Barber: Seahawks were 49ers' real rivals all along
SANTA CLARA — Joe Staley still recalls the first time he ever played football in Seattle. Sort of.
“I remember it being on ‘Monday Night Football,’” Staley said in the 49ers’ locker room Friday. “Might have been the first (NFL) road game I ever played.”
It was a Monday night contest on Nov. 12, 2007. It was not Staley’s first NFL road game. It was, in fact, his fifth. This was so long ago that the coaches were Mike Nolan and Mike Holmgren, the name of the stadium was Qwest Field rather than CenturyLink Field and Frank Gore was still carrying the ball in the NFL. Go figure.
“We didn’t go silent count or anything,” said Staley, whose college football days at Central Michigan did little to prepare him for the crowd noise in Seattle. “And I was like, ‘What?! I can’t hear a thing!’ I was looking at my team, like how the (bleep) do you block guys like this?”
Staley’s misremembrance is understandable for a man of his age, but it’s telling. The memories of the cheers drowning out the 49ers’ laments during a 24-0 drubbing by the Seahawks remain so vivid that he was sure they were part of his first NFL road trip.
The atmosphere in Seattle basically erased previous games in, for example, Pittsburgh and the Meadowlands from the offensive tackle’s mind. That’s how crazy the scene gets in Seattle. And it used to get that way in San Francisco, too.
For a couple years, when Jim Harbaugh was coaching the 49ers and his nemesis, Pete Carroll, was coaching the Seahawks (as he continues to do), and when Niners fans were still rocking Candlestick Park, this was the most electric rivalry in the NFL. And with the 8-0 49ers hosting the 7-2 Seahawks this Monday night at Levi’s Stadium, hope lives anew that the series can reach those heights again.
I know one thing. The local sports culture has been misplacing some of its hopes.
For years, a lot of us have been wishing for an SF-LA rivalry to match Giants-Dodgers, which is truly ruthless and occasionally violent. The Warriors and Lakers have never been good at the same time (spoiler alert: still aren’t!), so there has never been any logic behind mutual hatred there. Recently, therefore, we have turned our attention to 49ers-Rams.
That was a good one back in the late 1980s, when John Robinson’s Rams were trying to make a run at the Walsh/Seifert 49ers. But the Rams left for a long vacation in the Midwest, and when they returned the Niners were awful. As the 49ers broke to a great start this season, it looked like Rams-49ers would finally take flight.
That was the narrative, anyway, when the 49ers headed to Los Angeles for a showdown in Week 6. But the Rams didn’t put up much of a fight in that game. As it turns out, they have taken a big step back since playing in the Super Bowl last February. The Rams are just OK in 2019. And there were more fans wearing red than blue at the LA Coliseum that day. It felt nothing like a feud.
As it turns out, we were looking for a rival in the wrong place all the time. We should have turned our gaze toward the north, not the south.