The last time the 49ers played on Thanksgiving, most of the pregame hype was People magazine-type stuff.
The Harbaugh brothers were squaring off, it was historic in a sense, and that prompted all sorts of human-interest-angled questions:
For whom is mom going to root? Where is dad going to watch? Which brother would stuff chewed-up banana into the other’s when they were little boys? And which coach’s wife does Sister Harbaugh shop with, and which one gets the catty, behind-the-back comments about how dry her stuffing was the day after Thanksgiving?
The 49ers at that point had yet to re-establish themselves as a premier and/or exciting team in the league, and the Baltimore Ravens had established themselves as flat-out boring on the offensive side of the ball. Their defense was incredible, of course, but we all know offensive fireworks move the needle among today’s fans.
Everyone had a feeling it was going to be a boring and low-scoring game, and it didn’t disappoint. Or did. Whatever. Alex Smith was under center, got sacked nine times and the Ravens won a 16-6 snoozer.
The whole sibling rivalry didn’t add much juice after all. No Ben-Stiller-versus-the-museum-monkey slap fight after the game between brothers or anything. Kind of a rip-off all the way around.
But that’s what you get when you try to fabricate hype and, thankfully, there is no such need for today’s game. The 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks represent a legitimate, nasty, ongoing and important rivalry.
Even better, it’s the first of two games between the rivals in a three-week span. Better still, should one of the teams win both games, the other might very well miss the postseason altogether.
That’s a wrinkle nobody expected, and we have the Arizona Cardinals to thank for that. Going into the season, everyone figured the Niners and ’Hawks would be fighting it out for the division title, but the other was a virtual lock for a wild-card spot.
The NFL being all about parity now, though, teams can get a lot better in a hurry, and the Cardinals did just that. So these two games are crucial and that we have the revenge factor in the wake of last year’s NFC title game is an added bonus.
There are all sorts of subrivalries in play, too, headlined by Richard Sherman vs. Michael Crabtree and Jim Harbaugh vs. Pete Carroll. It really doesn’t get much better from a fan’s perspective, and that’s yet another thing for which we can all be supremely thankful.
You want predictions? Sorry. Not here. Too many unknowns on both sides of the equation. “Beast Mode” is unhappy, as is Ahmad Brooks and Crabtree.
What we do know for sure is that the game will be hypercompetitive, exciting and ultraviolent. And chances are that nobody will be arrested! Another added bonus.
So strap yourselves in, folks, for the first installment of a two-part miniseries.
Who knows? Maybe it’s the first of three. There’s always an NFC Championship Game rematch to consider, right?
Mychael Urban, a longtime Bay Area-based sportswriter and broadcaster, is the host of “Inside the Bigs,” which airs every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon on KGMZ “The Game” (95.7 FM).