This summer I’ve heard many questions asking who should be the Seattle Seahawks chief rival, now that the gold rush in San Francisco has all panned out. It must be the Arizona Cardinals, right, since they won the NFC West in 2015 and expect to fiercely contest it again this fall? What if it’s the Carolina Panthers, because they beat Seattle in the playoffs and still loom on the other side of the conference?
I say, why must there be only one?
Naming an archenemy is an extension of logic as extreme as picking an absolute best friend. Nature documentaries have taught me that, in the wild, rivals don’t necessarily come only from the biggest threat or any longstanding feud. Indeed, when you’re at the top of competitive animal societies rivals keep coming one after another, as often and as soon as they’re ready. And yes, yes, the Seahawks will treat every foe on the schedule as a fresh opportunity to go 1-0. That’s the logic that leads to a championship. But the kind of rivalry I’m talking about isn’t so logical. It is more animal, more instinctive. We’re also in the spirit of storytelling. Certain matchups carry, for the fan, special traces of emotional residues that alert your senses or boil your blood or—worse—curl your tail feathers between your legs.
This personal, really biological response is what defines football rivalries, as much as any culturally shared agreement in the comments or at the stadium. That’s why I won’t bother to declare one ultimate opponent. The number of rivals can be as unlimited as the depths of your memory and the reasons as local and varied as the surfaces of your heart.
But because it doesn’t truly matter and it’s fun to talk about, in the next few weeks I’ll occasionally consider pairs of Seattle’s rivals, using both competitive stakes and this personal, emotional territory to determine which of the two …for the moment… is a greater rivalry. We start with a rematch, in a way, of Super Bowl XXXII:
Right now John Elway and company have what the Seahawks want: the Lombardi Trophy.
It’s weird, for that matter, to notice the Broncos over the last three years (or even the last ten) are exactly as accomplished as Seattle: Two Super Bowl appearances, one Super Bowl win. If the score doesn’t feel quite so even as that, that’s probably because the score was 43-8 in the most significant game in this comparison. Denver may hold the NFL title but Seattle still owns heads-up supremacy.
This interfranchise beef, rooted in the old AFC West, helped make Super Bowl XLVIII so especially satisfying. One of my earliest memories of the Seahawks is my brothers and myself wilding out while my mother tried to clean the house before a visit from important guests. She was very stressed. We should have been helping. But she wanted us, if we weren’t going to help, to sit and watch the football game. And to focus our positive energy southward, toward the Kingdome, where she said the Seahawks needed our support.
They were playing against John Elway, she told us, and at the time even I knew what that meant. Elway always beat Seattle, or that’s the way it seemed. (I’ve tried to locate this particular game in the records; it might have been late 1986, when the Seahawks had lost four in a row to Denver—but Seattle beat the Broncos at home to end that year and that’s not how I recall this game going. Maybe it was ’85. Either way I was very young.)
As young as I was, however, I remember not playing along with my mom’s mystic nonsense, this superstition about the positive energy. I was as shitty about the Seahawks that Sunday afternoon as I was about the housecleaning. John Elway might as well have been a more-mobile Godzilla, and I said any good vibes I could have scraped weren’t going to have anything to do with Seattle’s fortunes.
But I also remember thinking about the television, and the leather chest the TV sat on then, in front of the window, and the tree beyond the window blocking the view of the shipping canal and Queen Anne Hill beyond that. And somewhere in the distance past Queen Anne—the Kingdome. And I remember thinking about how what was going on on TV was also going on at the same time at that distance, somewhere directly south, and I thought about what it might mean for a telepathic wish to influence that place, so distant and nearby. So imaginary and also real.
The paths of Seattle's and Green Bay's franchises are as intertwined the past 20 years as a basket of eels. First came Mike Holmgren, and then he brought from Wisconsin his second-favorite quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. And Hasselbeck called his shot in a 2003 playoff game right before his disastrous pass ended that overtime game in Green Bay and stalled the Seahawks rise for a few years.
Less well remembered is when the Packers closed Holmgren's and Hasselbeck's Super Bowl window conclusively in the 2007 divisional round by thwarting a 14-0 Seahawks lead in the first five minutes to crush them 42-6 the rest of the way. As a result I relished when Brett Favre’s "career" ended just as calamitously the next week with an interception in overtime. But by the time Favre was truly done in 2010 Green Bay itself was, now with Aaron Rodgers, on its way to another Super Bowl title and the Packers seemed like they held some kind of eternal upper hand.
The thing about upper hands, lower hands, is the placement of the hands doesn’t win decisions when both players have simultaneous possession in the end zone.
I missed the end of the Monday night game in 2012. I was freshly living in Texas so the national TV broadcast gave a rare chance to view Seattle play, but after the first half I left the pool hall where I had been watching in order to see my friend’s band play their debut show. When I found the band still setting up, I went back to the pool hall and saw most of the fourth quarter, but I left again when Russell Wilson turned it over on downs at the Green Bay seven-yard-line with 1:54 remaining.
I drank heavily that night and woke up on a strange sofa with my phone dead. By the time I rode my bicycle 10 miles home, I was trying to pick up the pieces of the night before. A lot of hectic drama of old relationships and new friendships had got tied up in the circumstances of that party; events I felt I needed desperately to resolve, but couldn’t even begin to remember. There was also a text from my brother which made no sense: "That’s a touchdown." When I fired up my computer, the whole internet was talking about the Seahawks.
It was an awakening, justified or not by the officials that evening, that hasn’t really stopped. The miracle finish in the 2014 NFC Championship seemed like part of the same working. They blew up the Kingdome in March 2000, but whatever paddywhack magic or superstition I renounced as a child appears to be again channeling to or from that place.
For the moment: Green Bay’s win over Seattle last year in Lambeau Field renewed a feeling of instability if not insecurity in that rivalry, after the Seahawks seemed to have the Packers’ number for a period. With the NFC powers aligned the way they are, the tilt of this matchup remains poised to set the balance of the conference for at least one more year.
The Seahawks won’t play Denver again until 2018, unless it’s in a Super Bowl—and if that happens it ought to swing the enmity back toward the Broncos in a hurry.