By SCOTT M. JOHNSON
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – To get a feel for the rivalry between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, one need look no further than eight days ago, when 49ers receiver Terrell Owens danced on the star in the middle of Texas Stadium after a touchdown and later got decked by a Cowboys defender when trying to perform an encore.
Now that’s a bitter rivalry.
As for the budding feud between the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks, it seems to come from the other end of the malevolence spectrum. The picture that most represents this rivalry was painted last Wednesday, when Chiefs coach Gunther Cunningham got choked up while remembering his first game against Mike Holmgren.
“You can obviously feel the respect I have for him, because I did some of the things he did at Green Bay,” said Cunningham, referring to team dress codes and practice schedules that he adopted from Holmgren. “I believe that’s the direction you go, and you don’t need all that stuff that you saw in the Dallas-San Francisco game.”
Well, at least he’s emotional about tonight’s game.
Maybe the Seahawks-Chiefs rivalry isn’t as ugly as some of the other NFL feuds, but meetings between the AFC West teams have had a lot on the line recently. Last season, Seattle swept the series in what turned out to be the difference in winning the division title.
“It’s always like when we’re playing the Kansas City Chiefs, we have to win that game,” Seahawks tight end Itula Mili said. “We’re out there to win the whole division again. It came down to last year with Kansas City, too, and we did our job. This year, they’re ready for revenge.”
The foundation of this rivalry was laid down last season, when the Seahawks swept Kansas City for the first time since 1990. That was also the last year Seattle had won at Arrowhead Stadium – a skid ended with a 31-19 win on Nov. 21 of last season.
A month later, the Seahawks scored an even bigger win in a showdown for the AFC West title. That 23-14 victory all but clinched the division crown for Seattle.
“We lost to a guy that prepared his football team very well, and we weren’t able to match up,” Cunningham said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to match up after (playing against) him more.”
Seattle, which had lost 14 of its previous 16 meetings against the Chiefs until last season, suddenly finds itself in the hunted role in this budding rivalry. Two-game winning streaks for both teams and the national spotlight of Monday Night Football only add to the mystique of tonight’s game.
Those are the factors that made some players, like Seahawks defensive tackle Riddick Parker, peek ahead when the schedule came out.
“I can’t say before the season that I wasn’t excited about it,” Parker said. “It’s a division game, and you know how important division games are. Plus, it’s Kansas City. We always play good games against each other, their stadium is always full of red. It’s exciting in every way – as far as what’s at stake and for the audience.”
Bit by bit, what was once a one-sided affair has turned into quite a rivalry. But don’t expect any Terrell Owens-type celebrations.
“I don’t want any of that on our football team, and I don’t think I’ll get it,” Cunningham said. “If I do, the guy better keep on running. And I know that’s how Mike operates.”
Holmgren also addressed Owens’ celebration last week, going as far as to discuss the situation with the NFL’s head of officiating, Jerry Seeman, during a phone call. So if Holmgren keeps his unbeaten record in tact in this rivalry, don’t expect to see him doing the jig at midfield tonight.
“I have a lot of respect for that organization,” Holmgren said. “Their coach is a hard-working guy who believes in discipline and toughness, and he coaches his team a certain way. He loves what he does, and he’s emotional about it.”
Emotional, yes. So much so that Cunningham was at a loss of words when asked by Seattle reporters to describe the rivalry with the Seahawks. He only needed three.
“Class,” Cunningham said. “Total class.”
A few minutes later, he hung up the phone and went back to preparing his team for tonight’s game. There’s a lot on the line, and Cunningham doesn’t have time to let sappiness get in the way of a good old-fashioned football war.
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