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Who do you love to hate: Cowboys or Steelers?

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Rivalry is a state of mind. In this series, we look at the most-reviled Seahawks opponents.

Dallas Cowboys v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

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. I say, why must there be only one?

The kind of rivalry I’m talking about doesn’t follow logic or geography or league alignment. It is more personal, more instinctive. We’re also in the spirit of storytelling. 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.

In the next few weeks I’ll occasionally consider pairs of Seahawks rivals, using both competitive stakes and this personal, emotional territory to determine which of the two …for the moment… is a greater rivalry.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The first thing that comes to mind obviously, and only collision of any real significance between Seattle and Pittsburgh, is Super Bowl XL. And although XLVIII goes most of the way toward erasing my lingering insecurity from that game 10 years ago, there persists a humid element in me that always kind of wants to see the Steelers and their fans disappointed, humiliated even—even when it has nothing to do with the Seahawks’ fortunes.

Which is too bad. I have a lot of admiration for the Steelers organization, its history, and I particularly should have enjoyed that Steelers team. Based on his college performance at Indiana, I’ve considered naming children after Antwaan Randle El. I’m not kidding. Pittsburgh also is a fine city, with good people in it. I got to visit last year, and it’s a lot more like Seattle than you might guess. All steep hills and lush greenery with water running through it and mountains all on the periphery. The only thing lacking is the ocean.

The problem really comes from their unlikable quarterback multiplied by the way Steelers fans refuse to approach any self-awareness about the swing of the officiating in that Super Bowl. I can’t say how many times it’s come up, or admit how well or poorly I’ve learned to step graciously around the topic, but every Pittsburgh fan I know gets exceedingly defensive about it. I can’t blame them for not wanting to discount a trophy, but the sour attitude that seems to go directly to the top of the franchise makes me want to render every pivotal moment, in any Steelers game or season since, as judgment on the karma or legitimacy of their Super Bowl XL win. This feeling burns against my desire to be free of it.

The funny part for me is I remember wanting to write a letter to the commissioner 10 years earlier, on behalf of the Rooneys and the fans of Pittsburgh, back when, through my child’s eyes, I felt the only explanation for Neil O’Donnell’s two interceptions direct to Larry Brown in Super Bowl XXX was an illicit plot that fixed the outcome against the Steelers. As an adult I recognize that every injustice doesn’t always equal a conspiracy, while Super Bowl XLIX reminds me of the frailty of assigning absolute value to the outcomes of these tilts.

Dallas Cowboys

Speaking of obnoxious opposing fans and Super Bowl XXX, in the 20 years since the Cowboys last won a world title I’ve lived a lot of places: New York, Wisconsin, Wyoming, California, Michigan. Everywhere I went there were Dallas fans, and in these farflung locales almost all of them had suspect reasons to be so. Actually, cancel that. In a piece dedicated to the “depths of memory” and “varied surfaces of the heart” I won’t call anyone out on how their loyalty came to surface.

But put it this way: No matter where I was in the country, for most of my life people knew if you were a Seahawks fan you were a genuine Seahawks fan. The cause was clear; even if Seattle has had the better of the last two decades than most teams, Cowboys included (or especially), there wasn’t any particularly strong reason for anyone not from the Pacific Northwest to adopt Seattle unless you really meant it. They weren’t attached to Super Bowl memories from the 1970s. They certainly weren’t a fixture on nationally-televised broadcasts or debates.

I happened to move to Texas in 2012. Hey, I didn’t know what was coming. How could I? But in the time since I’ve become aware that for the first time in my life, especially in conversation with Dallas fans, suddenly I’m the one who has to feel a bit apologetic, even embarrassed in certain company, about cheering for a team from far away that coincidentally dominates the NFL.

The Seahawks and Cowboys have never been considered natural peers or even circumstantial rivals. The move to the NFC brought more frequent contact and a few memorable high-stakes run-ins (bless you Jordan Babineaux) but nothing truly heart-rending. Still I know for many Seattle fans, like fans around the nation, the Cowboys however downtrodden represent a monolith of NFL privilege that absorbs our animosity and excites our ruthlessness. They feel like enemies.

For the moment: There’s a chance Dallas looms as a potential obstacle in the playoffs this year; they did in 2014 when Tony Romo was last healthy. But I just can’t get scared of this configuration of the Cowboys. Meanwhile, the Seahawks won’t play the Steelers for four more years unless it’s in the Super Bowl. But if they do meet, can you imagine any higher stakes or any lower defeat than another loss Pittsburgh can use to validate, however irrelevantly, its 2005 win? (OK, maybe the Patriots, but we’re getting to that.)

I wrote in April that Seattle’s victory over Roethlisberger and company last year finally put a lid over the simmering beef between the two acrimonious fan bases. But there’s still some hot beef in that crock, I promise.