TEMPE, Ariz. — In a way, a rivalry is really in the eye of the beholder.
Sure, there are your universally accepted battles — Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees, pancakes vs. waffles and dogs vs. cats — but often times, especially in sports, what may be a rivalry to one side isn’t really to the other.
Such is the case when it comes to the Arizona Cardinals against the Seattle Seahawks.
Sure, there have been rivalry-like moments. In 2013, Arizona QB Carson Palmer hit receiver Michael Floyd for a 31-yard touchdown that propelled the Cardinals to a 17-10 win in Seattle, ending a 14-game winning streak the Seahawks had in the building. And last season, the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch made an obscene gesture while capping off a 79-yard touchdown run in a 35-6 win over the Cardinals that, for all intents and purposes, locked up the NFC West for Seattle.
Each team has won in its opponent’s building in each of the last two seasons, and both the Cardinals and Seahawks are two of the best teams the NFC has to offer. Yet, in terms of rivalries, this is not one.
“Not very big, because it’s not a rivalry unless you win,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of their matchups. “We haven’t won long enough to make it a rivalry. We’ve got to beat them two or three times to make it a rivalry.”
Makes sense, right?
Since the Seahawks and Cardinals each joined the NFC West in 2002, Seattle has won 15 of 26 meetings. And since Pete Carroll became the ‘Hawks’ head coach in 2010, his team has held a 7-3 advantage. Sure, the Cardinals swept the season series in both 2008 and 2009, but other than that brief stretch of dominance, this matchup has generally gone Seattle’s way.
Then again, there’s a reason why the Seahawks are the two-time defending NFC Champions. They have been good. Really, really good.
The Cardinals are also a good team, and at 6-2 enter this tilt two games ahead of Seattle in the NFC West, with a chance to take a giant step forward in their quest to claim the division for the first time since 2009. They know in order to be the best they must beat the best, and for the most part, the best has been the Seahawks.
From Arizona’s perspective, until they knock them off their perch, a rivalry this is not.
“Probably not on their side,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “I know they’ve had something going with the 49ers for a while. But it is for us.”
Since 2010, the only team other than the Seahawks to win the division is the 49ers, and indeed the two teams have had some memorable — and important — battles.
For their part, the Cardinals are simply just hoping to join in on the fun.
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who has been with the team since 2010, said the Cardinals are a rival simply because they are an NFC West opponent.
“Yeah. All division games are, in a way, a rivalry because you’re so familiar with the opponent,” he said. “You play them more than you play any other teams in the NFL, so there’s a familiarity there. There’s a sense of accomplishment when you win these games, but there’s also a sense of what’s at stake in the long run.”
Indeed, a win for the Seahawks would vault them back into the divisional race, while an Arizona victory would toss another shovel’s worth of onto Seattle’s hopes for a third straight NFC West crown. That more than anything that has happened in the past between the teams, is where the focus is.
“It’s huge,” Palmer said of this game. “There’s no doubt about it that every guy in that locker room knows it. We talked about it right before bye week. We talked about it when we got back and it didn’t need to be talked about. It’s very well understood.”
The Seahawks have been where the Cardinals would like to go, and this season may be the one where Arizona is finally ready to arrive.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is how rivalries — real rivalries — are born.
“Well, you don’t really like to X out anybody but pretty sure the division’s going to come down to one of us,” defensive back Tyrann Mathieu said. “So we have to be ready. Our big playmakers have to make big plays and we have to score points and we have to tackle.”