The San Francisco 49ers used to own the NFC West division. The division was almost like their own personal practice ground, to sharpen up their skills, freshen up, and get ready for those season determining contests with serious NFC threats.
The last decade, however, has seen a kind of twisting and turning within a division that is known for its underdogs and overachievers.
The Rams, Seahawks, and Cardinals have all won the NFC conference title within the last 10 years. This is pretty remarkable when you consider the reputation of the division as a whole.
The division itself has long been a favorite division to underestimate. A division nobody cares about, until, of course, a team from the division takes your NFC conference title away right from under your nose.
Therein lies the true power of the division. Underdogs love to be underestimated.
The catbird seat
The Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals have had their way within the division in recent years.
Kurt Warner's embers for the game of football went dark this last off-season. However, Matt Hasselbeck's remain bright hot.
In fact, the Seattle Seahawks still imagine themselves perched high atop the NFC West division. They feel their crown was temporarily misplaced. Much like the 49ers, the departure of Warner makes for a perfect opportunity to go ahead and get it back.
You see, they have a proven quarterback. A quarterback they believe in. A quarterback who they don't think, but know, can lead them to an NFC conference title.
“But the Seahawks have fallen off a cliff, and are nowhere near the team they used to be.”
Perhaps. Their record has been less than spectacular the last several seasons, but it is undeniable that they have suffered an incredible amount of injuries during that time span. Not just to Hasselbeck, either, but to many key players throughout the roster.
Hasselbeck could not be more eager to prove that he can make a comeback, similar to Kurt Warner's famed revival with the Cardinals several years earlier.
Make no mistake.
The Arizona Cardinals are not the only team who believes the division is still theirs to lose. The Seattle Seahawks also believe that the division has only been on temporary lease to Kurt Warner's Cardinals, while they heal up, reload and refocus.
A team, and a quarterback, that has already proven itself, has the most to lose.
The Seattle Seahawks still identify themselves as the perennial NFC West division champions, and an identity, doesn't go down without a fight.
Bring back a trophy
Despite the Seahawks record, every game on their field has been a fight to the end. In fact, most teams in the league are rather surprised by the sheer weight of Qwest Field. It is perhaps the loudest stadium in the league.
It forces opposing offenses to use hand signals and tap each others shoulders, to simply line up correctly and snap the ball.
If the Seahawks want to give themselves a shot in the arm of confidence, and give themselves the belief that the division can once again be theirs, there is no better place then Qwest Field, and no better time then their home opener.
If the 49ers want to take back the division for themselves. They are going to have to do more than simply down a proud old seabird.
If the 49ers want their division back, they must not only survive the fight; they must make a statement. They must show Seattle that even with Hasselbeck at the controls, even on their home field, they can't compete with the 49ers new squad.
If the 49ers come back from Seattle, bruised, battered, beat-up and limping, questions will remain regarding who won the fight. At best, it will look like another fight where they got in a lucky hit or two, and then ran away, thanking their lucky stars they survived.
It's brutal, but the 49ers have to show Seattle, that their time is up. They have to throttle them before they even have a chance to wake up and take flight.
Surviving the fight, or coming away with a close win or loss will only show that perhaps the battle was won, but the war is far from over.
If the 49ers really do have a team this year, this is the time and the place to make their move.
This catbird needs to come back, tail high in the air, bird in mouth, with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
The bird that remains, can only be a shell, only a memory of what it once was.
The 49ers quest begins in Seattle. They must pluck the proud Seahawk off of its envisioned catbird seat, stuff it, and place it proudly upon the bookshelf.