With a sound 20-7 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, the San Francisco 49ers have cemented themselves as the team to beat in the NFC West but nipping at their heels are this years’ identity-confused but scrappy Seattle Seahawks. After the Seahawks defeated the Cleveland Browns this weekend, both teams have at least a two-game lead over the Rams. Seattle and San Francisco are fully in the drivers seat of the division as we approach the midway point of the season, two short weeks from now.
It’s been five seasons since both teams were ahead of Los Angeles at the same time, and six since they were both good.
The Seahawks don’t play the Niners at all in the first half of the season. Three games against East Coast teams stand between now and the first contest with the old rivals. And each week thus far has made the impending late season showdowns feel more significant.
It’s a good thing for football when Seahawk and 49er can stand toe-to toe, facing each other with meaning and animosity behind each game. Most people rank it among the top NFL rivalries of all time. Even the players get more hyped for the prospect of a fierce showdown.
K.J. Wright is perhaps the best example, as the most experienced of the team. Recently asked about the “rivalry” against the L.A. Rams, Wright instead turned his attention to reminiscing about the past San Francisco teams.
“Man, it don’t get much better than the 49ers”
“The 49ers was just... it felt like a Super Bowl when we were playing during that time.”
“I don’t look at it like San Fran. At all.”
“I haven’t felt anything (like that) since the San Fran days,”
It’s not that KJ ever overlooked the Rams game, and obviously Seattle came out ready to play last week. But those two teams never tried to play the same style of football. They never had two head coaches with history and unique personas. They never had.....this gem.
They grow up so fast.
A true rivalry requires several necessary ingredients in order to cook correctly. It needs a history of close games. At some point the teams have to both be competing for a single playoff position. Physical location helps to bring out some loyalty-based emotion. Usually a player or two has to not like another player or two. Some times the head coaches can do the trick nicely.
Add in some off-the-wall comments, let percolate for two to three years, and out comes a day on the calendar that average people in Seattle would circle simply because it’s got a big S.F. on it.
For example, one of the greatest moments of Seahawk media all-time came from the ever-exuberant Richard Sherman. On a cold day in Seattle (I’m assuming), after a 23-17 victory over the Niners, Richard Sherman blessed the world with the rant.
Never forget this epic Richard Sherman interview with Erin Andrews.pic.twitter.com/jBLA3bbmsy— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) March 9, 2018
Enter 2019. In the words of the great philosopher Michael Scott, “how the turntables have turned.” Five years have passed since that interview, but the most quotable material is still coming from Sherman. He’s just now on the other side of the rivalry.
It’s one thing for players to get traded to an annoying opponent. It’s another to voluntarily go to an arch-rival in free agency. It’s nearly unheard of for the most brash player on the team to act as his own agent, change sides, and continue a high level of play and trash talk for years to come. But we all knew Sherm was unique.
That uniqueness applies to his most recent take on his team’s success. Apparently, if you didn’t think the 49ers were going to win very many games this year, you’re supposed to keep thinking that.
By Sherm’s logic, if one predicted the Niners would only win three games this season, one should continue to predict the Niners will win three games this season. In order to sound like an idiot. And, because math.
Then there’s the whole handshake fiasco. This, more than anything else, points to what made the original rivalry so great. One needs a real target, a scapegoat, a player that the most uninvested of fans feels intense animosity towards, though they’re not sure why. Sherman was our man on the inside, taking the brunt of enemy vitriol for years. Now he’s inventing slights, getting proved wrong on camera, and then insulting the intelligence of the public at large.
This stuff writes itself.
This could end up being one of the most fascinating two-game series of this current Seahawks squad. Playoff seeds are on the line, but we’re four weeks out and the drama is already starting to simmer. Who knows what it will look like come game time? Imagine if both teams win out until then, it will be a full on firestorm.
Besides, what do you do with Richard Sherman this year? As a Seahawks fan, I don’t hate him - do you? But deep down, if DK Metcalf runs right past Sherm and does anything resembling successful football, I know I’m going to smile a little bigger than usual.
“You want idiots to sound like idiots” ~ Richard Sherman.