Contrary to popular frenzy, it’s not the showdown to end all showdowns. Not in Week 2, and not with another, potentially more meaningful confrontation between Seattle and San Francisco coming up in December.
But it’s the showdown to start all smack-talking. It’s the game to set the tone — the more decibels, the better. It’s the first indication of which way the balance of power between these two power barons is going to swing.
Calling Seahawks vs. 49ers the best rivalry in the NFL no longer even raises an eyebrow — though it might cost Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick one.
Of course, now those quarterbacks are saying the eyebrow-razing bet they proposed in a commercial for EA Sports will be paid off digitally. But that’s still going to be sort of humiliating, in a virtual kind of way.
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For an early-season benchmark, it doesn’t get much better than this. It’s the Daytona 500 of the NFL, a blockbuster right out of the gate, and right in our backyard. On Sunday night, when these two teams renew their hostilities, the Seahawks and the 49ers will be the focal (and vocal) point of the entire sport, and deservedly so.
For one thing, the story lines are simply irresistible.
The coaches, Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh, have a well-chronicled feud that dates back to their Pac-10 days. Two of the Seahawks’ prominent players, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin, possess what Sherman’s father, Kevin, characterized in Sports Illustrated as “a passionate hate” for their former Stanford coach.
The aforementioned quarterbacks, mere afterthoughts at this stage of last season, are now rated among the game’s elite, oozing charisma and confidence. It’s possible to peer into the future and envision a decade of periodic faceoffs, much the same as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning waged in the AFC.
But those are only ancillary elements in making this the best show going right now in the NFL. What elevates this game to must-see status is the fact that these teams are, perhaps, the two best in the NFL — or at least among the top five. If the road to the Super Bowl indeed goes through Seattle or San Francisco, that puts huge emphasis on home-field advantage in the playoffs, and gives each of these head-to-head battles an appealing urgency.
The game also pairs two cities eager to show they are more than hipster havens. What better way to make your case than with a bruising, smash-mouth football team? As Exhibit A, the Seahawks can offer up Kam Chancellor’s crushing hit on 49ers tight Vernon Davis the last time they met at CenturyLink.
Asked what he remembered about that blow, which knocked Davis out of the game with a concussion and drew a personal-foul penalty (though the Seahawks insist it was within the rules), linebacker Bobby Wagner replied:
“That it was a loud hit; it made everyone go crazy. We knew no matter where he hit him, it was going to be a flag, because they’re so strict. It looked like a good hit to me. I remember how the crowd just went crazy … and him being asleep.”
The Seahawks won that Dec. 23 game (on Harbaugh’s 49th birthday, diabolically) in such unexpectedly decisive fashion (42-13) that the 49ers are bound to come into this one burning for revenge .
Not that anyone will cop to it, however. Both teams have spent the week in aggressive “one-game-at-a-time“ mode, insisting with a straight face that they’re not treating it any differently than, in the Seahawks’ case, next week’s matchup with Jacksonville.
The trash talk certainly has not been commensurate with the hype. It peaked with a tepid Twitter exchange. The 49ers’ Anthony Dixon made a reference to — cover your eyes, oh, sensitive souls — the “She-Hawks,” and his college teammate, K.J. Wright, countered with a “Forty-Whiners” reference. Not exactly Buddy Ryan vs. Mike Ditka.
Oh, there was a bit of a stir over a FoxSports article implying the 49ers weren’t overly impressed with Wilson or the Seahawk offense, but it didn’t gain much traction. The prevailing mindset — at least for public consumption — was expressed by Seahawks wide receiver Sidney Rice: “The opponent we’re playing doesn’t really matter. We want to do what we do as Seattle Seahawks.”
That’s fine for him to say. For everyone else, however, it’s a game that has spawned the sort of hyper-analysis usually reserved for the Super Bowl. Rice acknowledged that fans don’t share the same minimalist philosophy as the players.
“They definitely don’t,’’ he said. “This is their game. This is the game they definitely want, two times a year, for sure.”
That’s why it has been treated in some quarters as the showdown to end all showdowns — until the next one in December.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @StoneLarry