By Ray Hamill
Two of the best rivalries in sports will take center stage this weekend, albeit two of the best for very different reasons.
First up, in the AFC Championship, quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will serve up the latest – and perhaps final – chapter in in their longstanding rivalry, one that surely ranks alongside the likes of Messi/Ronaldo and Federer/Nadal in contemporary sports.
The success each has achieved – on both an individual and team basis – is enough to ensure their inclusion on any shortlist of the greatest to ever play their position, and they are known to be friends off the field.
But if that is a rivalry founded on mutual respect and longstanding success, the same cannot be said of the Seahawks and 49ers, who will meet in the NFC Championship.
This is a rivalry built on a whole different set of values, and about the only thing mutual they share is a healthy hatred for each other.
It’s certainly not the longest standing rivalry in sports (13 years ago they weren’t even in the same conference), nor the greatest (it’s now two almost two decades since either won a Super Bowl), but in a short period of time it has evolved into one of the most entertaining rivalries in sports.
And like any good rivalry, it begins at the top and filters all the way down.
Let’s be honest, the coaches don’t like each other – dating back to their days as rivals in the Pac-12 when Jim Harbaugh’s Stanford ran up the score on Pete Carroll’s USC – the players don’t like each other, and the fans don’t like each other, and longstanding or not that makes for a good rivalry.
And it gets better.
This week, the Seahawks announced they would not sell any tickets for the game to anyone with a billing address in California (either petty or brilliant, you be the judge), the latest chapter in what been a rocky, but highly entertaining feud between the two division rivals all season.
It all began when Seahawks fans had the “audacity” to fly a banner over Candlestick Park early in the season, before Niners fans responded by paying for a billboard near CenturyLink Field displaying their five Lombardi trophies in a taunting manner, which in turn led to the local billboard company declaring a two-mile radius around the stadium as a “protected” zone which only allows pro-Seahawks billboards.
Adding to the budding rivalry is the fact that they are also the two best teams in the NFC, and will now meet for a place in this year’s Super Bowl.
In terms of tradition, the Niners/Seahawks rivalry may pale in comparison to the likes of the Bears/Packers, Red Sox/Yankees or Alabama/Auburn, but for sheer entertainment value, it’s one of the best around right now.