A rivalry doesn’t always need a long and storied history for it to be a great one. Just ask the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers. What this rivalry lacks in history, it makes up for in intensity, with the teams’ dislike for each other evident each time they took the field.
Of course, the beginning of a rivalry requires several ingredients, from the on-field success of the feuding teams, to passionate fans, to memorable battles. Fortunately for NFL fans, this rivalry had all of those elements at its height from 2011-2014. Not only were the Seahawks and 49ers two of the league’s best teams, but they also had players who were among the best and weren’t afraid to speak their minds and coaches who already had a rivalry of their own at the collegiate level.
The teams’ memorable battles last season seemed to reignite their rivalry, with the Seahawks winning their Week 10 match in overtime, 27-24, to dent the Niners’ then unblemished record. San Francisco responded with a win in the teams’ meeting in Week 17, when a Russell Wilson pass to Jacob Hollister was stopped an inch short of a touchdown, giving the Niners a 26-21 win. Despite the promise of a rivalry renewed, however, both teams will be hard pressed to surpass these moments which showed the intensity of their rivalry at its peak:
3. Jim Harbaugh shades Seahawks for substance abuse violations
Not all of the most savage moments of the Seahawks-49ers rivalry happened on the field. One of them even involved someone who didn’t play a single minute for either team. Former San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh has had a long-standing rivalry with Seattle head coach Pete Carroll since they coached Stanford and USC, respectively. So it was no surprise when the animosity carried over to the NFL when Carroll join the Seahawks in 2010, and Harbaugh joined the Niners the following year.
One criticism of Carroll’s tenure with the Seahawks was the suspension of several players for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. From 2010-2013, eight Seattle players have committed 10 violations. So when he was asked about it, Harbaugh said that with regard to his own team, he wants his players to be without reproach, before telling a reporter that “if they cheat to win, then they’ve already lost,” a statement that didn’t go unnoticed among Seahawks players.
2. Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson eat turkeys on 49ers home field after big win
It’s hard to discuss the Seahawks-49ers rivalry without mentioning cornerback Richard Sherman, who was one of the best at his position during the height of the rivalry while also not being afraid to speak his mind and get under his opponents’ skin. One of those moments happened right after the Seahawks beat the 49ers, 19-3, at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday Night Football back in 2014.
As it happens, it also happened to be Thanksgiving Night, and during the postgame interview, Sherman and Russell Wilson ate turkeys on a table that was set exactly at the Niners’ logo at the 50-yard line. The five-time Pro Bowler added more gasoline to the fire, as he said that 49ers fans were saying vulgar things to him and his teammates earlier in the game. When asked about years later when he was already with San Francisco, Sherman responded that it should’ve been the score that bothered the Niners, saying:
“Maybe the score should have pissed you off, and I wouldn’t have been eating turkey leg out there. Because if we had lost, they would have been eating turkey on the field.”
1. Richard Sherman’s interview after the 2013 NFC Championship Game
The teams’ only playoff meeting so far happened during the 2013 NFC Championship Game, when the Seahawks beat the 49ers 23-17 on their way to winning a Super Bowl. But before Seattle could win the Lombardi trophy, they had to hurdle San Francisco in the NFC title game, which had put themselves in a position to score with just 30 seconds left. But then Sherman happened again, tipping a Colin Kaepernick pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree and into the hands of linebacker Malcolm Smith, preserving the Seahawks’ win.
Sherman wasn’t done. In a postgame interview that may go down as one of the most incendiary and memorable in NFL history, he asserted himself as the best corner in the game, while calling Crabtree a “sorry receiver” before again referring to himself as the best. Sherman later apologized for his remarks, but it remains one of the most memorable in the Seahawks-49ers rivalry.