The dry weather conditions are frightful, but Sacramento is certainly enjoying a quieter, calmer winter now that the Seattle folks are directing their venom elsewhere in California.
Your turn, Bay Area.
Fans of the NFL teams in the West Coast’s most sophisticated, geographically appealing cities, those of course being for the 49ers and Seahawks, have been spitting at each other for months, though not at this volume.
Talk shows. Television graphics. Scientific analysis. The coaches and players are talking about it, and repeatedly hearing about it, and undoubtedly formulating their own opinions on whether the noise level inside the stadium will affectthe outcome of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.
For the past two regular seasons, the Seahawks have been loving it. They were undefeated at home in 2012 and lost only one game (to Arizona) in 2013.
If CenturyLink Field earned a salary, it would be in the Kobe Bryant/LeBron James range. If it were human, it could be charged with assault and sued for the intentional infliction of emotional distress. And how ironic is this? If it were an NBA facility, it would be a modern version of Sleep Train Arena.
On nights the Kings play well and capitalize on the cowbells, whistles, architectural advantages and ear-shattering amenities that routinely enhance the fan frenzy, the old barn remains the loudest building in the league.
But all that noise only makes the visitors uncomfortable; it doesn’t guarantee victories. The Kings still didn’t beat the Lakers in the seventh and deciding game of the 2002 Western Conference finals, so it didn’t really matter that coach Phil Jackson complained about his ears ringing for days, that Bryant raved about the atmosphere for years, or that the most famous Kings tweaker, Shaquille O’Neal, is the most loquacious member of the organization’s new ownership group.
What mattered is that the Lakers maintained their poise and made plays. They weren’t rattled. And somehow, they found a way to overcome the volume.
The 49ers have been polishing their communication skills, working hard to dispel the commonly held notion that men don’t talk, throughout the week.
“Signals, hand signals, verbal signals, body language, reading lips, different ways,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We’ll practice that. We’ve been in some of those environments, as you know.”
The 49ers have won road playoff games at Green Bay and Carolina. The game planning also includes a heavy emphasis on getting more out of Frank Gore, whose effectiveness against the Seahawks tends to mirror the outcome between division rivals.
In the 49ers’ bruising 29-3 loss Sept. 15 in Seattle, the 5-foot-9 veteran had 16 yards on nine carries. In the 49ers’ 19-17 win at Candlestick Park on Dec. 8, Gore’s 110-yard performance included a 51-yard burst that set up Phil Dawson’s winning field goal.
“They’re going to get Frank Gore the ball,” Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril told reporters in Seattle. “It all starts with Frank Gore. He’s patient, and once again, if you get out of your gap and try to do too much, he’ll pick you apart and hit those holes and get those big runs.”
The 49ers’ offensive linemen are aware of the numbers, as well as the fact that, if the Seahawks statistically have a tender spot, it’s their rush defense: Seattle led the league in total defense and passing defense but allowed 101.6 rushing yards per game, tied for seventh.
Creating openings for Gore and Colin Kaepernick, center Jonathan Goodwin acknowledged, is both challenging and imperative. There is that noise factor again.
“(Kaepernick) just has to get closer to the line, get closer to us,” Goodwin said while standing amid the clutter of shoes, tape and towels near his locker. “He just has to be louder.”
Asked about the use of silent snap counts and how often multiple plays will be called, he hesitated.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’m not going to give anything away … .”
Dawson, standing a few feet away, with his shoes lined up and meticulously stored, was somewhat more forthcoming; he can’t hear anything in CenturyLink Field, not even the sound of his foot hitting the ball.
“But I’ve been telling people that I’m on a team with a bunch of grown men,” he said, “and I’ve watched way too much playoff football. So I don’t care where we go. There’s no need for much talking.”