SEATTLE (AP) — It took winning a Super Bowl and celebrating the championship for Bobby Wagner to gain a bit of clarity.
He came to understand that the Seattle Seahawks' domination of the Denver Broncos to win the Super Bowl in February 2014 was not the biggest game of that season. As joyous as it was for Seattle to win its first title in franchise history on that chilly night at the New Jersey Meadowlands, the game that felt more like a championship contest happened two weeks earlier.
That would be the NFC championship game: Seattle 23, San Francisco 17.
“That game to me felt like the Super Bowl. That game felt to me like we were in the Super Bowl,” Wagner recalled recently. “Because then we go and play Denver the next week and we kind of blew them out. When you have to check out and substitute because we’re up so many points, after you look back at it you felt like the bigger game that year was the 49er game.”
The West Coast rivalry between the Seahawks and 49ers was mostly tame. The teams didn’t even become division rivals until 2002 when Seattle made the switch to the NFC and the first decade of being NFC West foes was mostly in favor of the Seahawks.
But the scope of the rivalry changed when Jim Harbaugh arrived in San Francisco and Pete Carroll moved to Seattle. The former Pac-10 rivals brought their intensity and success to the NFL. San Francisco reached the Super Bowl in 2012, the year Seattle made the playoffs for the first time with Russell Wilson at quarterback.
Games were contentious and intense. And the NFC championship game was the pinnacle.
“There were so many different plays in that game that were just fun. The atmosphere was fun. It was just a great game,” Wagner said.
It started from the first play of the game when Wilson fumbled and Aldon Smith recovered. Seattle trailed 10-0 before pulling even at 10-all early in the third quarter on Marshawn Lynch’s 40-yard touchdown run.
That’s when the craziness really started.
Colin Kaepernick’s 26-yard dart to Anquan Boldin gave San Francisco the lead. Seattle answered with a field goal by Stephen Hauschka and Wilson hitting Jermaine Kearse for a 35-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter for a 20-17 Seattle lead.
San Francisco committed turnovers on its next two possessions and another Hauschka field goal pushed Seattle’s lead to six.
Then it was time for Richard Sherman to take the spotlight. Kaepernick had avoided throwing Sherman’s direction most of the night, but had the 49ers marching toward a potential winning touchdown. Facing first-and-10 at the Seattle 18 with 30 seconds left, Kaepernick took his shot toward Sherman, trying to hit Michael Crabtree.
The result is forever known as “The Tip” in Seattle. Sherman twisted in midair and batted the pass and it fell into the arms of linebacker Malcolm Smith, the eventual Super Bowl MVP.
“Sherm makes the tip but nobody realizes Malcolm had an interception. So we all talk about the tip but somebody had to catch the ball for the game to be over,” Wagner said.
While his teammates were celebrating, Sherman ran over to Crabtree and gave him a pat on the backside, then appeared to extend his arm for a handshake. Instead, Sherman got shoved in the face before picking up his personal foul as his celebration continued. The taunt included a choking gesture in the direction of Kaepernick.
Asked about the incident afterward by Fox reporter Erin Andrews, Sherman lit up Twitter with a rant that began: "I'm the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you gonna get. Don't you ever talk about me!"
And Sherman didn't back down later, apologizing to Andrews but calling Crabtree "mediocre." He said his issues with Crabtree went back to an incident during the offseason.
“It's great competition,” Harbaugh said after the game. “Not many people get to be in this arena. I'm proud of our guys for the fight they showed today and all season.”
While Sherman may have had issues with Crabtree then, he didn’t with the 49ers. Sherman is now in his second season playing for San Francisco.
Here’s a closer look at how that game influenced each franchise:
The 49ers slumped following the title game loss. After NFC championship game losses sandwiched around a Super Bowl defeat, the 49ers slumped to 8-8 in 2014. Harbaugh left to return to his college alma mater at Michigan starting a revolving door of coaches in San Francisco. Jim Tomsula lasted one year going 5-11. Chip Kelly went 2-14 in 2016 and was immediately shown the door.
But Kyle Shanahan has the 49ers on the rise again. Shanahan went 10-22 combined in his first two seasons, but with QB Jimmy Garoppolo healthy following a knee injury last season, and one of the best defenses in the NFL, the 49ers can clinch their first NFC West title since 2012 with a victory this Sunday against Seattle.
The Seahawks followed up the title game victory by claiming their only Super Bowl title in franchise history, a dominant blowout of Denver. Seattle won the NFC the next year but threw away a chance at repeat titles when New England’s Malcolm Butler intercepted Wilson at the goal line preserving the Patriots' 28-24 win. The Seahawks have gone to the playoffs four more times since that Super Bowl loss, including winning the NFC West in 2016. This season will be Seattle’s eighth playoff appearance in Carroll’s 10 seasons in charge.
Here are some other memorable matchups between the Seahawks and 49ers as they prepare to face each other on Sunday night with the NFC West title at stake:
2002: The “Sharpie Game.” Brash 49ers wide receiver Terrell Owens had a permanent marker tucked inside his sock. After catching a 37-yard touchdown from Jeff Garcia for what turned out to be the game-winning score, Owens pulled the marker from his sock, autographed the football and handed it to his financial adviser sitting in an end zone suite. To make matters worse, Owens beat Shawn Springs for the winning score and the financial adviser — who represented both Springs and Owens — was sitting in Springs’ suite.
"I just tried to be creative,” Owens said. “I was just trying to have fun. It was a situation where I knew we would be going to the end zone in the fourth quarter.”
2014: Turkey at midfield. After beating the 49ers 19-3 in a Thanksgiving night matchup, Wilson and Sherman sat at a makeshift table on the 49ers midfield logo set up by NBC and dined on some turkey following the victory. Sherman later walked off the field carrying the remainder of the turkey over his head to the locker room.
Sherman was told earlier this season the postgame antics didn’t sit well with some of the 49ers at the time.
“Maybe that was the problem that year," Sherman said in November. “Maybe the score should have pissed you off, and I wouldn't have been eating turkey leg out there. Because if we had lost, they would have been eating turkey on the field."
2019: The first matchup earlier this season was one of the better games of the 42 the teams have played. Seattle won 27-24 in overtime on Jason Myers’ 42-yard field goal on the final play of the extra session. It was a wild game that saw both teams score defensive touchdowns, both teams miss chances to win early in overtime and eventually ended with Seattle knocking the 49ers from the ranks of the unbeaten. The victory helped set the stage for Sunday’s division-deciding matchup.
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