Sep 8, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh during warmups against the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Seahawks and NFC West Rivalries

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Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers will showcase one of the most exciting rivalries in the game today. It is quite clearly the marquee matchup of the week in the NFL and win or lose it looks like it’s going to be quite the game. The fact that it is being consistently described as a rivalry matchup got me thinking about what exactly constitutes a rivalry in today’s NFL and whether the Seahawks and 49ers qualify as true rivals.

 

In one sense it doesn’t make any sense to question the rivalry. These are two excellent teams that are known for their physicality fighting for the division crown and possibly home field advantage in the playoffs. Sprinkle in a little history between Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh and the fact that the Seahawks embarrassed the 49ers 42-13 last year and you have the makings of some serious animosity. However, is animosity and a common goal that only one team can achieve enough to constitute a true rivalry?

 

When I think of sports rivalries I think of ones like Yankees-Red Sox, Canadiens-Bruins and Packers-Bears. Rivalries with histories. To be fair, the Seahawks have only been around since 1976 so they can’t have participated in timeless rivalries like these. Another thing that makes it difficult for the Seahawks is that they switched divisions to the NFC West in 2002 meaning that rivalries had to start anew. However, even in that time since Seattle has been in the NFC West their primary rival has been a moving target. This article takes a tour down memory lane to see how Seattle’s NFC West rivalries have changed in their 11 years in the division. We begin in 2002:

 

2002

 

Division Standings

 

Team

Wins

Losses

San Francisco

10

6

Seattle

7

9

Arizona

7

9

St. Louis

5

11

 

 

 

Seahawks Divisional Record: 2-4. The Seahawks split their series with both Arizona and St. Louis and was beaten twice by San Francisco

 

Primary Rival: San Francisco (?) This was a new division so when in doubt you choose the division leader as the primary rival. Seahawks fans likely still felt more rivalry towards teams like Oakland in the AFC west at this point.

 

2003

 

Division Standings

 

Team

Wins

Losses

St. Louis

12

4

Seattle

10

6

San Francisco

7

9

Arizona

4

12

 

 

 

Seahawks Divisional Record: 5-1. The Seahawks won every divisional game in 2003 except for their matchup in St. Louis.

 

Primary Rival:  St. Louis. All of the sudden the Seahawks were on the ascent with an exciting young team sporting a great offense and a secondary revamped by rookies Marcus Trufant and Ken Hamlin. St. Louis was also an offensive powerhouse andit was looking like a major divisional rivalry was sprouting here.

 

2004

 

Division Standings

 

Team

Wins

Losses

Seattle

9

7

St. Louis

8

8

Arizona

6

10

San Francisco

2

14

 

 

 

Seahawks Divisional Record: 3-4 (including playoffs). This was the year that Seattle lost to St. Louis three times, a feat rarely achieved in NFL history. Worse yet was the fact that two of those games were at home after Seattle had posted a perfect home record the previous year.

 

Primary Rival:  St. Louis, by a mile. Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt gave Seahawks fans nightmares and Steven Jackson was emerging to form a two headed monster with Marshall Faulk. All of the losses to St. Louis were heartbreakers and this looked to be locked in as the premium matchup in this division.

 

2005

 

Division Standings

 

Team

Wins

Losses

Seattle

13

3

St. Louis

6

10

Arizona

5

11

San Francisco

4

12

 

 

 

Seahawks Divisional Record: 6-0

 

Primary Rival:  St. Louis by default. This is how rivalries die unless they have a strong historical background. If there is no reason for teams to be rivals other than the fact they are of a similar quality and vying for the same division crown the rivalry can die quickly if one outgrows the other. From 2005 on the Seahawks would win 10 straight games against the Rams and 13 of 14. Not much of a rivalry for those years.

 

2006

 

Division Standings

 

Team

Wins

Losses

Seattle

9

7

St. Louis

8

8

San Francisco

7

9

Arizona

5

11

 

 

 

Seahawks Divisional Record: 3-3. Seattle swept the Rams, got swept by the 49ers and split with Arizona

 

Primary Rival:  San Francisco. Thing one is up for debate because the Rams had traditionally been Seattle’s major foe and they had a better record than the 49ers. However, the previously feeble 49ers swept the Seahawks with two decisive wins in the season series and it was a huge shock to the system. This was the year Seahawks fans got to know Frank Gore. Although the 49ers weren’t ready to make a push they were the scary team in 2006.

 

2007

 

Division Standings

 

Team

Wins

Losses

Seattle

10

6

Arizona

8

8

San Francisco

5

11

St. Louis

3

13

 

 

 

Seahawks Divisional Record: 5-1. Only Arizona managed to beat Seattle, doing so at home.

 

Primary Rival:  Arizona. Kurt Warner was taking charge of the Cardinals and their new building was proving a very difficult place to play (The Seahawks have still only won there once, in 2010) making the Cardinals the biggest threat to Seattle as they won their 4th straight division crown. Seahawks fans had really started to hate Larry Fitzgerald by this point.

 

2008

 

Division Standings

 

Team

Wins

Losses

Arizona

9

7

San Francisco

7

9

Seattle

4

12

St. Louis

2

14

 

 

 

Seahawks Divisional Record: 3-3. Swept the Rams, were swept by the Cardinals and split with the 49ers.

 

Primary Rival:  Arizona. This is another one that is more or less by default. The Seahawks had been outgrown by the Cardinals and fielded a putrid team in Mike Holmgren’s last year that was not anyone’s big rival. That being said, it must have been satisfying for the Cardinals to knock off the team that had been division champs since 2004.

 

2009

 

Division Standings

 

Team

Wins

Losses

Arizona

10

6

San Francisco

8

8

Seattle

5

11

St. Louis

1

15

 

 

 

Seahawks Divisional Record: 3-3. Swept the Rams, were swept by the Cardinals and split with the 49ers, again.

 

Primary Rival:  Arizona. The Seahawks continued to be irrelevant in the only era of the Jim Mora era but Arizona was the class of the division and clearly Seattle’s target. The fact that Seattle had lost to Arizona at home for two straight years and had failed to win on the road since they opened the University of Phoenix stadium in 2006 continued to be irksome.

 

2010

 

Division Standings

 

Team

Wins

Losses

Seattle

7

9

St. Louis

7

9

San Francisco

6

10

Arizona

5

11

 

 

 

Seahawks Divisional Record: 4-2. The Seahawks swept the Cardinals and split everyone else.

 

Primary Rival:  St. Louis. The Rams came out of nowhere to be less awful and actually defeated the Seahawks for the first time since 2005. However, in a must win game Charlie Whitehurst would heroically lead his team to the Promised Land which seemed rather pointless and draft pick ruining at the time but would result in the Beast Quake, a play that will live forever.

 

2011

 

Division Standings

 

Team

Wins

Losses

San Francisco

13

3

Arizona

8

8

Seattle

7

9

St. Louis

2

14

 

 

 

Seahawks Divisional Record: 3-3 swept the Rams, were swept by the 49ers, split with the Cardinals.

 

Primary Rival:  San Francisco. Given that the Rams had plummeted back to obscurity and Pete Caroll’s personal rival had emerged in Jim Harbaugh making this a safe choice. The gulf between the two teams was pretty vast though.

 

2012

 

Division Standings

 

Team

Wins

Losses

Ties

San Francisco

11

4

1

Seattle

11

5

0

St. Louis

7

8

1

Arizona

5

11

0

 

 

 

Seahawks Divisional Record: 3-3 split all three teams, winning all of the games at home and losing all road games.

 

Primary Rival:  San Francisco. Now the two teams were fairly even and the Seahawks lost a close game on the road before blowing out the 49ers at home late in the season.

 

That brings us to this chart showing how many times each team has been Seattle’s primary rival within the NFC West. I will admit that some of the choices in particular years were difficult and all of them were subjective so you may not agree:

 

Team

Years as Seattle’s “Primary Rival”

Most Consecutive Years as “Primary Rival”

San Francisco

4

2

St. Louis

4

3

Arizona

3

3

 

 

 

As you can see, based on my fair flimsy definition, rivalries have been fairly cyclical within this division. There is a great deal of turnover in the NFL without the presence of absolutely outstanding franchise quarterbacks it is hard to sustain success. Without a great deal of history it is hard to keep rivalries going because the quality of the teams in the division fluctuates so wildly.

 

The point of this isn’t to be dismissive of the current San Francisco-Seattle rivalry, merely to point out that this sort of thing happens all the time. Football is not a sport, like baseball, that bows its head in reverence to its past. The Seahawks and 49ers are great now and they are in a division together so you have yourself a garden variety rivalry. That’s fair. What’s interesting is the potential for more.

 

Both San Francisco and Seattle have extraordinary young quarterbacks to build around and teams that are constructed for sustained success in general. Each team looks like they will be a quality outfit for the foreseeable future. The groundwork is laid for a lengthy window of seriously impactful games being played between the franchises that will get bad blood boiling between them to last for ages. There is a chance to build a history here that will sustain the rivalry through periods when the teams are too uneven to be competitive with each other. But we aren’t there yet. Right now we are at a normal fluctuation with potential for more. As much as it’s going to be annoying if the 49ers remain good, as I fan I want more. I want Bears-Packers. The ingredients are there, but time will tell if it all comes together.

 

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