By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — Of course it comes down to this. It had to come down to this.
We all saw this coming before the season even started, didn’t we?
Seahawks vs. 49ers, Pete Carroll vs. Jim Harbaugh, a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
“Wouldn’t want it any other way…” receiver Doug Baldwin wrote on Twitter moments after San Francisco’s 23-10 victory over Carolina on Sunday.
No, Doug, we wouldn’t. Not journalists who love a good story angle or 10. Not fans of both teams who would love nothing more than to see their team knock off a hated rival with so much at stake. And not any fan of the game, who is less than a week from seeing what promises to be one of the most intense, physical matchups possible.
Sure a Seahawks-Panthers NFC championship game would have been interesting. That would have been a rematch of the game that sent Seattle to its only Super Bowl, and would have also promised to be a hard-fought defensive battle. But as impressive as Carolina’s season has been, and as good as the Saints were for much of the season, it has been clear all year — and really even going back to the latter part of last season — that the 49ers and Seahawks are the two best and most complete teams in the NFC, if not the entire NFL.
“We’re the two teams that everybody was kind of looking at from the beginning,” 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said in his postgame press conference. “It’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out game.”
A 49ers-Seahawks NFC championship game would be a dream matchup on its own just because of the quality of the teams, but when you factor in the genuine dislike between the two teams, fanbases, and of course, head coaches, it just makes Sunday’s game that much better.
It’s obviously significant that the Seahawks get this game at home. CenturyLink Field has been a house of horrors for the 49ers and Kaepernick over the past two seasons, while the Seahawks have yet to win in San Francisco during Carroll’s tenure in Seattle. Yet even if Seattle has outscored the Niners 71-16 in the previous two meetings at home, and even if Kaepernick completed only 50 percent of his passes in those two games, throwing four interceptions, it’d be foolish to assume anything about Sunday’s game other than a prevalence of big hits. San Francisco’s offense has improved significantly since wide receiver Michael Crabtree, Kaepernick’s favorite target, returned from an Achilles injury, and the 49ers have won seven straight.
“That’s in the past,” Kaepernick said of his earlier struggles in Seattle. “This is a different situation. We have to go up there and win.”
The Seahawks defense, and what is sure to be an insanely loud stadium, will do their best to make life difficult for Kaepernick again. And nothing will come easy for either team, especially on offense, and whoever represents the NFC in the Super Bowl is definitely going to have to earn it Sunday.
Following their win Saturday, most Seahawks players said what they’re supposed to say in their situation — that they didn’t have a preference who they faced in the NFC championship game.
“No preference,” defensive end Red Bryant said. “Whoever is coming in here, just be ready to play, because we damn sure will be.”
Added tackle Russell Okung, “Man, we’ll play anybody, anytime, anywhere. We’re looking forward to next week.”
But politically correct answers aside, this is the much better result. We’ve dissected the Harbaugh-Carroll rivalry before. We’ve discussed how Stanford grads Baldwin and cornerback Richard Sherman aren’t too fond of their old college coach. And the fan bases have gone back and forth over and over again, but now, we do it all again, for the third time this season, with everything on the line.
Should be fun. And violent.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.