With two physical defenses, coaches with an acrimonious history, and stakes that include a (fake) eyebrow shaving wager, multiple sports outlets see Sunday’s primetime clash between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers as part of the “NFL’s best rivalry.” The coaches and players involved, however, categorize it as just another game.
“It’s a championship opportunity for us,” Carroll said of the game. “Just like last week. It’s no different.”
“We don’t shy away from the fact that the 49ers are a great football team with a great coaching staff and great football players,” quarterback Russell Wilson said at his press conference. “Like every week though, we have to bring our “A” game.”
Of course, these types of measured, diplomatic answers are to be expected from a team with a real chance to contend for a championship season. But in the wake of the Seahawks 42-13 drubbing of the 49ers the last time these teams met at the end of the 2012 season, the 49ers will surely want to make a statement that they’re still the team to beat in the NFC West.
To that end, the 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick will need to improve on his subpar performance in his first game at Seattle’s CenturyLink Stadium, widely regarded as one of the loudest venues in the NFL. Last season, Kaepernick threw for just 244 yards on 19/36 passing, with one touchdown and a pick.
“I think they are more in tune with his talents and they trust him more,” Carroll told SI.com in regard to the 49ers approach to Kaepernick. “They threw the ball down the field a ton in that game and hit a bunch of plays. You can tell that they are not dinking the ball around or worrying about him. They are giving him the chance to make things happen, and he did.”
Richard Sherman was another player who made things happen the last time these teams met. In addition to nabbing an interception, he returned a blocked field goal 90 yards for a touchdown. Sherman played for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh during his college years at Stanford and told the Everett Herald that he prefers Carroll’s more gregarious approach to the game over Harbaugh’s.
"I like Pete's approach because it's always positive...No player loves to be dog cussed. It's some hard coaching out there, but Pete does it in a way where nobody screams, nobody yells, everybody has a positive mindset. There's always a positive in every game, win lose or draw. Pete tries to pull that out, he tries to pull a good message out of every game. Regardless of if you feel like you've played the worst game of your life, he'll make you feel like you had a decent game. As a player you can't help but love that."
Regardless of how the players and coaches categorize the game, NFL fans should anticipate a hard-fought contest between division rivals with contrasting philosophies yet similar styles of play. Whether or not that constitutes the “best rivalry” in the league is subjective, but with both teams loaded up on talented young players who are well-aware of the caliber of play required to win a championship, it should be fun to watch for years to come.