. Everything is on the table following this one.