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Mysterious Bitter Rivalries

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I basically grew up in Seattle. However, I was born in the Bay Area, and didn’t move to Washington State until half way through the third grade. My original NFL allegiance was to the Oakland Raiders, which I clung to, in the face of every other family member being a 49ers fan when we lived in the Bay Area, and my father’s retaining the Niners as his NFC team (although he grew to be a fan of the Seahawks as his AFC, and local, team). But for me, it was the Raiders of Kenny Stabler, Fred Biletnikoff, Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Dave Casper, Cliff Branch, Mark van Eeghen, et al. I remember the 1976 and 1977 seasons, especially the post-season, to this day, Super Bowl XI and all. Perhaps ironically, the first NFL game I attended was a pre-season game between the Raiders and expansion Seahawks at the Coliseum in 1976. It was in the stands at that game where I first heard that there was going to be such a thing as the Seattle Mariners, and I should probably rue the day.

My first passionate sporting hatred was the Denver Broncos, because of this. Specifically, a blown fumble call that would have prevented a Denver TD in the 4th quarter (EDIT: of the 1977 AFC Championship game). I clung to the Raiders even after my relocating to the PNW, and rooted for them against the local upstarts. I was unhappy when the Seahawks beat the Raiders twice in one of those early seasons. What caused me to divorce the Raiders was their move to Los Angeles in 1982. Even from my then vantage point in the PNW, moving from the Bay Area to LA was simply wrong. I adopted the Seahawks. When the Raiders returned to Oakland in 1994, there was no forgiveness. I delighted in the 1983 Seahawks playoff victory over Denver, and mourned losing the AFC Championship game that year to the Los Angeles Raiders. Through all of this, the 49ers were just there. Sure, they became successful, and I couldn’t help but root for them during this era due to my father’s influence, but as a Seahawks fan, the 49ers were annual pre-season competition, with no history, no rivalry, and no animosity. And they won. A lot.

I moved to Europe before the realignment of the Seahawks to the NFC, and to be frank, I no longer follow the NFL as closely as I once did, only really paying attention to the Seahawks, (though I still follow Pac 10/12 football). Thus, the bitter hatred and animosity that now exists between Seattle and San Francisco is a mystery to me. It almost seems manufactured. As I understand it, Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh aren’t universally loved, especially by one another. This dates back to their Pac-10 days (USC and Stanford). The teams have adopted their mutual enmity, simultaneous to both teams becoming good again. The fans have followed suit.

Isn’t this the exact opposite causal direction that these things usually assume? That, and yesterday was the first time these two hated, storied rivals ever met in a playoff game.

Strangely, last night (GMT) I inexplicably woke up in the middle of the night, checked the score on line, and made it just in time to watch the final San Francisco drive (it was pushing 3am here) on game cast. Being a Seattle sports fan, my assumption was that the Niners would score and it would all be over. The result certainly did not make me unhappy, but unlike the Mariners losing a post season series to the Yankees, I also wouldn’t have been bitterly upset had Kaepernick’s pass been complete. Indeed, I expected it to be.

Of course, while I don’t understand that rivalry, I do understand my life long commitment to seeing the Broncos lose. If it can come at the hands of the Seahawks in a Super Bowl, that’s nothing but icing.

I’ll allow a certain Stanford graduate to have the last word.

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  • MacCheerful

    As far as I can tell, sometimes living here, our eternal bitter football rivalry with SF is rather recent. But I think it simply roots in the eternal bitter jealousy of Seattle for SF in general, because they have the prettier older bigger city. Now that it turns out that we are the football power of the known universe that jealousy finally gets translated into a filed of victory more entertaining than having a better municipal water system.

    • DrS

      I think the newness of the rivalry has more to do with Seattle being placed into the NFC and both teams getting good at the same time.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    I dunno, I just never get the point of hating. Why the fuck spend so much time thinking about something you don’t like? Just don’t like it.

    granted, there really would be a lot less content pretty much everywhere…

    • Captain Bringdown

      Try living in the metro NYC area among these people.

      You’ll get the point of hating.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        it’s the not being able to avoid something you dislike that leads to hatred, isn’t it. I just realized that. ’cause I deal with that kind of thing by saying to myself, “dumb fuckers” and walking away – which I can do here in the middle of fuckallnowhere

      • I agree, the young fans who came of age in the mid-late 90’s, are assholes.

        They’ve known nothing but winning, and only two seasons without making the Playoffs.
        Ask Pirate’s fans how good it felt after THEIR long draught – or Royal’s fans whose draught hasn’t yet ended.
        The Yankees have been flooded by playoff appearances – if not actual WS victories.
        Still, 5 wins in the last 18 years, is GREAT!!!

        But the ones who came of age in the mid-60’s when the Yankees sucked – like me – and the ones who came of age when King George was spending money on free agent veterans, and trading kids, from the early-mid 80’s until the mid-90’s, are not like that.

        We’ve seen tough times, and are thankful for the great times, and accepting of the lean years – and those are coming again, starting next year.

        Don’t paint every Yankee fan with such a broad brush, please.
        Not all of us are assholes and dickheads – though, there are a lot of those around, I’ll grant you!

        • Linnaeus

          Don’t paint every Yankee fan with such a broad brush, please.
          Not all of us are assholes and dickheads – though, there are a lot of those around, I’ll grant you!

          I certainly don’t. A fan base that large, you’re going to have some jerks.

          I don’t even “hate” the Yankees organization. I have a lot of respect for their history.

    • Vance Maverick

      My wife and I happened to be riding a train from Milan to Bologna once when a group of Parma supporters got on for the game in Modena, where a cordon of policemen was waiting for them at the station. Seemed pleasant enough, actually, but what they chanted was “I hate Modena.”

      It doesn’t matter whether you or I get the point of such self-conscious “hatred”. It’s plainly a value and a pleasure.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        oh, I know it doesn’t matter what I think. some (maybe most) of it is just being part of something bigger (this and the ‘do what you love’ thing are getting tangled in my mind), and it’s part of competition

  • Crunchy Frog

    I have a friend who also hates the Broncos because of that bad call 36 years ago.

    I consider this just weird. There are lots of reasons to dislike/hate teams. Dirty players, coaches you don’t like, and insufferable fans of the team. Sometimes a single incident where fans cheat on behalf of the team can spark a life-long dislike – thinking the snowplow game for example. But bad calls happen all the time and I’ve yet to see the team which benefits from the bad call asking the refs to change the call. Imagine a fan in 2049 professing a hatred of the Seahawks because of the Fail Mary call last year.

    • rea

      Hell–I still hate the Yankees because of the Cochrane beaning in ’37 (and maybe for a few other reasons)

    • OtterQueen

      I think both fan bases (and the NFL in general) would like a good, hard-nosed rivalry out West. It sells papers & tickets & fills a niche that the Ravens/Steelers can no longer fill. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both 9ers/Hawks games next year be the “NFL game of the week”.

      On a deeper note, Civic Pride has often been expressed by allegiance to the local sports teams. Both areas often feel ignored by the Eastern sports establishment & have a lot of pride when “their” team takes center stage from other, more established areas who tend to view it as their birthright…

      • CJColucci

        I thought about the parallel between Seahawks-49ers and Steelers-Ravens. The narcissism of small diffeences. The rival teams are very much alike, physical and punishing. They don’t out-scheme you as much as out-wallop you. The winner is usually the team that was tougher. Makes for a good rivalry.

    • trollhattan

      Possibly my favorite Seahawks-Broncos moment.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMmQkNT65Do

    • Rigby Reardon

      insufferable fans of the team

      Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, Manchester United, Notre Dame … yeah, that pretty much explains my most significant sports-related hatreds.

    • dave brockington

      I consider this just weird. There are lots of reasons to dislike/hate teams. [. . .] But bad calls happen all the time and I’ve yet to see the team which benefits from the bad call asking the refs to change the call.

      I was nine years old. Shit is Very Important to a nine year-old. In grad school at the UW, I shared an office with a colleague from Denver, and this overlapped with Denver’s (and Elway’s) two Super Bowls (97, 98). She’d happily put the sports page on our office door after said victories. I was fine with that, if ever so slightly grumbling inside.

  • Jager

    Watching the game yesterday with my 40 odd year old neighbor and seeing Russell Wilson scramble and get a completion. I blurted out,”That bastard is a 2014 Fran Tarkenton.” Paul said, “Who?” I scrambled into the kitchen and completed a scotch and water while thinking just how old I am.

    • Hahahahahahahaha !!!!!

    • Rigby Reardon

      Oh come on. I’m 41 and don’t even like football very much, but even I would have got that one.

      • Linnaeus

        I’m also 41 and I remember watching Fran Tarkenton.

    • allium

      To be fair, That’s Incredible was on in the early 1980s.

  • Fighting Words

    I have relatives in Oregon and Washington State andI think Seattle hatred of the 49ers is based on a couple things:

    1. Natural geographic rivals to Seattle (Portland and Vancouver) don’t have NFL teams. Think soccer and Sonics/Blazers. SF is probably the closest nfl team to Seattle.

    2. Seattle was sort of the odd team out in the old AFC west as they were not with the AFL since 1960, and were not really that distinguished in that division.

    3. East Coast Bias – most sports writers are from back east and consider most west coast teams all close together. Even though Seattle is a good two day drive from San Francisco.

    4. Rivalries make the game fun. San Francisco has a bunch of rivals (Rams, Cowboys, Raiders) while Seattle doesn’t have one. So this one was a bit manufactured.

    • DocAmazing

      Rivalries make the game fun.

      Be very careful with that line of thought. In baseball, the Giants-Dodgers rivalry was all in good fun until fans started taking that shit seriously, and now we’ve got a body count.

      • thebewilderness

        We had some bitters. Broncos, Bengals, Raiders, and Chiefs.
        Then everything got bollixed up and suddenly we were supposed to be bitter rivals with our second favorite team, the Niners. It took a while but I guess peeps are getting there.

    • kindness

      The 49ers might be Raider fans rivals but the Raiders are not even on the 49er fans radar. Being a Niner fan (and a Raider fan god forbid) I don’t have any especial hatred of Seattle. I think the two teams don’t like each other because the games over the last two years, but it isn’t like the old Niners Rams rivalry that really also isn’t any more.

      Seattle won yesterday. Tip o my hat to them. My boys lost. I don’t really care who wins the LegalWeed Bowl but I suspect I’ll be rooting for Denver.

      • Drew

        Super Bowl. Hehehehehe.

      • Fighting Words

        Yeah, I’m also a sports bigamist when it comes to Bay Area teams. I like Giants and A’s and 49ers and Raiders. Hey, I live in the East Bay and work in San Francisco. But a lot of people I know who are 49ers and Raiders fans strongly hate the other team.

        I might root for the Seahawks in the playoffs and Superbowl (I even have in the past). I would NEVER root for the Rams or Cowboys.

        And yeah, it’s sad that the Rams moved to St. Louis. San Francisco really needs a team in Los Angeles to hate (as long as “fans” of either team aren’t killing each other).

      • Col Bat Guano

        Yeah, this wasn’t a real rivalry until the Harbaugh brought the 49ers out of obscurity and Carroll did the same for the Seahawks. The past two years these games have been between the top two teams and had real playoff implications. The Seahawk fan base used to hate the Rams back when St. Louis was leading the division.

  • trollhattan

    Wow, this post is eerie. Grew up in Seattle as a Husky fan, then went to university in California where everybody was a Raiders fan (the Niners were a continual, ignored embarrassment). Adopted the Raiders–the fun, Joe lunchpail edition of the Raiders–for convenience sake. Then Expansion and after a season in the NFC, the Seahawks plop into the AFC West, rivalries are forged and alliances strained. It was easy, once Al decamped for LA and Seattle became entertaining. Also, too, an enduring hatred of all things Broncos was born.

    They share a box of eternal shame with the Cowboys and Steelers that shall never be unpacked. This came in handy when my kid was assigned following a Premiere League team by her soccer coach. I advised her, “Anybody but Man United” and when asked “Why?” only had to reply, “It would be like rooting for the Yankees, Lakers or Cowboys.” She understood and thus, follows Chelsea.

    Had SF won last night, I’d 1. have had a very bad not good day at the office tomorrow (thank you Mr. Sherman) and 2. been forced to turn around and root for SF in two weeks. Crises avoided.

    • Linnaeus

      She understood and thus, follows Chelsea.

      An unfortunate choice, but certainly a better one than Manchester United.

      • trollhattan

        For all I know it’s because “the name is pretty.” Afterwards she happened to meet Maui’s biggest Arsenal fan on vacation, and he could have probably coaxed her over.

        • Linnaeus

          If only. At least she’s not a Tottenham fan.

          • McAllen

            My cousin has started following Tottenham entirely because he’s a San Antonio Spurs fan.

            • Thlayli

              I have considered getting a San Antonio jersey with “HODDLE 10” on the back.

            • Linnaeus

              Oh dear. How sad.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    Your story, Dave, is very like mine, except my family never moved out of the Bay Area. I was a Raiders fan until they moved to LA (I lived and died for those Stabler teams), which was unforgiveable. I’ve been a Niners fan ever since. The Raiders’ returning and ruining the Coliseum as a baseball park didn’t make me think any better of them.

    • trollhattan

      I’ve been accused of being “anti-Oakland” because I don’t like the Raiders, and just retort I’m anti-LA and anti Al Davis (but, mister Davis, he’s daid!). Al played Sacramento for chumps to leverage a better deal from Oakland on their return north, then unleashed the PSL on the league, all for his crappy product while pursuing his real passion: suing the NFL.

      Don’t know if his kid can fix that mess, or not. I just pray for blackout home games so I can watch somebody interesting.

      • DocAmazing

        Al Davis poisoned much of the affection that Oaklanders had for the Raiders. When you see large gatherings of the Raider Nation, note how many of them had to drive long distances to get to the Coliseum. It’s become something of an out-of-town group.

        As the 49ers prepare to move to Santa Clara, we may yet see that the York family has done something similar.

  • Steve S.

    Isn’t it the case that if two teams in the same division are title contenders for a few years running that they’ll inevitably develop a fierce rivalry? That hasn’t existed in the NFCW since realignment until the last couple of years. You had a stretch where Seattle won the division four years in a row but the second place team was never much good.

  • Thlayli

    The most random rivalry I’m aware of is Crystal Palace (which is in London) vs Brighton (which is on England’s south coast). Apparently there was an incident in a ’70s game, and the fans have kept it up, seemingly out of a lack of better options.

    • rea

      Kinda like how Tiger fans still hate the Angels after the famous Weaver meltdown game in ’10.

  • ASV

    This is a lot like the Steelers-Ravens rivalry — two good divisional opponents that play a very physical game. How long it lasts will probably depend on how long each team’s stars stay put and how long both teams stay good. If in 2020, they’re both sub-.500 teams and all the recognizable names are gone, probably the rival will have gone dormant.

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