The stunning return to prominence of the 49ers — who already have won twice as many games in 2019 as they did all of last season — might seem like the worst thing that could happen to the Seahawks.
As Seattle navigates its transition from the Legion of Boom era to the Russell Wilson decade and beyond, the Seahawks already have to deal with the Sean McVay-led revival of the Rams and Arizona landing a quarterback who may well be fitting of the “franchise’’ label in Kyler Murray.
And now here again come the 49ers, undefeated as they host Seattle on Monday night with a quarterback who also may be for real teamed with a coach who is one of the best offensive minds in the game, each coupled with a defense emerging as one of the best in the NFL led by a fearsome line in which only one player is older than 25 — Dee Ford, who is the ripe old age of 28.
It all means the NFC West figures to continue its billing as the best division in the NFL.
Consider that since 2012, the NFC West has by far the best record in the league at 258-219-5, a winning percentage of .540. Next on the list is the NFC North at 247-230-5.
Halfway through this season, the division is 23-10-1 with only Arizona having a losing record at 3-5-1 (but 3-3-1 outside the NFC West.)
So nothing figures to come cheaply for the Seahawks, or anyone else in the division, anytime soon.
But the excitement and anticipation engendered by Monday night’s showdown with the 49ers raises the idea that from a pure entertainment standpoint — and that’s ultimately all this really is — maybe San Francisco’s rebirth is one of the best things that could happen in also reviving what was once one of the NFL’s best rivalries, and one of the most heated in the history of Seattle sports.
Seahawks players largely play down the idea of rivalries, in large part because that’s the way coach Pete Carroll — who constantly preaches that every game is “a championship opportunity’’ — wants it.
Why not treat some games as bigger than others, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner was asked this week?
“You could create an inconsistent performance because you’ll be up for the games you think everybody’s (watching) or big games, and you’ll be down for the games you think that people aren’t watching or aren’t as significant,” Wagner said. “And you’ll have a rollercoaster of a season. If you treat every game the same, I feel like you’ll have more of a consistent performance.”
But linebacker K.J. Wright allowed that there was a time when the Seahawks definitely felt as if the 49ers were indeed rivals, the period from 2011 to 2014 when the two teams combined for three Super Bowl appearances and four conference championship berths.
“It was just dominant, dominant football,’’ said Wright, who arrived in 2011. “Really good football, like you don’t get to see every Sunday.’’
And if the Super Bowl win over Denver has to rank as the pinnacle in team history, my sense is the real favorite moments of that era for some/many/most Seahawks fans are the 42-13 coming-of-age, din-inducing win over the 49ers in 2012 — Kam Chancellor’s hit on Vernon Davis may be the real defining moment of that time — and then “The Tip’’ game a year later that sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl at the expense of San Francisco.
Those years against the 49ers felt like Seattle finally again had a real, true rivalry of the like it had plenty of in the old AFC West days but had struggled to regain after the move to the NFC in 2002.
Maybe they could some day, but for whatever reason, games against the Cardinals and Rams — even in their best years — don’t seem to stir the passions of the fan base the way those against the 49ers have or at least did for a few years there.
Maybe, as Wright said, it was more about the faces on the other side than the uniforms that truly defined that era — Jim Harbaugh, Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, NaVorro Bowman.
“What made it special was the players,’’ Wright said.
But eventually, faces and uniforms merge and what resonates most deeply is the team they formed, and the view here is that it wouldn’t take much for the new faces to engender the same emotion as the old ones.
“There is potential,’’ Wright acknowledged this week when asked if he thinks the 49ers could again become the same kind of rival as they were in that 2011-14 era. “But right now, it’s not close. It’s not close.’’
But with players who appear on their way to being longtime fixtures on the other side such as Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Bosa, George Kittle and Arik Armstead — and, well, the presence of Richard Sherman for now and maybe a few years more — a rivalry revival feels not that far away, either.
And if that might make it tougher on the field, it might make it a lot more fun off of it.