Better rivalries lift NFC West

So, Seahawks fans, you’ve put away your face paint and have started your offseason rehab regimen of honey-tea and lozenges. But don’t forget that you still have rooting obligations in the postseason.

You must consider some options, though.

One might cheer for New Orleans, hoping the Saints cause San Francisco to suffer grievous humiliation in Saturday’s playoff match because, as the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

But deferred gratification might come if the 49ers went on a streak and won the Super Bowl, knowing they’d then be forced to pick last on draft day, and also might be more vulnerable to a let-down and laxity next season.

Either way, it is relevant now that there is reason for fans around here to care about the fate of their rivals – because they finally have rivals.

It is timely to note that the Seahawks just finished their 10th season in the realigned NFC West.

Before the Seahawks were shifted from the AFC West to the NFC West in 2002, rivalries with Denver and the Oakland Raiders were historic – but had fallen from currency because Seattle had so rarely contended.

The NFC West looked even less welcoming at the time, with St. Louis coming off two Super Bowl appearances in the previous three seasons, while San Francisco had a 12-4 record in 2001.

But in the subsequent 10 seasons, the Seahawks dominated with five division titles and five seasons above .500. Remarkably, the other three divisional teams combined for just five plus-.500 seasons in that span.

No wonder it’s taken time for rivalries to ripen. There was more guilt by association than bragging rights involved.

In those 10 seasons, the NFC West was by far the worst in the NFL, with an overall winning percentage of .423. The Seahawks are the only one of the four with a cumulative winning record since realignment, and they’ve gone 81-79.

After the Seahawks became the NFL’s first divisional winner with a losing record (7-9) last season, San Francisco (13-3) legitimately ran away with the division this season. But the on-field competition was intense, and the three top teams all showed improvement.

The final home game against San Francisco was a thriller, a 19-17 loss for Seattle, and the season finale at Arizona was a physical confrontation with nothing to prove other than relative testosterone levels.

So maybe you’ve become invested in the rivalries. You’re ready to ask Niners’ coach Jim Harbaugh something like: What’s your deal? And you have started gagging at the sight of that Yosemite Sam wannabe mascot that trolls the San Francisco sideline.

Maybe you scoff at that Jiffy-Pop stadium the Cardinals call home. And St. Louis … uh … mostly you’re just glad the Rams are in the division, because it’s hard to object to a foe who has keeled over 13 times in 14 meetings.

But an underappreciated element in a rivalry is not resentment, but respect. (Remember when Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes appreciatively dubbed Seahawks nemesis Steve Largent the “Caucasian Clydesdale”?)

The Niners feature guys like Patrick Willis and Frank Gore, so admirable in their toughness and intensity; so damnable in that they appear twice a season. And St. Louis back Steven Jackson has never played on a winning team, but his effort has been so conspicuously unrelenting that he brings honor to the game.

As for Arizona, the Seahawks constructed a secondary of towering defenders just to combat Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. But in the season-ender, he pulled in nine often-spectacular catches for 149 yards.

While some teams try bump-and-run on Fitzgerald, the Seahawks tried assault-and-battery, but on some plays after absolutely wicked collisions, they helped pry one another off the turf.

These are the real roots of rivalries.

via Better rivalries lift NFC West | Seattle Seahawks – The News Tribune.