Emotional edge tips Niners-Hawks scale

dave.boling@thenewstribune.comSeptember 15, 2013 

I’m not a licensed psychoanalyst, but sports columnists have long assumed it to be their right to practice such things in the newspaper. And it comes in handy when trying to get into the minds of the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.

This has become the worst case of sibling rivalry the NFC West family has seen, and because these two are so similar and so evenly matched, dominance in Sunday evening’s duel at CenturyLink Field could be a matter of mindset and emotional preparedness.

As is often the case when rivals are cast against each other repeatedly, competitive hostility grows with each meeting, which for most of the week has been admirably suppressed.

Of course, repressed emotions are the most dangerous. And they are expected to surface in front of a national audience tuned in for the 5:30 p.m. prime-time kickoff, with interest extending well beyond West Coast bragging rights.

The 49ers and Seahawks are widely ranked as the top two teams in NFL power polls. The Niners won the division and conference titles a season ago on the way to the Super Bowl, but the Seahawks treated them like annoying little brothers in a 42-13 backyard beat-down in Seattle in December.

Such things don’t get mentioned by the participants, but it seems obvious that every move these teams have made while building their rosters in the offseason was geared toward the singular motive of getting an edge on the other team.

I can also guarantee they have been working on their game plans for this game all summer, and reserved certain parts of their schemes for Sunday rather than unveil them in their season openers.

So, this will be a game more about physical dominance than precise execution. From the opening kickoff, expect scuffles after almost every play.

Nobody will back down. They may not even blink. And that may be the real beauty of this ugly rivalry: The other team is so worthy.

If they weren’t wearing the colors they do, Seattle fans would embrace the play of such Niners as Justin Smith and Patrick Willis, and San Francisco fans would love Kam Chancellor and Marshawn Lynch.

As for rules? They don’t have rules in alley fights. These two teams combined for 20 penalties in their openers. That might be just the first half total of this one.

Spotlight? National magazines have already made cover boys of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson. The two are in the top four of NFL passer ratings after the first week.

They are of such different sizes but have such similar talents. And both are in possession of that inexplicable competitive magic dust that the very gifted can pull out and sprinkle around when the biggest games are at their most critical moments.

Special teams have been crucial to the outcome of recent meetings, with the latest game-changer being Richard Sherman’s 90-yard TD return of a blocked field goal that broke open the game last December. Such could be the case again, turning the game in either direction.

Beyond all the strategies, it’s clear that the Seahawks have managed to work their way into the minds of the 49ers.

When asked about another PED suspension on the Seahawks (Bruce Irvin) in the spring, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said he noticed it, and added a quote that included: “… If you cheat to win, then you’ve already lost.”

He had every right to be critical of scofflaws. But it seems the coach of the team that won the conference is best served by publicly ignoring as irrelevant the developments of those who challenge. To comment at all indicates a concern for Seahawks fortunes or misfortunes.

And, when asked this week if he had a few recollections of the game the last time he was in Seattle, Harbaugh thought for a few seconds before saying: “Um … no.”

I think we in the business call that dissociative fugue.

Harbaugh’s 49ers beat a better team (Green Bay) in their opener while the Seahawks struggled at Carolina. And the Seahawks are not at full strength because of injuries.

Still Seattle is a 3-point favorite, but the Niners are defending champs. The Seahawks – and their fans – have the underdog’s mentality. They have to win a game against the 49ers at home.

And that provides the psychological advantage in this one.

Seattle 24, San Francisco 21.

dave.boling@thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling

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