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A look back at the 49ers-Seahawks rivalry

The 49ers-Seahawks rivalry is one of the best in the NFL.

Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers are getting set to take on their hated rivals in Week 8 of the 2020 NFL season. The Niners are visiting Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks in a big NFC West matchup.

San Francisco goes into the game 4-3 and is looking to gain ground on Seattle, who leads the division at 5-1. The rivalry between the 49ers and Seahawks reignited last year with the Niners getting back into the NFL’s upper echelon.

Both San Francisco-Seattle matchups were instant classics in 2019. The Seahawks prevailed in Week 10 with a 27-24 overtime win at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers returned the favor in Week 17, beating Seattle in a 26-21 nail-biter that clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Before NFL realignment put them in the same division, there wasn’t too much animosity between the franchises. The two teams had only played six times between 1976 and 1997, with San Francisco winning four or the matchups.

Seattle moved from the AFC into the NFC West before the 2002 season, setting up what would go on to become the best rivalry in football a decade later.

The first meeting between the teams provided us with a beauty of a touchdown celebration. After Jeff Garcia hit Terrell Owens for a 37-yard score midway through the fourth quarter, Owens brought out the Sharpie:

San Francisco went on to win that Monday Night Football game 28-21. Owens, Garcia, and running back Garrison Hearst led the Niners to a 31-24 win in their second matchup, giving the 49ers the season sweep.

Unfortunately, the Seahawks would dominate the Niners over the next three seasons, going 6-0 from 2003-2005. San Francisco beat Seattle twice in 2006, but the Seahawks got the last laugh, winning their third of four consecutive NFC West titles.

Both teams were somewhere from mediocre-to-bad between 2008 and 2010, with their matchups lacking the excitement we began to see in 2011.

Former USC head coach Pete Carroll took over the Seahawks job one year before his college nemesis, and former Stanford boss Jim Harbaugh became the head coach of the 49ers in 2011.

The national media loved the storylines between the ex-Pac-10 coaches. Harbaugh and Carroll had this moment after the Cardinals blew out the Trojans in 2009:

Two years later, Harbaugh’s first game as the Niners head coach set the tone for the rest of the 2011 season. The 49ers smacked the Seahawks 33-17 in Week 1, giving San Francisco fans a preview of what was to come.

The two teams were on opposite ends of the NFL spectrum when they met again in Seattle for a Week 16 matchup. The Niners were 11-3, while the Seahawks were 7-7 going into the game, which turned out to be a lot closer than anticipated.

David Akers kicked a go-ahead 39-yard field goal with 2:57 left in the fourth quarter, and San Francisco would hang on for a 19-17 win.

The rivalry took a turn during the offseason when the Seahawks drafted Wilson in the third round. The Wisconsin product immediately made an impression on Carrol and the coaching staff. Wilson won the starting job over high-priced offseason free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn.

But, the strength of both teams in 2012 was their defense. The Niners had All-Pros Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, and Justin Smith. Seattle’s Legion of Boom was starting to come together, led by Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor.

Both teams were 4-2 going into a huge Week 7 matchup at Candlestick Park. It was a defensive struggle that finished in a 13-6 win by the Niners. The 49ers and Seahawks were rolling the rest of the season, setting up a gigantic Week 16 Sunday Night Football tilt at Century Link Field.

San Francisco was 10-3-1 going into the game, while Seattle was sitting at 9-5. The anticipation for the game was through the roof, but it turned out to be a dud for 49ers fans.

The Seahawks dominated from the get-go and blew out the Niners 42-13, adding to the hate between the two clubs. Although they wouldn’t meet in the playoffs, thanks to the Atlanta Falcons squeaking by Seattle in the Divisional Round, the stage was set for the rivalry to blow up.

There were multiple similarities between rivals going into the 2013 season. Colin Kaepernick and Wilson were seen as the future of the quarterback position, while the defenses were clearly the top-two units in all of the NFL. Add the fact that Harbaugh and Carroll couldn’t stand each other, and it was the perfect storm for the animosity to go to the next level.

Schedule makers gave fans an early treat, with the first matchup between the two teams set for Week 2 in Seattle, which was a House of Horrors for the Niners. Kaepernick and the 49ers’ offense were overwhelmed, and the Seahawks thrashed San Francisco once again, this time by a score of 29-3.

The 49ers would get their revenge in Week 14 in a tightly-contested affair. Phil Dawson’s 22-yard field goal with 31 seconds left on the clock gave San Francisco a 19-17 win.

It was apparent going into the playoffs that the Niners and Seahawks were the two best teams in the league. San Francisco beat Green Bay, and Carolina, while Seattle got by New Orleans to set up a huge NFC Championship game. The game should have been in San Francisco, but thanks to the bush league personal foul call against Ahmad Brooks against New Orleans, the Seahawks got the No. 1 seed.)

The Niners took a 10-3 lead into half-time, setting up the second-half drama. Marshawn Lynch and Anquan Boldin exchanged touchdowns early in the third before Seahawks’ kicker Stephen Hauschka connected on a field goal to cut the Niners’ lead to 17-13.

One play that I don’t think gets talked about enough is the 35-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Jermaine Kearse on fourth-and-7 that gave Seattle the lead. Yes, Aldon Smith was offside on the play, but there was no way that defense should have given up that score.

The 49ers were still in a position to win late in the game. Trailing 23-17, Kaepernick drove the Niners to the Seahawks’ 18-yard line. Unfortunately —as San Francisco fans remember all too well — Kap’s pass to Michael Crabtree was tipped by Sherman in the end zone, leading to the Malcolm Smith pick.

It was Kaepernick’s third turnover of the quarter and a loss that still haunts The Faithful until this day. Seattle went on to destroy the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, something San Francisco was set up to do as well.

In 2014, the rivalry was going strong. The NFL scheduled the first meeting between the teams for the primetime slot on Thanksgiving. Both squads were 7-4 going into the massive Week 13 matchup, which became an embarrassment for San Francisco.

The home fans at Levi’s booed their team throughout the second half, as a superior Seahawks’ defense bullied the Niners’ offense. Seattle went on to a 19-3 win, followed by Sherman and Wilson chowing down turkey on the 49ers’ logo.

It was so bad that San Francisco owner Jed York apologized to the fans for his team’s performance, which furthered the divide between him and Harbaugh.

Both teams went in opposite directions after this. The Niners suffered through an injury-riddled 2014 season that concluded with Harbaugh’s departure and Willis announcing his retirement. The Seahawks lost in the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots when Malcolm Butler picked off Wilson at the goal line, which brought a smile to the face of 49ers fans.

Seattle was a perennial playoff team, while San Francisco fell on hard times. Although the bitterness was still there between the fan bases, the rivalry was completely one-sided. The Seahawks won the next eight meetings before Nick Mullens helped provide the bright spot of the 2018 season when the Niners beat the ‘Hawks 26-23.

One of the best things to come out of the resurgence of the 49ers in 2019 is that it reignited the rivalry with the Seahawks. The nerves and anxiousness felt by both fan bases during their Monday Night Football matchup is something to be remembered. The two teams went back-and-forth, going punch-for-punch until Jason Myers kicked a 42-yard field goal as the clock ran out in overtime.

The Week 17 win was one of the most satisfying wins of the last decade for Niners fans, and the significance of the victory made it that much sweeter.

Historically, the Los Angeles Rams are considered the 49ers’ biggest rival, but the Seahawks undoubtedly have been over the last decade. Looking forward to Sunday.

At what moment do you think the rivalry began with the Seahawks? What is your favorite thing about the rivalry?