By Ernie Palladino
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Rex Ryan and his boys might talk a lot when the Jets get together with the Giants or Patriots. But nothing compares to the white-hot feelings that a former Jets coach will get for his rival this Sunday.
That would be Pete Carroll, whose first tour in the NFL with the Jets didn’t end anywhere near as well as his current journey will. The bet here is that Seattle winds up in the Super Bowl after Sunday’s tete-a-tete with Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers. But it won’t be without a lot of tough, possibly dirty play that rises out of the hate-hate relationship Carroll and Harbaugh have fostered over the years.
Ryan and any other mouthy coach have nothing on these two. Harbaugh and Carroll have been battling since 2009, when Carroll coached USC, long after the Jets fired him after his single-season, 6-10 go-around in 1994.
Harbaugh was at Stanford at the time; had a decent team, actually. Decent enough to run up the score on Carroll. The USC coach had but one question for Harbaugh after that.
“What’s your deal?” Carroll asked, setting in motion a decade of animosity between the two.
Their relationship grew no better in the NFL, either. In 2011, Harbaugh’s rookie season with the Niners and Carroll’s second with the Seahawks, the Niners came out of Seattle with a 19-17 win on Christmas Eve to knock Seattle out of the playoffs at 7-8. The Niners went on to lose to the Giants in the NFC Championship Game.
Now, Sunday’s matchup might have been interesting enough had the bad blood stopped there. But then Harbaugh continued to add fuel to the competitive and personal fire when he petitioned the NFL office after he BEAT Seattle, 13-6, in the first meeting of 2012 for a rules review on pass coverage. Harbaugh thought cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner were a bit too hands-on, so to speak, in defending his receivers.
“I mean, what is all this being defined as?” Harbaugh asked. “Is it physical play? Is it within the rules?”
To all that, Carroll had but one word: “Hypocrite.” It seemed that just two weeks before, Harbaugh had called out Kevin Gilbride when the Giants’ coordinator complained that defensive end Justin Smith got away with holding offensive linemen. Harbaugh called it “an incendiary comment” aimed at one of the “truly exemplary” players in the league. He accused Gilbride of trying to criticize and influence the officiating of games.
“Wasn’t it just a couple weeks ago when they were talking about not doing things like that?” Carroll told a Seattle radio station. “You know, I thought there was something about that, you know? Where we don’t go out and express our concerns and all?”
That same season, the Seahawks beat up the Niners, 42-13, in a game highlighted by safety Kam Chancellor’s monster hit on Vernon Davis.
Then, Harbaugh stuck his nose in where it didn’t belong. When four Seahawks were suspended for the first four games of 2013 for banned substances, Harbaugh commented that he’d definitely noticed a trend about Seattle’s suspensions. And then he went a step further by saying the 49ers would never, ever violate the PED policy.
“You want to be above reproach,” he said. “Especially when you’re good, because you don’t want people to come back and say, ‘They’re winning because they’re cheating.’”
Browner responded by saying he’d like to get his hands around Harbaugh’s neck.
Only a couple of days before this year’s Week 2 matchup, Niners running back Anthony Dixon called Seattle the “She-Hawks” on Twitter. Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright answered back, calling Harbaugh’s team the “Forty-Whiners.”
With all this animosity floating around between the coaches, it can only carry over to the on-field play. This one, played at CenturyLink Field, could take the postseason prize as far as overall chippiness. On top of that, a few altercations could turn Seattle’s home field into an unbearable place. The 12th man has already caused the earth to shake, and if you don’t believe that, just check the three seismographs that measured the vibrations. Let Seattle win this one against a despised coach like Harbaugh, and they might have to rebuild the whole city.
There’s just nothing like a little hate to spice up a conference title game.
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