Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE
The NFC West has been pushing rivalries for a decade, but do we truly have one?
The Apple Cup is a rivalry that we are all aware of, the intrastate battle between Washington and Washington State that dates back to 1900. During that first game, Reginald Ferriweather sacked Jefferson Pufferpickel in the "points square" as the Cougarians defeated the Huskans 2-nil. It is said that Lady Sanderbottoms, mistress of WSU head coach Lendy Quizzenbee, got so excited that she revealed her left ankle to the boys. She spent the rest of her life in solitary confinement.
(Fake story not even necessary, but fun, though the reality is probably funner: they tied at 5-5. I mean what kind of a no-good lousy team ties a football game? Oh....)
But the Apple Cup makes sense. UW and WSU are the two "big" colleges in the state. Washington was established in 1861, Washington State in 1890. The Huskies are Tupac, the Cougs are B.I.G. We thoroughly enjoy it when you call us Big Papa. Seattle is a major metropolitan city, Pullman is a rural college town through and through. Typically, the schools just often breed different kinds of people, in a way, and each side will say nasty things about the other. Rivalries, when done civilly, contain general hatred but an understanding that stereotypes are unfair, because I will still date any Husky that would have me. (Call me.)
A Husky might tell you that the overall record against WSU (67-32-6) means that it is not a rivalry at all. A Cougar might tell you that the school will never have the geographic and demographic advantages of Seattle, and is proud of every accomplishment and Apple Cup victory that comes WSU's way. Though lately you'll hear a lot more hollering from Seattle that it is not WSU they are concerned about, but that Oregon is their "rival". There is an indifference in regards to Cougar fans, and a pure hatred towards Duck fans. For Cougs, this show of indifference, well I suppose that is what makes a 2012 Apple Cup victory all the sweeter. Even if it's only for a year.
There's actually a comparison to be made there to the 49ers and the NFC West. After a decade of realignment, the four teams are still left pining for what to make of which team they hate the most. While I am not an expert on how Rams and Cardinals fans feel about it, I get the sense that three teams hate the 49ers and that San Francisco is probably still more bent on the team across the Bay, a team that they don't even play that often anyway. In that case, it's about geography and Oakland stereotypes moreso than football. When it comes to the field, there's still little argument to be made for any two teams being serious rivals. Why?
Because none of the four teams in the NFC West have any geographical reason to hate one another, and because 95% of the historical success belongs to San Francisco. If the 49ers had been placed in the same division as, say, the Cowboys, as ridiculous as that would be, then those would be the two teams that would rival one another. Since the 49ers are in a division with three teams that have not accomplished all that much in their franchise histories, they are, rather...
I've written it on this site before, but the NFC West has had a reputation of either being composed of four bad teams or one good team that is only "good" because the other three teams are bad. Think of it like comparing Nick Carter to Brian Littrell, A.J. McLean, and Howie Dorough; you sure look a lot better in comparison! How could anyone really know whether you were a Nick Carter or a Justin Timberlake? Seriously, dudes! I mean... uhhh... Babes, beers, wasssssuuupppp!
When you really look back at the short history of this division, there has only been a handful of teams that you might consider to be among the best in the NFL that year: the 2003 Rams, 2005 Seahawks, 2011 49ers, and whatever magical, mysterious thing that took over for the Cardinals in the 2008 playoffs. But two great teams in this division at the same time? Not even close.
And then finally in the eleventh hour of the eleventh year of the
eleventh twelfth man, we might just have a stew going. Potentially the two best teams in the NFC, if not the NFL, now reside in the NFC West. There is still a problem with that though; convincing anyone else, especially the 49ers, that the Seahawks really are that good. Funny, I seem to remember a similar path for San Francisco last season when nobody believed they were legit until very late in the year, and then maybe not even until they got through the Saints in the playoffs. People are not going to respect you with words and explanations of why you are 9-5 instead of 11-3 or 12-2. People are going to respect you with wins.
That step, that statement, that "Welcome to the Seahawks being great" moment starts on Sunday. Seattle was in more of a developmental mode when these two teams played on Thursday night football earlier this year, and Russell Wilson seemed to turn a corner immediately following. There is only going to be one way to prove to the 49ers, their fans, and the nation, that the Seahawks belong in the conversation for now, and for awhile: Beat 'em.
Beat the bloody hell out of 'em.
If the 49ers make a statement in Seattle, get ready for a loooonnnnggg offseason, barring a win over San Fran in the playoffs. If the Seahawks beat the Niners in front of millions of people, the rivalry is real. The first in the 11-year history of this version of the NFC West. Here are a few points of what makes up a possible SF-SEA rivalry:
Pete Carroll vs Jim Harbaugh
If we follow the lead of our leaders, then there is no reason not to hate the opposition. Because these guys hate the dick out of each other.
From my own personal research into the matter (Wiki and Pro-Football-Reference!) I can date this rivalry back to 1988. Harbaugh was a 1st round pick of the Bears in 1987 and Carroll was the defensive backs coach of the Minnesota Vikings from 1985-1989. In his third career appearance, Week 3 of his second year, Harbaugh went 4-of-9 for 38 yards against Carroll's defensive backs on the Vikings. I wonder if at that moment, Pete looked into the eyes of Jim and thought:
"And, you know the thing about Harbaugh... he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn't seem to be living.... until he sprays your face with saliva as he's raging mad over a spot that was one inch too short on 2nd-and-3."
The foes meet again in 1991, now Harbaugh is the starter for Chicago and Pete is the defensive coordinator of the Jets. Harbaugh throws for a career-high 303 yards in a 19-13 win. In 1994, Carroll, now the head coach of the Jets, beats Harbaugh, exiled from Chicago for ineffective play and now starting for the Colts. Counter-point: Carroll is fired after only one season. In an odd twist, Pete becomes the 49ers DC and loses to Harbaugh's Colts in 1995, 18-17.
Carroll became the head coach of the Patriots from 1997-1999 and in his first season, swept Harbaugh's Colts and that would be the last that the two would meet as coach versus player. None of these meetings seemed to have any consequence (and you still had to read about them, haha) to the rivalry between the two. That would not come until Harbaugh became the head coach of Stanford in December of 2006, and he wasted so little time in stirring up news in regards to Carroll that perhaps there was something there all along (aha! The tables have turned again on the consequence of those first 20 years. You never know what you're gonna get!)
Those are Harbaugh's words about Carroll in March of 2007, long before he ever even coached a game at Stanford. That part of the quote was interesting back then. The whole quote is so much more interesting in retrospect:
"Perhaps the reason it's been up and down here (Stanford) is that no one has stayed here 20 years," Harbaugh told CBS Sportsline "... Charlie Weis is going to do that at Notre Dame. Tressel at Ohio State."
Harbaugh stayed at Stanford for less than four years after that comment was made. The Weis comment is just funny. Either way, Carroll did not take kindly to the statement and told reporters that Harbaugh should call him if he has any questions before delivering inaccurate information. (Pete would stay for three more years.) They probably do not call each other. They probably do text each other disturbing pictures as a "Gotcha!" moment.
However, as head coaches, Harbaugh has a significant advantage over Carroll. Stanford pulled off an upset in 2007 after being 41-point underdogs to USC. They lost in 2008, but then beat the Trojans 55-21 in 2009, one of the worst losses in their history. They didn't only beat them, Stanford went for two after they scored their seventh touchdown of the game. That's not a move you make against a team you like, that's a move you make against a guy that you would love to see on Celebrity Rehab one day, if that is still a thing.
The 2-point try sparked the debate between Pete and Jim in the form of: "What's your deal?"
Well, these two rivals have wound up taking their heated West Side Story to the NFL, to the NFC West, to this thing that I've spent so many words already discussing. Harbaugh was 2-1 against Pete in college, where he was always the underdog. Harbaugh is 3-0 against Pete in the NFL, where he is now the favorite. The tables have turned in that sense, perhaps the tables have also turned in the "What's your deal?" department after a fake-punt against Buffalo and 4th-down tries against the Cardinals. Is that Pete trying to get under Jim's skin, or is it vice versa?
It certainly seems like these two are always on one another's minds. To the point where if they were a Hollywood on-screen couple, you're just waiting for the third wheel to scream "Just kiss 'er already!!"
In an unexpected twist, Carroll has become Wazzu and Harbaugh as the Husky, as history shows him proven to be the victor more often than not. However, this rivalry doesn't date back to the turn of the century before the last turn of the century. There is plenty of time for these two to go back-and-forth for awhile and trade off wins and losses, but for Pete to go 0-4 against Harbaugh in the NFL, right as his team is trying to prove itself, that would not be very rivalrous.
Either way, these two still think of the other person as "not that cool of a dude", they trade barbs until there is no end, and the only real way to get one over on the other is to win. It's the only barb (other than Barb Wire of the infamous Pam Anderson vehicle, Barb Wire) that matters.
Russell Wilson vs Colin Kaepernick
In absolute proof that every 49er is better than every other NFL player, Alex Smith got benched with a YPA of 8.0, a completion percentage of 70%, a 6-2-1 record as starter, and a QB rating of 104.1. Of course, Colin Kaepernick has played very well, is Harbaugh's first QB project, is winning, and Smith's future in San Francisco was always questionable at best.
Wilson came into the league surrounded in doubt, and after 14 games has left us all doubting ourselves, our preconceived notions, our loved ones, our gender identity and our personal sexuality.
There is debate about which quarterback you would rather have. After less than a full season from other, it remains a debate mostly clouded with circumstantial evidence, but then again, is there not debate between the benefits, merits, and "Who's better?" between Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers? If both of Kaepernick and Wilson reach their supposed "ceilings" then we're going to be talking about which player has the most Super Bowl rings and neither would wind up without any.
It's incredibly fun to think about a pair of highly-talented quarterbacks in this division that start their careers as starters in their early 20's, and I'm not leaving Sam Bradford entirely out of the conversation either.
The W vs K argument will still end in W's vs L's.
What I found interesting over the last two seasons is just how much these two franchises seem to resemble each other in terms of a "model of success." Pete and Jim might hate each other, but it's not like they're really contrasting styles in many ways of playing football, and what's a better rival than a person you resemble or are related to? Seattle and San Francisco are like Dexter Morgan and Brian Moser.
Except who gets to be Dexter?
I call dibs on not being Deb.
The 49ers improved from being a middle-of-the-road defense in 2010 to perhaps being the best defense in the NFL last season under Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. They used their top pick on Aldon Smith, a pass-rusher. They had career-years in their secondary from players like Carlos Rogers (addition) and Dashon Goldson (already there.) Offensively, they were 31st in pass attempts (from 22nd in 2010) and worked on ball control and protecting the football in order to take pressure off of a talented defense. Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis were damn-near the only receiving threats. Frank Gore did the rest.
Pete and John Schneider came in, and while they would obviously like to find that "franchise" quarterback, they never rushed into a decision like some other teams that were left with Christian Ponder, for example. So what do you do when you can't find a sweet lady? You work on yourself, man. Hit the gym. Buy some new clothes. Get a lot of good defensive players and offensive lineman, if possible. Like drafting a pass-rusher (Bruce Irvin) and adding to your secondary (you know the names.)
What did that leave each team with? The 49ers are ranked 1st in scoring defense, 2nd in total defense. The Seahawks are ranked 2nd in scoring defense, 3rd in total defense. I'm not saying that offensive units don't take pride in their work, but defensive units just seem to take it more to heart. They take it personal. They aim for shutouts every single time out and they just love making a good offense look bad.
Fans expect a quarterback to "win the game." But both of these defenses want to be the unit that says, "U MAD BRO?" at the end of the day.
I find San Francisco's defense to be the model. They're ahead in the process, right now. I find Seattle's defense to be the younger, sexier version, well on their way to being as good or better than San Francisco in due time. Whether or not that happens is entirely why we are talking about a rivalry at all.
Every fanbase has a reputation, even if that reputation is "they have fans?" People will say some shitty things about Seahawks fans, mostly basing it off of the fact that we can't go around talking a bunch of noise when we have not won anything. And you know what? I'm fine with that.
I'd be much happier talking a bunch of noise after Seattle goes out and proves that they belong with the elite class. I can get a good look at a butchers ass by sticking my head up there, so that's what I want the Hawks to do: Stick your head up the butchers ass. (Not your best work, Ken. Not your best. (I like that now my dad is in my head when I'm writing and he's hundreds of miles away. (That's a joke, my dad wouldn't say anything like that. I haven't seen him in years.)))
We would probably say that the 49ers are elitist and I certainly don't remember a whole lot of the smack-talking up until the last two years. That's probably because if you were only watching since division realignment, San Francisco has nothing to brag about until Harbaugh arrived;
(Maybe it's only my perspective as a Washington State alum, but this is very similar to how I see it. I don't care if you went to UW or WSU or neither, I hope I'm not drumming up that drum, it's just an analogy that works for me.)
Every group of fans has great people and idiots. (Though I've only met the brightest and most-beautiful Seahawks fans on Field Gulls!) (That's right Arthur, reel those suckers in.) (Oh shit, did I type that outloud?) When you don't like an opposing team, you're going to hear the idiots a lot louder than you hear the kind, thoughtful, informed, reasonable, and well-spoken fans. That's just natural.
There has been a ton of interaction between these two blogs and fans this week. Maybe in that way we finally can realize that this is a meaningful game for both the Seahawks fans and the 49ers fans. San Francisco would not get riled up over the Seahawks in years prior. Seattle would not get riled up about the 49ers in the middle of the aughts. You really only do that when you're good and you know that the opponent is good. For the history of these games, dating back to 2002, we all know how the better team has acted toward the other: Indifferent.
I'm almost certain that as of today, SEA-SF is totally, unequivocally, unlike any two teams in the NFC West have been since realignment: Different.
We might just have a rivalry.