The 49ers and the Seahawks have the best rivalry in sports right now, and it isn't even close.
Here are the top five reasons why:
1. They are two of the best teams in the NFL.
2. They are in the same division.
3. Their head coaches hate each other.
4. Their players hate the other team's coach.
5. Their players hate the other team's players.
That's a five-tool rivalry.
It's not yet an all-time-great rivalry like Lakers-Celtics, Yankees-Red Sox or Bears-Packers. Those rivalries have been great for generations. 49ers-Seahawks hasn't been the sport's top rivalry for more than seven months. It's only getting started.
49ers-Seahawks isn't even the quintessential rivalry in 49ers history. The Rams are the 49ers' natural rival. The Rams used to play in Los Angeles, and during the 1980s they had terrific teams featuring Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson. The Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995, and the two teams have maintained a respectable rivalry since then, respectable but not hot.
49ers-Seahawks is hot to the point of burning.
The Seahawks have been an NFC team for just 11 seasons. They moved from the AFC West to the NFC West in 2002, just when the 49ers were starting their eight-year run of failure.
49ers-Seahawks didn't officially become a rivalry until Jan. 7, 2011, the day the 49ers hired head coach Jim Harbaugh from Stanford, almost a year after the Seahawks hired Pete Carroll from USC.
Carroll was the best college coach in the nation, winning the national championship in 2003, 2004 and 2005. He'd also been a defensive coordinator for the 49ers and a head coach in the NFL.
Stanford hired Jim Harbaugh in 2006, a year after the Cardinal football team had gone 1-11. As a coach, Harbaugh was a novice taking over a nothing program. He wished he was Carroll's rival, because that would mean Stanford football was on USC's level. But Harbaugh wasn't even on Carroll's radar yet.
That changed on Oct. 6, 2007, when Harbaugh's Cardinal beat Carroll's Trojans &#8211; a 41-point favorite &#8211; 24-23 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Two years later, Harbaugh beat Carroll in the L.A. Coliseum again, this time by a score of 55-21. Late in the game when Stanford already was up big, Harbaugh ordered his team to go for a two-point conversion after a touchdown just to rub it in. After the game, Carroll approached Harbaugh at midfield and asked the now-famous question, "What's your deal?"
Carroll probably figured out Harbaugh's deal a few days later. He was building his coaching reputation at Carroll's expense.
Carroll left USC in 2010, just before the NCAA started sanctioning USC for all kinds of violations perpetrated under Carroll's watch. Carroll signed with the Seahawks, a rebuilding team in the worst division in the NFL. He'd be back on top in no time, he thought.
And he was right. The Seahawks won the NFC West Carroll's first season in town. The team wasn't great &#8211; 7-9 in the regular season &#8211; but they beat the defending champion New Orleans Saints in the playoffs, and Carroll resurrected Marshawn Lynch's career. Things were starting to go Carroll's way again.
Then the 49ers hired Harbaugh. He did not inherit a rebuilding team like Carroll. Harbaugh inherited a talented, veteran roster that had been bungled by Mike Singletary, perhaps the worst head coach in NFL history.