Sport is all about competition, and there’s nothing more enticing for fans than a great rivalry between two teams. In the NFL, the best rivalries are formed over time and built within a division. Historically, the Cowboys-Eagles, Steelers-Ravens, Packers-Vikings have been some of the best in football.
The greatest rivalries do not just stop with the players and coaches; it’s something that rolls down to the fans and the cities involved. The week leading up to the matchup is normally filled with debates and fun-natured trash talk.
There’s no better time to revisit rivalries than with the Seattle Seahawks coming to Levi’s Stadium on Monday Night Football to face the San Francisco 49ers. While the competition has not been the same since 2014, one of the NFL’s biggest rivalries seems to be reviving this season.
Throughout history, it’s usually been dominated for long stretches by one team. Seattle leads the historical series, 25-16, and will look to add to that on Monday night. Since 2002, when Seattle returned to the NFC West after a re-alignment, the Seahawks dominated the series early on, with six consecutive wins between 2003-2005, aka the dark years for the 49ers.
The rivalry turned in favor of the 49ers in the early 2010s under head coaches Mike Singletary and Jim Harbaugh, who led San Francisco to four-straight wins before the peak of the Seahawks-49ers rivalry began.
San Francisco parted ways with head coach Mike Singletary at the end of the 2010 season and turned their attention to the college ranks to hire Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh. At the same time, the Seahawks brought on another Pac-12 head coach, USC’s Pete Carroll. The invisible line between the two teams was already drawn at this point.
What made the competition between the two franchises even better was the alignment of their organizational philosophies. Under Harbaugh and Carroll, both teams played old-school, smash-mouth football that featured Hall-of-Fame running backs and stingy defenses.
When one team made a move, the other team would try to do it one level better. The 49ers drafted dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2011, and the Seahawks backed it up by taking quarterback Russell Wilson in 2012. San Francisco leaned heavily on the legs of running back Frank Gore and Seattle handed the ball off to running back Marshawn Lynch. Both teams had great linebackers, 49ers featuring Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, and the Seahawks drafted Bobby Wagner in 2012.
There were superstars in the making, littered all over the field for both teams, and it resulted in competitive, playoff-like games every time these teams dueled. What made the rivalry even greater was the hate between the two fan bases and the hype through the media.
There was nothing more representative of the competition between the two teams than a commercial that Beats released, featuring Colin Kaepernick. The former 49ers’ franchise quarterback could be seen being heckled by Seahawks’ fans getting off the bus at Century Link Field, while Kaepernick was ignoring the noise thanks to his headphones.
The 49ers won the first three games in the Harbaugh era, but the first sign of life from Seattle came in a late-season matchup in Century Link Field, where the Seahawks pounded the 49ers. Lynch ran for 111 yards, Wilson threw for four touchdowns, and Seattle’s infamous 12th Man made life difficult for Kaepernick and the 49ers’ offense. It was a sign that Seattle was here to stay, and a rivalry was born.
San Francisco went on to the Super Bowl that season and came back in 2013 with championship aspirations — but so did Carroll’s Seahawks. Seattle took care of business in their first matchup of the season, 29-3, on Sunday Night Football. The Century Link Field demons were officially a real thing, and the 49ers haven’t won a game in the Pacific Northwest since.
The 49ers defeated the Seahawks in a nail-biter late in the season, 19-17, thanks to a Frank Gore run late in the game that helped put them over the top. Gore ran for 110 yards that afternoon, including the 51-yarder late to pull off the win for San Francisco.
But neither of these matchups would live up to the 2013 NFC Championship game that would be the crown jewel in this rivalry.
Kaepernick. Wilson. Harbaugh. Carroll. Justin Smith and Aldon Smith. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Two squads that seemed like they were looking into a mirror when they played each other were playing in January’s biggest game. San Francisco had a 10-3 lead at halftime on the road in Seattle and had their sights set on playing the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks scored ten unanswered points in the fourth quarter, and a Richard Sherman tipped pass was all she wrote, as the 49ers’ season ended at the hands of the Seahawks, who then capped it off with a Super Bowl win.
San Francisco and Seattle would have one more important storyline in this rivalry, a Thanksgiving showdown at Levi’s Stadium, as both teams sitting at 7-4. The Seahawks took care of business, 19-3, including eating Thanksgiving turkey at mid-field postgame — something that doesn’t sit well with 49ers’ fans to this day.
But not only had Seattle ended the 49ers’ 2014 season, they had effectively closed the 2011-2014 chapter in the rivalry and also ended the Harbaugh-era 49ers. The Seahawks’ organizational stability and Russell Wilson’s maturation allowed them to maintain their level of play, while the 49ers quickly fell off of a cliff.
Five seasons later, the 49ers have some different characters on their sidelines, but the rivalry seems to be awoken once again. MVP-candidate Russell Wilson and the offensive-led Seahawks visit the 8-0 49ers, who look to defeat the Seahawks for the second-straight game in this rivalry.
The 49ers are organizationally aligned, led by general manager John Lynch and Coach-of-the-Year candidate Kyle Shanahan. They feature the NFL’s second-best defense, per DVOA, and have a high-powered rushing attack that keeps opposing defensive coordinators up at night. San Francisco was even able to get one of Seattle’s key contributors, corner Richard Sherman, to switch allegiances and become one of the 49ers’ pivotal players two seasons ago.
Seattle still employs the same key figures, but their style of play has evolved with Wilson’s development into one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Seattle’s one of the best offenses in the NFL, featuring an aerial attack led by receivers Tyler Lockett and rookie D.K. Metcalf. Their defense is a work in progress, ranked in the bottom half of the NFL.
The Seahawks are 7-2 and sit at second place in the NFC West, chasing the undefeated 49ers, who look to win the division for the first time since 2012. The next chapter begins on Monday night at Levi’s Stadium — can the 49ers flip the script on the Seahawks?