The Broncos and Patriots will play a football game Sunday. Then the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks will pummel one another in an event that should probably be enclosed within an octagonal cage.
The 49ers and Seahawks might be the two best teams in football, and they manage to get under one another's skin a way that few divisional foes can. The coaches seem to genuinely dislike one another. Each set of opposing fans calls the other guys frauds. The on-field action is rough, and frequently accompanied by disparaging commentary.
How did we get to this uncomfortable, flammable, highly entertaining moment? Let's examine a timeline of the NFL's most intense rivalry.
2002: The Seattle Seahawks move from the AFC West to the NFC West. San Franciscans fail to notice.
Apr. 2, 2007: Jim Harbaugh, Stanford's new football coach, is forced to defend his recent public assertion that the Pac-10's other private-university coach, Pete Carroll, plans to leave USC. "I definitely said that," Harbaugh acknowledges. "But we bow to no man. We bow to no program here at Stanford University." Something is born, and it is not a love affair.
Nov. 14, 2009: Harbaugh dials up a late 2-point conversion to run the score to 55-21 in a victory over Carroll's high-profile Trojans. "What's your deal? You all right?" a stone-faced Carroll asks Harbaugh at midfield after the game.
"Yeah, I'm good. What's your deal?" Harbaugh replies.
Stanford will go 2-1 against Southern Cal under Harbaugh.
June 21, 2010: Seattle hires former 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan as its senior personnel executive. He will show a willingness to acquire his former San Francisco players.
Jan. 7, 2011: The 49ers hire Harbaugh as head coach, bringing him again into direct competition with Carroll, who happens to be coaching the Seahawks.
Dec. 24, 2011: The 49ers eliminate the Seahawks from playoff contention with a 19-17 victory at Seattle.
Oct. 18, 2012: Seahawks players insist that Harbaugh honked at their team bus and waved after the 49ers' 13-6 victory at Candlestick Park.
Before that, Harbaugh harps on the grabby style of Seattle cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Asked about his receivers being locked up, Harbaugh replies: "I wouldn't use the words 'locked up.' There's another word I would use. But we'll take that up with the officials in New York."
Oct. 19, 2012: "Wasn't it just a couple weeks ago when they were talking about not doing things like that?" Carroll asks on 710 ESPN in Seattle. "The Giants, Kevin Gilbride or something like that?" Carroll is complaining about Harbaugh's recent complaints about Gilbride's complaints about Justin Smith holding on defense.
Dec. 23, 2012: The NFL flexes 49ers-at-Seahawks to "Sunday Night Football" but doesn't get the seesaw game it hoped for as Seattle crushes the visitors 42-13.
June 12, 2013: Harbaugh says he couldn't help but notice that five Seahawks have been suspended by the NFL for using performance-enhancing drugs since 2011, and uses the opportunity to take a swipe at the team up north: "We play by the rules. You want to be above reproach, especially when you're good, because you don't want people to come back and say, 'They're winning because they're cheating.' "
June 14, 2013: Browner, one of those who tested positive in Seattle, responds to Harbaugh's comments by saying, "He's a coach. He's never gonna be out there lined up against me. I wish he would. I'd put my hands around his neck."