Since it's the bye week and there's not much to do, I figured we could spare some time to step back and look at the larger scheme of things here in the NFL.
Namely, who do you think is our biggest current rival?
After the jump I'm going to walk through some of the candidates and give my thoughts. Be sure to vote in the poll and explain your thoughts as well. Also, if you have any personal memories or anecdotes you would like to share with us about San Francisco rivalries through the years, please do. This could be a very interesting thread.
The whole Alex Smith / Aaron Rodgers thing really makes this our biggest potential feud. I say "potential" because the 49ers haven't beaten Green Bay since "The Catch 2" during the '98 playoffs, when Steve Young hit Terrell Owens with a laser between five freakin' white jerseys:
Smith and Rodgers faced off for the first time in '09. Rodgers went 32/45 for 344 yards and 2 touchdowns. Smith went 16/33 for 227 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Not a terrible game for either guy. The Packers and Niners met again last year, but as you know there was a different Smith under center. Troy Smith went (wait for it...) 10/25 for 194 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.
So the games between the clubs have been relatively meaningless in recent history. But while there's no regular season match lined-up this year, I personally think both of these teams are on a collision course towards the NFC Title. If Rodgers wins, Smith's future here will undoubtedly be in doubt (what?) as the same people who cheered, "We want Carr!" will again be asking for Smith's head - and that may put an end to what could otherwise be THEE San Francisco feud for the next decade.
If, however, Smith and company beat Rodgers and head to the Superbowl... well, then; that's another story. There are so many layers of juiciness to this storyline, all it needs to kick it into the forever-to-be-remembered vaults of NFL folk-lore is for Smith to get that first ring - and he has to get past Rodgers to do it.
The whole thing could have a sort of Johnson/Bird feel to it, because Smith and Rodgers mutually respect one another. You will never see Smith score a touchdown and perform the "championship belt" pose, because it is not in Smith's character to make cheap jabs like that. Rodgers is not that kind of guy either, as far as I can tell. He sat back for three seasons on the bench and handled the yearly Favre fiasco with class - and he continues to handle it well. He shrugs off comparisons of him to Favre (or him to Smith) like you would expect a gentleman to do. Smith does the same thing; and we all know what he has been through here in San Francisco. Which is why this feud really has so much potential to capture everyone's attention: who do you root for between two genuinely nice guys?
As much as feuds filled with hate are awesome, I could enjoy a feud between two guys I like and have only the best wishes for. If we don't win a Superbowl this year, I hope the Packers do (or the Ravens).
Speaking of hate-filled feuds...
I hate the Cowboys. You hate the Cowboys. I don't know why, because I'm only 21, and I haven't seen a meaningful game against them in my life-time (that I actually remember - I was four when Steve Young got that monkey off his back). Regardless, the hate is still there. Something about those silver and blue jerseys, and that damn star... ugh. Makes me sick. And did you hear all the cheers they were getting at Candlestick this year? What's up with that? I won't revisit that game because I'm still pissed about it.
Anyways, this year makes us 0 for 3 in our last three meetings (lost in '08 and '05). Last time we beat them was '02, which was also the last time we were relevant. I think there is some hate brewing on both sides of the ball here, just due to the historical significance of this rivalry. So, like all rivalries, it just needs a playoff match to spice things up.
I would like it if the Cowboys made the playoffs so we could get some revenge for that nasty "1" sitting in our loss column; but, barring that, I am hesitant to call this our current biggest rivalry. Plus, the Cowboys do not have much upside. I highly doubt they make the playoffs year-in-year-out for the next decade - something the Packers (and the 49ers!) should do.
This is one we hear a lot about due to its longevity, but it's not something I personally have any feelings for one way or another. The Niners have only met the Rams one time in the playoffs - way back in '89. Other than that it's been the mandatory meetings twice-a-year since 1872 (or something like that), which have proved altogether meaningless for the past decade.
It is really, really interesting that the overall series record is 62 - 61 - 2 in their favor. Anyone would be hard-pressed to find a more evenly matched statistic between any two teams in any sport over that many games. Still, until both teams are consistently posting records on the right side of .500, this feud will have little to it.
Same thing here as above. There's been some side-show stuff in the off-season, but not enough to over-come the overall destitute records of these two franchises over the last decade. Let's get both these teams at 9 - 5 going into some hypothetical future Week 16; then we can start talking "rivalry".
I think I hate the Lions now, too. Costing them their undefeated record on the road is as sweet a victory as the 49ers have enjoyed in quite a while. Combine the fact that both these teams are playing tough, physical football and went to the mattresses this past Sunday - you could tell the game meant a lot to both teams and is not something either of them are going to forget any time soon.
There was quite a bit of after-the-whistle shoving going on between the big guys all day, and the referees left a large enough smudge on the integrity of the whole thing that both squads probably feel they were screwed. Suh says, "I'm going to hit your quarterback". 49ers respond and shut him down. No sacks. Megatron enters the game with 9 touchdowns (NFL record for first 5 games). 49ers keep him out. Ford Field dubbed the hardest, loudest place to play in the NFL. Niners come in, survive the penalties, survive the crowd, and eventually send them home disappointed and rather quiet.
These are not just things us fans and media-types talk about. You can bet the Lions know what happened to them in their own stadium.
And then you have the coaches...
Schwartz tells Harbaugh back during the spring (paraphrasing), "If this lockout goes into the summer, you are going to suck." Lockout goes into the summer. Harbaugh shows up on Schwartz's own field, upstages him, jumps around like a guy who just won the Superbowl, enthusiastically gives Schwartz a "slap-grab" handshake and then a more-than-enthusiastic get-out-of-my-way-punk slap/shove/pat on the back, and then Schwartz freaks out and tries to start a fight - which almost leads to an actual fight between the teams.
Yah. This is all more than feud-worthy. If we see the Lions in the post-season, it is going to be a bad-blood sort of game; like you get when the Ravens and the Steelers clash. Two tough teams determined to run the ball down each other's throat on offense, and shut you down and make you quit by the 4th quarter on defense.
This could get very, very fun.
This is my pick for our current biggest rivalry. I cannot stand the damn Seahawks. I also cannot stand Pete Carroll. And what's cool about this is that, since they made the playoffs last year, we do not need them to have an awesome record this year. They could go 7 - 9 again (which is more than in their reach, in my opinion) and place second in the West. Getting second sucks. You miss the playoffs and who stands in your way? Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers.
"Wtf, mate? We made the playoffs last year, why not again?" Carroll asks himself.
Then that-guy-who-always-says-the-wrong-thing-at-the-wrong-time pops up in front of Carroll's desk, "Yah, but the Niners have a new coach this year. That Jim Harbaugh guy. He's pretty good. Anyways, here's your coffee."
He walks away non-chalantly; Carroll grasps his coffee like a man possessed and grits his teeth.
You get the idea.
Neither Harbaugh nor Carroll are the kinds of guys to publicly admit any rivalry between them. But let me just post some facts here for you, and you tell me if Carroll has a bad taste in his mouth or not:
The biggest upset in college football history, according to point-spread. Harbaugh's Stanford beats Carroll's USC 24 - 23, at the Coliseum, after being 41 point dogs. This marks a 42 point different in score to spread.
That was the biggest difference in college history until two years later when Stanford was 11 point dogs to USC and embarrassed them 55 to 21, also at the Coliseum. It was Carroll's only November loss at USC. It was only his second loss at the Coliseum in 8 years (both to Harbaugh). It was the most points USC had given up... ever.
Harbaugh does not just show up to a situation and slyly maneuver his way into positions of advantage. He walks on to a playground, finds the biggest, baddest bully he can, and kicks him in the shin... and he makes sure to do it at high noon in front of everyone. Then, when the former king is down, he kicks him a couple times in the ribs for good measure. He's more Vegeta than Goku, if you get me. No mercy. People get what's coming to them, and Harbaugh is kharma's personal delivery boy.
We have not heard the last of "What's your deal?" And I'll end by posting some awesome videos you should all watch if you're unfamiliar with how awesome Harbaugh is.
Sportscenter highlights of 24 - 23, Stanford over USC upset. Be sure to watch Harbaugh's reaction after the win. Oh, you also get to see Booty make a fool of himself and act like a pretentious you-know-what:
Live footage of the last play from that game, where a guy who had only completed one pass in his college career prior to the game throws a touchdown pass to a guy whose dad had died earlier in the week and so he missed all the practices leading up to the game:
Harbaugh comments, "Look at ‘em all runnin' in." This is in reference to the USC players leaving the field without coming out to shake hands with the opposing team. Carroll's teams were rather notorious for doing this after losses:
To summarize, I vote the Seahawks as our biggest current rivalry, but I think Green Bay or Detroit could pass that if we see them in the playoffs this year. I also think our rivalry against Green Bay could become one for the ages if Alex Smith gets a Superbowl ring, because both us and Green Bay seem destined to make the playoffs for many years to come.