The greatest rivalries in the NFL are defined by the play on the field, but those rivalries can extend to the fan bases as well.
Football games become a matter of regional pride, and styles and reputations of certain cities are highlighted and often mocked.
In the past two AFC championships, the Patriots were pitted against the Ravens in a classic battle in which the teams mirrored the cities in many ways, with Boston as the more corporate and primarily white city demographically, and Baltimore as the grittier city better representing the black community.
The rivalry between the Seahawks and 49ers has taken the torch as the most intense over the past two years.
San Francisco fans have long had to deal with homophobic slurs due to their city’s gay-friendly history and tolerant reputation. That has likely dropped in recent years as such offensive language generates more negative publicity.
But in this rivalry, the gloves came off a long time ago, and nothing is sacred. Certain Seahawks fans will continue the homophobic slurs, but the more educated ones have mostly turned their vitriol to a new target, the 49ers' quarterback, Colin Kaepernick.
The third-year quarterback of the 49ers has received criticism in the past for his tattoos, most of which says more about the person dishing out the criticism than Kaepernick himself or his abilities on the football field.
In strictly football terms, Kaepernick and Wilson are more similar than they are different. There are the classic pocket passers like Manning and Brady and the dual threat quarterbacks like Kaepernick and Wilson. They also have other critical football characteristics in common, including that they were also both were drafted outside the first round, so they play with a chip on their shoulders after being overlooked by so many teams.
Both of them are still on their relatively cheap rookie contracts, so both of their teams have benefited by being able to spend money on other areas. Both quarterbacks also have inherited tremendous defenses that allow them to have subpar games and still pull out victories in the end.
But there is no question that Kaepernick markets himself with a different style than his counterpart in Seattle. Kaepernick kisses his bicep after scoring touchdowns, while Wilson makes no such gestures that draw attention to himself and away from the team. Kaepernick is six inches taller and plays for an intense and emotional coach.
Wilson’s coach is similarly fiery, but in a more positive and professional way. Some of their differences in behavior may have to do with differences in their individual backgrounds. Kaepernick was raised by adopted parents and is currently single; Wilson was raised in a more traditional household and is married.
Many of the other dual threat quarterbacks also happen to be black, or in this case, partially black. Wilson’s racial background includes black, white and Native American roots. Kaepernick’s biological mother is white, and little is known about his biological father, but Kaepernick’s skin tone would suggest that he has a mixed race background which includes some African-American descent as well. The mere fact that both quarterbacks share these racial similarities allows fans to make apples to apples personal comparisons between the two that are often unfair.
A recent side-by-side comparison of their Instagram accounts by a Seahawks fan has gone viral this week. The pictures would suggest that Wilson is a charitable family man that dresses and acts the part of an NFL quarterback, while Kaepernick is a self-centered narcissist that is only concerned about his own image and success. While social media behavior can reveal a few things about a person's character, the importance of that is limited and this comparison was merely just an shameless attempt by an opposing fan to cast Kaepernick in a negative light.
The most interesting thing about the rivalry as a fan of neither team is the bitterness and racially charged banter between opposing fans. It’s almost as if since both quarterbacks are black, fans of all races feel they can say anything they want about one, since they are balancing it out with praise for the other.
So using the most common and offensive stereotypes for superstar black athletes that are perceived to be selfish when discussing Kaepernick is okay since Wilson is perceived as the complete opposite. And 49ers fans who call Wilson an overly religious goodie two shoes or Uncle Tom are guilty of the same prejudice. Some of the racist comments are subtle, others are more overt. But all of them turn well-meaning fan exchanges into heated personal arguments.
In a league where the appropriate use of the N-word has been debated twice this season already, this sort of stereotyping does not create an environment that is healthy and respectful between fans. Such intensity will make for an entertaining battle between the lines on Sunday, but hopefully no tragedies off the field as a result.