There will be blood.
The San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals do not like each other and haven’t for quite some time. Although this is not a rivalry that most analysts think is on par with Steelers/Ravens, Patriots/Jets, Packers/Bears or Cowboys/Giants, to the human beings that wear the color-scheme of their respective team this Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium, this is a personal rivalry worthy of any in the NFL.
Professionally, it has not produced the results that most people would agree makes a rivalry game. Last December, the Cardinals beat the 49ers for the first time in their last six meetings, 21-19. Prior to that game, the 49ers had won five straight, with four of those victories by 15 points or more.
But the competitive nature of this rivalry does not exist in the cold, lifeless paradigm of a win-loss column or the stark print of a stat sheet. What makes this a rivalry are the human beings that play the game and the way they feel about each other. This rivalry exists within the hearts and minds of people that genuinely don’t like each other when they step between the white lines of conflict.
Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell told the world on Tuesday, “I really hate the 49ers with a passion.”
“Hate is a strong word,” San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith said. “I mean, they’re a division opponent. Obviously there’s a lot of history there, we play them twice a year. Great rivalry; hate is a word I wouldn’t use.”
Outside of the white lines, Alex Smith is 100% correct. Hate is bad, unless you’re talking about hating a logo or a uniform. My old coach, Gene Stallings, used to say, “Brother, you gotta hate the enemy. I want players that hate the enemy.”
Of course Gene Stallings wasn’t talking about hating the person, he was talking about hating the opponent, the faceless man that had no name, only a number, that lined up across from you. And anyone that knows Calais Campbell knows he would have a hard time hating Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor.
But Campbell’s “hate” of the 49ers does not belie the feelings of his teammates or how the 49ers feel about the Cardinals.
“I can’t wait to go out there and stick it to them,” Campbell said. “And Alex Smith I’ve gotten down a few times, so I know he’s thinking about me a little bit.”
The 49ers play a physical brand of football. They have the number two rushing team in the NFL and they have the best average yards per carry in the league at 5.89. They line up and pound defenses between the tackles with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. And their defense is the strength of the team.
But particulars, schemes and stats are really not what make this game fascinating to me. It’s the essence of the Blood Sport and the probability that people are going to hit the ground hard, be driven into the dirt with malice and that buckles will scrape across backs that has me frothing at the mouth.
“I feel like every time we play each other these are just physical battles,” Smith said. “Most of the time they are coming down to the end, and they are hard-fought games.”
It will be physical. And if you’re looking to decipher how physical this game is on Monday, look at the Spank-O-Meter to determine who is winning that battle. What is the plus/minus in average yards per carry (must have a minimum difference of more than a yard to win the category)? What is the plus/minus on big hits? What is the plus/minus in caused fumbles? And what is the plus/minus for injuries that occur (this has NOTHING to do with bounties)?
Score a point for each team that wins a category. The team that has the most points owns the Spank-O-Meter; ties are allowed.
The banner of brutality will fly on Monday night and the team that holds the Spank-O-Meter at the end of the game will most likely win this game and claim the crown of the NFC West.