Former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who once allegedly honked his car horn at the Seahawks’ team bus after a 49ers win and then mockingly waved at the players, is out of the NFL and working 2,000 miles away.
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who nearly came to blows with Richard Sherman at an offseason charity event – an episode that fueled the Seattle cornerback’s crazed rant after the 2014 NFC championship game – now plays in Oakland.
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman insists the hated Seahawks players actually are a bunch of nice guys. They called him and expressed well wishes after his devastating knee injury against them in January 2014. Even Sherman.
No, the once glowing-hot rivalry that produced games that were anticipated like prize fights of old is now lukewarm at best. The combatants no longer are in their prime and there’s no title belt at stake. When they meet Thursday night at Levi’s Stadium, the 49ers and Seahawks won’t be dueling for NFC West dominance as in recent encounters but rather for second – or depending on whether the Rams win Sunday – third place.
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“It’s another football game, another opportunity for this team to get a win,” Colin Kaepernick said.
(The rivalry isn’t) big at all. Because we don’t think about any game as a rivalry, any team as a rival. Every game is just the next opponent.
Richard Sherman, Seattle cornerback
The famously intense Sherman, who once prominently gave Kaepernick the “choke” sign after an interception, agreed with the 49ers quarterback’s bland assessment.
“(The rivalry isn’t) big at all,” he told Seattle area reporters this week. “Because we don’t think about any game as a rivalry, any team as a rival. Every game is just the next opponent.”
Instead, both teams are taking a pragmatic approach. At 2-4 they are two games behind the Arizona Cardinals in the division race. But they note that only four other teams in the conference have a winning record and that 11 conference teams have either two or three wins. That is, with 10 games remaining, there are still plenty of opportunities to make a move.
“It’s a huge opportunity for us,” Kaepernick said. “To get back to 1-1 in our division, to give us an opportunity to get to 3-4 overall and start stacking wins together.”
Thursday’s encounter marks the first time since 2009 that both teams go into the game with losing records. Mike Singletary coached the 49ers back then; Jim Mora was coach of the Seahawks. Only five players from that meeting – Vernon Davis, Ahmad Brooks and Joe Staley for San Francisco; Brandon Mebane and Jon Ryan for Seattle – remain on the teams’ rosters.
The two squads, especially the 49ers, have made another major pivot in the past year or so.
San Francisco is missing key figures from their rivalry games with Seattle, primarily Harbaugh, who used to nettle Pete Carroll when they coached in the Pacific-12 Conference and then again when they were in the NFC West. He also was the object of the Seattle players’ animus.
Cornerback Brandon Browner once said he wished Harbaugh would take to the field so that he could have the opportunity to wring his neck. Now Harbaugh has been replaced by the congenial and unassuming Jim Tomsula.
“Yeah, I don’t really pay much attention to the pompenstance around it,” Tomsula said when asked about past elements of the rivalry. “If that’s a word. … Here I am making up vocabulary again. I apologize. My Pittsburghese coming out.”
Browner is now with the Saints. Golden Tate, who said he’d like to give Harbaugh a vicious blind-side block like the one he once leveled on Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee, is a member of the Lions.
Crabtree, known for being aloof and bringing Sherman to a boil, has been replaced by the exceedingly likeable Torrey Smith, who has faced the Seahawks once in his career.
Even resurrecting the image of Seahawks players gobbling turkey legs on the Levi’s Stadium 50-yard line after a Thanksgiving win last year didn’t get much traction this week.
“I think that’s just the media trying to make it more of a show than it really is,” guard 49ers guard Alex Boone said.
Defensive end Michael Bennett had a sack, a quarterback hit and a tackle for loss last November against the 49ers. But he noted he was not part of last year’s feast and didn’t seem to remember that it happened. Besides, he doesn’t even like turkey.
“Because of what happened to the Indians,” he explained.