Jim Harbaugh loves to spice up his weekly news conferences with historical references, not all of which can actually be found in books.
When asked Wednesday whether 49ers fans could match the ear-splitting enthusiasm the Seattle Seahawks enjoy in their stadium, the coach flashed a familiar frown and said he hoped at “Candlestick, we get it cranked up. Make it a real great environment. If this doesn’t fire up the fans, then what does?”
Harbaugh, who was in a chirpy, chatty mood, then answered his own question. Before elaborating on dueling quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson – the hot read during a week that is flush with great stories – he theorized that 49ers fans might be more energized by the sight of Abraham Lincoln, in a frock and a top hat, riding a horse across a field, while waving a flag.
He didn’t say anything about Lincoln waving a white flag, fortunately. Nor did he reference the reasons for America’s battle between North and South, the clash of Union and Confederate troops, and how the Civil War bloodied and divided a country.
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Maybe next week. Harbaugh seemed to curb his tongue in the nick of time. He understands the play. Seahawks-49ers needs little in the way of introduction. This is a drama that spews venom the moment the NFL schedules are released. On a ranking of recent West Coast tiffs, it is eclipsed only by the Kings-Sonics NBA grudge match that ended with Sacramento squeaking out a last-second, franchise-saving victory over Seattle in May.
Today, the Seahawks can clinch the NFC West division and move within a victory of claiming the NFC’s No. 1 seed and home-field advantage for the postseason. The 49ers can’t touch that. But any time these teams get together, it’s tantalizing, intriguing, titillating. Seahawks-49ers always is that, beginning with the enmity between head coaches.
Harbaugh and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll don’t even give it the old college try anymore. Their personal feud has persisted since their years in the Pacific-12 Conference, while both were restoring their programs – Harbaugh at Stanford and Carroll at USC – to national prominence.
But the allure of a Seahawks-49ers game extends far beyond a comparison of noise levels in the ballparks, the degree of animosity between coaches or an analysis of which franchise has been more adversely affected by injuries and drug suspensions.
These are two of the league’s most punishing defenses, and offensively, both clubs run the ball and rely on their mobile, strong-armed quarterbacks: Kaepernick and Wilson. That matchup alone makes today’s game eminently watchable.
Wilson, 5-foot-11, is an NFL anamoly, an under-6-foot quarterback who avoids the small man’s curse of the tipped, deflected pass. His creativity and escapability – his ability to breathe life into plays that appear doomed – are as impressive as his leadership, scrambling ability and passing accuracy.
And he does not rattle easily. In the past four games, Wilson has completed 72 percent of his passes. In the past three games, he has thrown for seven touchdowns without an interception. His performance Monday night against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints thrust him into the Most Valuable Player conversation.
Then there is his presence, his charisma. The camera loves him. While the rangy, uber-athletic Kaepernick reveals almost nothing during weekly interview sessions he barely tolerates, Wilson, when asked about his 49ers counterpart, was typical and forthcoming.
“Colin is a tremendous person and player,” Wilson told reporters during the midweek conference call. “First of all, he’s a great athlete. He can make all the throws. He can run extremely well. He’s a smart kid, too. It’s one of those things where I hope to play against him for a long time. I have a lot of respect for his game.”
Fears of Kaepernick having a sophomore slump might prove to be unfounded. He has been less skittish in the pocket recently, more willing to stretch for that extra yard before sliding or running out of bounds. And with Frank Gore healthy and his full complement of receivers available, this might be the day Kaepernick digs out some of those dazzling old wrinkles and re-establishes himself against a quality or superior opponent.
The Seahawks. Carroll. Wilson. Yep, this would be a good time for that.