Oops. I must have missed the “Now we hate Seattle” memo.
This NFC Championship game matchup is the best rivalry going in the NFL, between two talented teams full of ego and bravado, brimming with both familiarity and contempt. It’s the best rivalry the 49ers have had since the glory day battles with Dallas.
But that rivalry made sense. It was easy for San Francisco to despise Dallas and everything about it. Natural, polar-opposite, red-state blue-state, enemies.
But Seattle? That’s just weird. For San Francisco, it’s like hating your twin sister. Like looking in the mirror and despising what you see.
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Gorgeous, hilly waterfront city? Check.
Foodie obsessed, coffee addicted population? Check.
Hipster, techie vibe? Check.
Liberal, green politics? Check.
Rich rock ‘n’ roll history? Check.
And on the football field, the teams are so much the same, with demonstrative head coaches who came out of the same collegiate conference, budding superstars at quarterback and nasty, physical defenses.
These “rival” cities are more alike than different. Most San Franciscans view Seattle as a nice place they could imagine living if they couldn’t live in San Francisco. Many Seattle residents are Bay Area refugees. Both communities have a superiority complex about the world that lies east of their mountain ranges.
To the rest of the country, we might as well be interchangeable. One USA Today columnist called this game the “Insuffera-Bowl.” He was talking mainly about football personalities. But he could be talking about the dueling civic levels of smugness.
However, according to Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat, his town does have an inferiority complex about San Francisco. He calls Seattle “San Francisco’s Spokane.”
“In boomtown Seattle of today, where we’re smug that we’re ranked No. 1 for this or that, face it, we remain deep-down envious of only one other,” Westneat wrote. “Her hipness. Her wealth. Her arts, architecture, high-tech, wine, culture, politics, you name it – we still peek insecurely south to check: What Would San Francisco Do?”
Westneat noted that Chronicle columnist Herb Caen once pointed out that, on a list of the Top 10 Things to Do in Seattle” No. 5 was “take a ferry to Alaska.”
But down here we’re envious of things that Seattle has, too. Like legalized marijuana. And rain. Lots and lots of glorious rain.
And for those of us not on the 49ers’ payroll or living in the South Bay, we also covet the Seahawks glorious downtown football stadium, which makes every game day an urban love-fiesta.
That stadium seems to be what 49ers fans hate the most about Seattle: the building, and the really loud, excited people who fill it. The Chronicle has received countless letters from 49ers fans calling Seattle’s noise level “unsportsmanlike,” a silly complaint that only delights Seahawks fans, who retaliate by pointing out that 49ers fan base likes nothing better than a fine whine.
Seattle’s fans are loud and enthusiastic and create a decided home advantage. Isn’t that exactly the same thing we brag about when it comes to the Golden State Warriors? Or AT&T Park in the playoffs?
Another big, silly complaint: Seattle wouldn’t sell tickets to people from California. Worth mentioning: California was just one of 44 states restricted. And, on ticket broker sites – the only place you’d be likely able to buy tickets anyway — there were still more than 3,000 tickets available on Thursday.
This is a funny rivalry that didn’t even exist until a few years ago when Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh brought their collegiate animosity to the big leagues, and remade their teams in similar fashion. For years, the Seahawks’ only relevance to the 49ers was that Jerry Rice was actively destroying all of Steve Largent’s records. The teams had played each other exactly six times before divisions were redone in 2002 and Seattle entered the NFC West.
And even then, the main relationship between the teams was humor emanating from the Northwest that the 49ers had decided to hire Seattle discard Dennis Erickson, while the Seahawks had landed the far superior coach, San Francisco native Mike Holmgren.
But now it’s different. Now the teams are on equal footing. They have talent at every position. They know each other well. They want the same thing.
San Franciscans will say they already have that thing: five Super Bowls and two World Series. Seattle has won one major sports championship in the modern era, the 1979 NBA Championship by a team that, to add salt to the title-less wound, is now in Oklahoma City. San Francisco fans — angry about a flyover banner at Candlestick sponsored by Seattle fans — even took out a billboard depicting their Super Bowl Trophies and the words “Got Lombardis?” However, the billboard is placed 27 miles away from downtown Seattle, which kind of misses the point.
But this is about right now. Seattle has been searching for a Super Bowl championship for a long time, but so have the 49ers. The “Quest for Six” tagline championed by the 49ers’ PR department is a little worn, since it was used last year and the team has been seeking that elusive sixth trophy for 19 years. (Both teams are 0-1 in their most recent Super Bowl appearances).
Right now, on Sunday, this is as good a matchup as the NFL can offer. Between two equals. Twins, practically.
But bitter enemies? The hated Emerald City? I must have missed that memo.