SEATTLE — Most everyone who follows the Seahawks closely can agree on four things:
The height mongers greatly exaggerated Russell Wilson’s limitations.
Beast Mode is a mantra, not a nickname.
Pete Carroll is as passionate about coaching as he is chewing gum on the sideline.
The Seahawks are better than the San Francisco 49ers.
The latter, of course, is the most debatable topic for outsiders. The 49ers are the reigning NFC champion and a team with a 25-7-1 record under nettlesome coach Jim Harbaugh, who is suddenly both Seattle’s worst enemy and worst nightmare. Though the Seahawks whipped the 49ers 42-13 last December, San Francisco recovered and advanced to the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the Seahawks ruined a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback and lost a heartbreaker to Atlanta in the second round of the playoffs.
Nine months ago, the Seahawks sent the statement that San Francisco was no longer their nemesis. In fact, it seemed the four-touchdown thumping meant Seattle had bypassed becoming the 49ers’ equal and elevated to top-dog status. After three straight NFL victories for Harbaugh in his rivalry with Carroll, the game seemingly had changed dramatically. Then, a month later, the 49ers were in the Super Bowl and the Seahawks were wondering what could have been.
So while Seahawks appreciators see a younger team with a more creative defense and an offense led by a steadier quarterback, there’s plenty of national doubt, legitimate doubt, that San Francisco has lost its status as the NFC standard this quickly.
Until the Seahawks own the 49ers in the regular season and make a postseason Super Bowl run, they’re the challenger in what is currently the NFL’s most competitive rivalry. The 49ers are the champion — of the NFC West and the entire conference — which sets up the perfect early-season stakes when the divisional foes meet for the first time in 2013 on Sunday.
San Francisco has more to lose in this game. Seattle has more to gain.
But the Seahawks need to win more than the 49ers do.
The Seahawks want to send a message that San Francisco has already sent. The 49ers have been, essentially, one year ahead of the Seahawks in the building process. They broke through in 2011, Harbaugh’s first season, finishing 13-3 and advancing to the NFC Championship Game. They took another step in 2012 and wound up in the Super Bowl, losing 34-31 to Baltimore. Their dominance is a two-season sample size. The Seahawks didn’t get to that level until the second half of last season, when they overcame a 4-4 start with a 7-1 finish that included a three-game stretch in which they outscored opponents 150-30.
The 49ers got a taste of the Seahawks at their best, and the Seahawks have their rival’s respect now. It was evident in Harbaugh’s needling comments this offseason about the Seahawks’ Adderall issues. And it was evident in San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis’ attempt to butter up Seattle with some kind words two months ago.
“They’re building a dynasty over there,” Davis told NFL.com earlier in the summer. “These guys are coming to take us out. I respect them, but we want to win, too. We have to ... play each game like it’s our last game.”
Davis wishes these Seahawks would start thinking dynasty before they’ve even won a division crown. But they’re focused on what’s in front of them. To win the NFC West, they must go through San Francisco, and beating the 49ers at home is the first task. This figures to be a season-long battle, but because these Seahawks haven’t been to the top before, taking an early lead matters more to them.
The Seahawks have never matched up like this against a great 49ers team. San Francisco is one of the most storied franchises of the modern-day NFL, with the five championships it won between 1981 and 1994 and the parade of legends produced during the Bill Walsh era. The 49ers haven’t won a Super Bowl in 19 years, and everything about them from the ownership down is different. Still, there’s this feeling that the Seahawks are challenging a regal franchise.
And the Seahawks would like nothing better than to knock the 49ers on their royal tails.
Sunday’s game will be epic for the regular season, as huge as a Week 2 matchup can get. But it still matters more to the Seahawks. In Seattle, we see a more complete and explosive football team. In San Francisco, they shrug and say prove it.
The silent story line of this game is the anticipation that Seattle will prove itself Sunday. This game is about the Seahawks, not the 49ers. They are charged with changing the entire dynamic of the rivalry.
The Seahawks can’t become a dynasty this weekend. This is the kind of signature moment that an emerging great team embraces, however.
They should squeeze it as tightly as possible.