This morning ESPN has a segment of their program dedicated to sports rivalries. In it they mentioned the Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning rivalry, the Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson rivalry, the Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier rivalry, along with a few others. Great rivalries in their own right no doubt, the stories associated with those individuals are legendary or will be legendary. But watching those highlights begs the question, who are or who were the San Francisco 49ers rivals? Do the 49ers have a history of marking one opponent or another as a legitimate rival?
In short, yes, the 49ers do have opponents that they consider rivals, and they have had rivals in the past as well. Currently many fans are viewing the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants as rivals to the 49ers. Both those teams have had the 49ers number the past two years. The Ravens beat the 49ers in the Super Bowl this year and they beat them in a regular season game in 2011. The same goes for the Giants, they beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship game during the 2011-2012 season and they beat them again during a regular season contest this past season. It’s fair to say that 49ers fans consider both those teams to be rivals. If the term rival lends itself in any way to the phrase "thorn in the side"? That’s what it ultimately means right? To have a certain distaste for an opponent based on past experiences.
And what of the Seattle Seahawks, they should get a nod in the rivalry department when it comes to the 49ers. These two teams hate each other, and they are not afraid to take to the media to express their dislike for one another. And the games they play against each other are some of the hardest hitting and most violent contests each and every year. And they are in the same division, so fans are awarded at least two of those contests per year. There is not a doubt that Seahawks fans and 49ers fans consider themselves to be bitter rivals. The rivalry could only become more epic if they met in the NFC Championship game.
Those rivalries are good, but the clear standout for 49ers rivals is the Dallas Cowboys. This rivalry dates back to the 1970’s, when they met in the first two NFC Championship games ever held. The 49ers and Cowboys have met in the NFC Championship game on six different occasions. Most notably in the 1981 NFC Championship game that featured one of the most iconic plays in NFL history, "The Catch". They also met in the NFC Championship game three years in a row in the 1990’s, with Troy Aikman and Steve Young at quarterback airing it out. Both organizations have five Super Bowl victories under their belt. And there is not a doubt that Cowboys fans were rooting against the 49ers when they entered the Super Bowl this year. Granted the rivalry has died off in recent years due to lack luster teams, but all it takes is one good year by both teams to meet in another pivotal game. If they are lucky enough to meet in the NFC Championship game again, there is little doubt that the rivalry of the past will again spark to life and bring on a new era of Cowboys versus 49ers lore.
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