The Definitive History of the 49ers and Seahawks NFL Rivalry

  • Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll

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    Coaching tension

    Did I mention these teams don’t like each other? That starts at the top with the head coaches. By all accounts, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll weren’t exactly bowling buddies before they took over their respective programs.

    In their first collegiate meeting in 2007, Harbaugh’s Stanford squad pulled a monumental 24-23 upset over Carroll’s USC team. Two years later, the first signs of tension appeared. With his team up 48-21 late in the second half, Harbaugh elected to go for a two-point conversion. It rubbed Carroll the wrong way and after the game, he shouted “What’s your deal?” at Harbaugh.

    Both coaches enjoyed a lot of success at the college level before Carroll took over Seattle in 2010 and Harbaugh took over San Francisco in 2011. It didn’t take long before the two losing teams started winning. The rivalry didn’t exist before Carroll and Harbaugh came along. Their amazingly quick turnarounds made it happen. The 49ers had losing seasons from 2003-10 and the Seahawks had losing seasons from 2008-11. Each coach did it in his own way. Carroll’s the guy who lets his team listen to loud hip-hop music during practice and carries a swag, while Harbaugh is more strict and gruff. Those character traits have rubbed off on their teams.

    Since they came to the NFL, Harbaugh holds a 4-3 advantage over Carroll in coaching victories, but the Seahawks have won two of the last three.

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  • Colin Kaepernick

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    Identical rosters

    In Carroll’s first year with Seattle, the Seahawks plucked away San Francisco general manager Scot McCloughan and made him a senior personnel executive. It was only the beginning of the arms race between the squads.

    The 49ers drafted unheralded dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 Draft, so the next year, the Seahawks drafted unheralded dual-threat quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round. They’ve each become the face of their respective franchises since.

    Their backfields look awfully similar as well. San Francisco back Frank Gore (Packers) and Seattle back Marshawn Lynch (Bills) were cast off at the start of their careers and they run like they have chips on their shoulders. Gore and Lynch are two of the most punishing and dependable backs in the game, and the 49ers and Seahawks make it a priority to run the ball in an era where many teams are getting away from the run.

    While their offenses share a number of similarities, the Seahawks and 49ers resemble each other even more on defense. It’s not because they necessarily have identical players at each position, but more so because of the manner in which they play. For the last three-plus years, the 49ers and Seahawks have made noise around the league for their fast and hard-hitting defenses. It starts in both places on the defensive line where the Seahawks have players such as Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril getting after the quarterback and the 49ers have Aldon Smith (just reinstated following his nine-game suspension) and Justin Smith. Great pass rushers allow each team to bring just four to get pressure on the quarterback and still have everyone covered.

    The Seahawks posted a tweet from Carroll before last year’s NFC Championship Game with the 49ers. It read: “I think there’s a fundamental approach to football that we (Seahawks & 49ers) share. Play tough.”

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  • They hate each other

    The tension between these teams was building before they even became relevant again. The coaches didn’t like each other in college, Carroll drafted one of Harbaugh’s best players and stole the 49ers’ GM, and the West Coast franchises started building their teams using the same mold. That means they were often fighting over the same players.

    It hasn’t slowed down any in recent memory. Two days after the 49ers beat the Seahawks, 19-17, last December, San Francisco signed guard Ryan Seymour off of Seattle’s practice squad and picked up wide receiver Devon Wylie, who the Seahawks cut from their practice squad the day before the game.

    This year’s teams also feature players who have been on both sides, including Seattle wide receiver Ricardo Lockette and San Francisco cornerback Perrish Cox.

    On top of all that, there have been accusations of cheating, and in the Seahawks’ case, lots of actual cheating. Five Seahawks have been suspended for performance enhancing drugs since the start of 2011. After Harbaugh took a shot at Seattle serial defender Brandon Browner (now with the Patriots), Browner told ESPN:

    “At the end of the day we gotta win football games. He’s a coach. He’s never gonna be out there lined up against me. I wish he would; I’d put my hands around his neck. At the end of the day, I’m about winning football games.”

    What other rivalry has players talking about choking out the other team’s coach? This is intense.

    “We don’t like them, they don’t like us,” 49ers left tackle Joe Staley once said. “I don’t have a magic answer for why it’s so intense, it just is. It’s a physical game every time we play, and there’s just a lot of bad blood there.”

    That bad blood has carried over into the fanbases as well. San Jose Mercury News writer David E. Early chronicled it well before last year’s NFC Championship in an article fittingly titled, “We hate each other because we’re so alike.”

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  • Crabtree vs. Sherman

    Patriots quarterback Tom Brady versus Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is considered football’s greatest individual rivalry right now, but even that lacks something. The reason is they play the same position, so it’s not like they’re even actually playing each other. They are each trying to navigate through each other’s defense more times than the other person.

    There are few great rivalries between players who actually matchup against one another. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman versus 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree might be the best the game has to offer. After Crabtree made comments about Sherman before last year’s NFC Championship Game, Sherman responded emphatically when it mattered most. While covering Crabtree in the end zone in a one-score game on San Francisco’s final possession, Sherman leaped in front of Crabtree and swatted the ball away into teammate Malcolm Smith’s hands. The interception not only sealed the game and sent Seattle to the Super Bowl, but it made Sherman lose his mind. He delivered one of the scariest rants in recent memory to FOX reporter Erin Andrews afterwards, yelling: “I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get. Don’t you ever talk about me!”

    He later added: “Crabtree. Don’t you open your mouth about the best or I’ll shut it for you real quick. L.O.B. [Legion of Boom].”

    Sherman played for Harbaugh at Stanford, but the 49ers chose to take defensive back Chris Culliver in the draft instead of the Pro Bowl defender. The Seahawks have reaped the rewards and one of the most divisive players in the game has become the face of the 49ers-Seahawks rivalry. Less than a week after the Super Bowl, Sherman poured some more gas on the fire while making an appearance on Discovery Channel’s “American Muscle.”

    “It’s not going to be something that goes away,” Sherman said of the Crabtree rivalry. “I hope to play [Crabtree] every year for the rest of my career and choke him out. There’s not much else I can say about the subject. Nobody will understand it but him and me. That’s all that needs to [be understood].”

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  • Russell Wilson

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    They're in each other's way

    All of the aspects I’ve already listed that make this rivalry so great mean nothing if the teams aren’t consistently winning. Cowboys-Redskins was great for years, but the Redskins haven’t won more than five games in a season since 1922. (I exaggerated a little) The same could be said for Packers-Bears, but when Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers tosses six touchdowns in a half like he did the last time they met, the rivalry is on life support.

    The best rivalries in sports feature games that could go either way. They also play in games that mean something like last year’s NFC Championship, a contest that left an indelible impression on many fans. Sherman’s tipped pass to Smith in the final minute ended San Francisco’s shot at getting to a second straight Super Bowl. Seattle, meanwhile, went and crushed Manning and the Broncos, 43-8, to pick up the Seahawks’ first title.

    Along with winning the Super Bowl last year, the Seahawks reached at least the divisional round of the playoffs in three of Carroll’s first four years. Harbaugh was the first coach in NFL history to take his team to three conference championship games in his first three seasons. Unfortunately for 49ers fans, San Francisco only won one of those before losing to the Ravens in the Super Bowl.

    San Francisco also won back-to-back NFC West titles in 2011 and 2012 before Seattle used a 13-3 season to steal the division crown last year. The 49ers still used a wild-card berth to get to the NFC Championship.

    “We both win, play each other twice, and it’s a dogfight,” 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. “Our scores, even when they’re not close, aren’t indicative of the games. If neither team was winning, there wouldn’t be a rivalry and no one would care about watching.”

    This is a rivalry that should last, too. Both rosters are comprised mainly of young, talented players and we know they’re well coached. This is just the beginning. 

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  • Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll
  • Colin Kaepernick
  • Seahawks, 49ers
  • Richard Sherman
  • Russell Wilson

There are few threads stringing together some of the NFL’s best rivalries right now. Without Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, Patriots-Broncos wouldn’t be a rivalry at all. The Steelers and Ravens play a lot of close games and are division foes, but their both slumped in mediocrity. The Packers just beat the Bears, 55-14, on Nov. 9 and despite Colt McCoy’s heroics in their last matchup, the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry hasn’t had much steam in the last decade.

There’s only one true rivalry between NFL teams right now and it has all the right ingredients. They hate each other, their coaches had shaky histories with one another before even coming to the NFL, their teams are built in mirror images of one another, they talk trash, and they play some of the most physical football in the league.

Oh yeah, and for the last three seasons, they’ve stood in each other’s way in a fight for conference supremacy. If you haven’t caught on yet, I’m talking about 49ers-Seahawks. They’ll meet tonight for the first time this season and I doubt there will be a whole lot of “Happy Thanksgiving. How is your family?” going on.

There will be a lot of hard hitting and jaws flapping. It’s one of those games where you’re kind of glad it’s at night so you can put the kids to bed because it might get rough. Don’t let either team’s record fool you, this game matters. The Seahawks edged the 49ers, 23-17, in last season’s NFC Championship Game and don’t think San Francisco has forgotten that. And don’t be surprised if they’re back there again this year.

Here is The Definitive History of the 49ers and Seahawks NFL Rivalry.

Follow Brett on Twitter at @bpoirierNB

image via Ronald Martinez/Getty Images