Tough-to-beat rivals stand in way of Super Bowl

  • 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick outraces Seattle's Bobby Wagner when the teams faced off in San Francisco on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. (John Burgess / PD)

SEATTLE — Green Bay was frosty two weeks ago and Charlotte, N.C., was raucous last weekend, but neither compared to what awaits the 49ers at the NFC championship game Sunday. If the Niners are to advance to Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey, they will have to beat what might be the NFL's best team in the league's loudest stadium, CenturyLink Field, a place where big touchdowns have, in all seriousness, set off seismographs used to measure earthquakes.

Even though his team has been drubbed in its two most recent visits to Seattle, head coach Jim Harbaugh believes his 49ers are up to the task this time.

“Our team's been in a lot of good primers,” Harbaugh told reporters last week.

“Been through a lot of situations. Been through tough environments, whether it be weather or opposing stadiums. This team's been in a lot of situations. Been everywhere, man. Like the Johnny Cash song, 'we've been everywhere, man.'”

It's never a bad idea to channel the Man in Black, but the man in khakis may have been underselling Sunday's challenge, given that Seattle has lost just one home game in the past two years.

The 49ers' two beat-downs during that span have contributed to what has become the NFL's most authentic feud. Harbaugh and Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll began their rivalry in the Pac-10 Conference when the former coached at Stanford and the latter at USC. Having found themselves paired again in the NFC West division of the professional ranks, their enmity seemed to filter through their players and fans.

And as the Seahawks ascended to challenge the 49ers' supremacy in the division, the rivalry only burned brighter. You think Starbucks-vs.-Peet's divided Seattle and San Francisco into partisan ranks? 49ers-Seahawks games have become can't-miss events, full of crushing hits and smack talk. And that's just in the regular season. This Super Bowl-or-bust matchup may be heard in Rohnert Park.

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