SANTA CLARA -- Chippy. adjective, (CHIP-ee).
1. Ice Hockey. using or characterized by aggressive, rough play or commission of fouls: a chippy player; a chippy second period.
2. Canadian. irritable; ill-tempered.
Thank you, Canada, for such a wonderful word, one that promises to be uttered again and again before, during and after Sundays NFC Championship Game between the 49ers and Seahawks in Seattle. The over/under on how many times youll hear or read chippy by the time you go to bed Sunday: 131/2.
While the 49ers and their always-amped wide receiver, Anquan Boldin, certainly are capable of chippy behavior, the Seahawks are positively teeming with it. They have Ph.Ds in chippiness. Their chippy cups runneth over.
Their goal, especially at home, is to burrow under an opponents skin, nettle and distract him, and otherwise to return to Canada for a moment goad him into dropping his gloves and drawing a penalty. Used in conjunction with the deafening din of CenturyLink Field, it has become a very effective strategy.
Their chatterbox cornerback, Richard Sherman, is especially diabolical when it comes to this approach. He is the Woody Woodpecker of NFL players an instigator extraordinaire who jaws and gestures at opponents during the game and who never fails to get in a few well-placed digs after a Seahawks win.
Against the Saints last Saturday, the chippiness began early.
More than two hours before kickoff, New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, the teams most talented pass catcher, nearly got into a scrap with Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin, who told Graham he was warming up on the wrong side of the field, knocked a football out of his hands and kicked it away. Later during warmups, Sherman and Graham shouted at each other.
The normally mild-mannered Graham fell into Seattles trap before the first snap. He had one catch for 8 yards, and that in the final minute of the game.
Its hard coming in here talking a big game, Sherman said afterward, a Cheshire-cat grin spread across his face. Its hard, its hard. Its a lamb coming to the wolves and throwing meat at them.
The 49ers also have been suckered in Seattle.
In their previous two trips there, they have been penalized 18 times for 179 yards. That includes five personal foul-type penalties for 66 yards. Right tackle Anthony Davis has had one lose-your-cool personal foul at the end of each blowout loss.
And yet the plain-as-day theme heading into Sundays game is that the 49ers are not the same team that lost their previous two games in Seattle. Theyre more focused. Theyre more well-equipped. Theyre better.
No team traveled more and farther this season, and the 49ers are the only team left in the postseason that hasnt had a home playoff game. They are hardened and battle-tested. And their road wins have convinced them they are a team of destiny.
The 49ers know Seattles tactics well. They got a good preview Sunday when the Carolina Panthers defense tried to rough them up and get into their heads with chippy play early in the game. The 49ers didnt respond, and Carolina finished with eight penalties for 73 yards, including critical ones on each of the 49ers first three scoring drives.
The Seahawks are an excellent team, and they are particularly ferocious at home.
But the 49ers are more talented, and they are the more experienced team when it comes to big games. This will be their third NFC Championship Game in three years.
If they can use that experience and block out everything else the noise, Shermans mouth, the chippy tactics it will allow that talent to take over, and they will win.
At the end of the day, you have to play football, said Boldin, the 49ers MVP. You can do all the talk and rah-rah you want to. ... When all that emotion wears off, youre still left with playing football, and thats when the real guys show up.
Read Matthew Barrows blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320.