By Daniel Brown San Jose Mercury News
Warren Moon, the Hall of Fame quarterback turned Seattle Seahawks radio analyst, joked about a peculiar trend among Seattle residents this week.
“They’re doing a lot of yelling and screaming at each other, just getting themselves in the mood,” he said by phone.
Fans are warming up their vocal chords in preparation for the 49ers, who arrive tonight for the latest installment of football’s newest, fiercest rivalry. The image of laid-back West Coasters instead will give way to game featuring genuine hostilities and a brutish style of play that could result in “an old-fashioned slobberknocker,” according to NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock.
The ingredients for today’s nationally televised spectacle come straight from the football feud cookbook. Brash coaches. Electrifying young quarterbacks. Hard-nosed running backs. Mouthy players. Super Bowl dreams.
Bring to a boil, then stir. Anthony Dixon, the 49ers reserve running back, got things roiling again this week by tweeting that he was gearing up for the “She-Hawks.” The post was deleted, but only after it registered in an already amped-up Pacific Northwest. Seahawks linebacker responded on Twitter with: “lol the she hawks!! I’ll be sure relay the message to the fellas. Its gone be a long night for you and the forty whiners.”
In Seattle, this makes for football nirvana — a Grunge Match.
“This is the game Seahawks fans circled on their calendar as soon as the schedule came out,” said Steve Raible, a former Seattle receiver who now serves as the team’s lead play-by-play man. “It’s the home opener. It’s on national TV, and it’s a chance for the city to show off. This place is going to be insanely packed.”
The 49ers (1-0) and Seahawks (1-0) rank among the favorites to reach the Super Bowl and are similar in style. The dislike between the teams is so palpable that one gambling website established a betting line on the number of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. (Bovada.lv sets the over/under at 1.5).
And though the flashy young quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers and Russell Wilson of the Seahawks, serve as the poster boys for the showdown, Mayock said it’s just as likely to be a slugfest led by running backs Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch and rugged defenses.
“You can dress it up with read-option and 400 yards of passing,” he said. “But at its base — at its root — it’s a physical, tough football game between two teams that don’t really like each other a whole lot.”
Tickets are being resold for an average of $546 apiece, by far the highest among Week 2 games, according to a report by Vivid Seats. By comparison, tickets for the so-called “Manning Bowl” between big brother Peyton’s Denver Broncos and Eli’s New York Giants are going for an average of $381.
Tony Dungy, the former Super Bowl coach who will serve as an NBC analyst for the game, said the Seattle-San Francisco matchup recalls the great Indianapolis Colts-New England Patriots games featuring Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
However, those duels were occasional treats. The 49ers and Seahawks have a pair of regularly scheduled donnybrooks since both teams are in the NFC West. Seattle comes to San Francisco on Dec. 8.
“That’s why you’re going to see the buildup,” Dungy said. “And I think it’s going to be even more special over the next couple of years. I think it’s tremendous for the NFL, and it is going to be a great rivalry.”
How will Puget Sound? Loud. The sellout crowd of more than 65,000 aims to provide the highest decibel level ever recorded at an outdoor sporting event. A Seahawks fan group has gone so far as to register that intention with Guinness World Records.
Joe Tafoya, a former Seahawks defensive end and a leader of the so-called “Volume 12” movement, said the crowd will try to break the record without the use of PEDs: “performance-enhancing devices,” he explained, chuckling. “No horns. No drums. No vuvuzelas.”
Tafoya grew up a 49ers fan. A native of the East Bay who played at Pittsburg High, he enjoyed a seven-year NFL career that included a two-season stint with the Seahawks (2005-06). He said in a phone interview that while playing in Seattle he became enamored of the loyal fan base.
“You have to understand that if we’re not winning, it’s like we’re up here all by ourselves. There’s no national media attention,” he said. “So it becomes just a very close-knit group of people.”
Seattle fans relish their reputation as the loudest in the NFL, especially when they sense an opponent starting to crack. Visiting teams at CenturyLink Field have committed 121 false-start penalties since 2005, the worst in the NFL during that span and a telltale sign that the crowd noise is messing with a team’s communication in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage.
Seattle also happens to be 59-29 at home over that span, for a .670 winning percentage that trails only the Green Bay Packers’ mark at Lambeau Field (62-26, .705).
“It’s not just the fact that it’s loud. It’s so constant,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll explained on a conference call with Bay Area reporters this week. “It doesn’t go away.”
Setting the decibel record is a tall order, but a monitor from Guinness will be on hand just in case. The current record is 131.77, set during a soccer match in Turkey in 2011.
Seahawks games have reached as high as 112 decibels, according to the team’s website. By comparison, 80 decibels is what a garbage disposal puts out, 100 is a lawn mower — and, opponents would say, 200 is Richard Sherman all by himself.
Sherman is the Seahawks defensive back that Sports Illustrated once dubbed “the poet laureate of smack talk.” The former Stanford standout has called his old college coach, the 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh, a “bully” and takes pride in his ability to irritate opposing receivers on the field.
“I’m not the type to let a sleeping giant lie,” Sherman told SI before the season. “I wake up the giant, slap him around, make him mad and beat him to the ground. I talk a big game because I carry a big stick.”
A car horn, incidentally, registers at 110 decibels. That’s worth noting because Sherman and safety Earl Thomas told Yahoo Sports last season that Harbaugh honked and taunted the Seahawks’ team bus after the 49ers’ 13-6 victory at Candlestick Park this past October.
Harbaugh has called the charge “a fabrication” and pointed out the implausibility of being near the Seahawks bus. But Thomas, revisiting the incident for Bay Area reporters this week, said he still feels as if the 49ers coach was mocking them.
“Of course we’d take it that way,” Thomas said. “When you carry yourself like a champion on and off the field, good stuff is going to happen for you. “It just seems like (Harbaugh) has a lot of personality, that’s all fun and games. It’s good for the sport of football. He’s a competitor, it seems like. Our coach is the same way. I don’t think our coach (Carroll) would do that.”
The Seahawks exacted revenge for that October loss by hammering the 49ers 42-13 in Seattle in December. It was Kaepernick’s worst game of the season and the most-lopsided defeat of the Harbaugh era.
But the 49ers say they have grown up since then thanks to the cauldron of a Super Bowl run. They pledge to be better prepared for the din that awaits them in Seattle.
Gore, for example, has a strategy all mapped out. And he ought to know. His 1,238 rushing yards against the Seahawks are the most of any player in NFL history.
“Hopefully we can go in there, start fast and we can make their fans be quiet,” Gore said.