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Sherman, Saleh pumping brakes on rivalry talk against former Seahawks colleagues

© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe the tune will change by Week 17, when the 49ers face the Seattle Seahawks on the road. Maybe it will just take another on-field reunion, or the late-season immediacy of a game with divisional superiority on the line.

Or, maybe nothing changes.

If that’s the case, all the talk of the 49ers and Seahawks renewing their rivalry—one which was borne in the outset of the decade and evaporated in the latter half—will lack the charming denigrations its most prolific talker, Richard Sherman. He’s talked of how the Seahawks “lost their way” in the past and expressed frustrations with how he felt unfairly ushered out the door, but on Friday, none of that was discussed.

It’s the first time since Sherman’s moved to the Santa Clara side that both teams are playing at similar competitive capacity, but he was reserved when asked about playing his former employer and teammates. He was complimentary of Russell Wilson (22 passing touchdowns, three rushing, one interception), but stopped short of saying he’s the MVP frontrunner.

“I mean he’s making great throws. Him and [Tyler] Lockett have a great connection, they’re doing a hell of a job,” Sherman said. “They’ve been efficient, they’ve won some close games. They’ve battled through and [Wilson] has been a big reason.”

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who was a defensive quality control coach in Seattle from 2011-13, said, like Sherman did, that he views the importance of the matchup in its divisional ramifications, not for its storyline. Neither Sherman nor Saleh bit on the suggestion that there might be more emotions or payoff in beating the Seahawks, other than the massive advantage it would provide in securing both a playoff spot and a 3-0 NFC West standing.

“I remember it,” Saleh said of the rivalry from when he was in Seattle. “I’m going to be honest with you, the message has always been that it’s just another championship moment. I know it’s cliché and I get for the fans and the media and everyone around it, it gets very exciting, but in-house, and even in this building, not to disregard the team because they are a very good football team, but they are another Championship team just like Arizona was, just like Carolina was, Pittsburgh and everybody else we’ve played and just like whoever we play next week will be.”

That courteousness seems to extend on both sides. The unnervingly nice Wilson provided a typically glowing review when asked about Sherman.

“Sherm looks like classic Sherm, just a ball hawk, a guy who can make a lot of plays. Just smart as can be. Going up against him is always a challenge,” Wilson said. “I know not to go over there too much. He’s as good as it gets over there. I’ve got a lot of respect for Sherm and how he plays the game. He really understands things, sees things well, so you got to be really smart when you go over there.”

Carroll, who some of Sherman’s gripes appeared to lie with when he departed Seattle, was just as cordial as everyone else, saying on a Thursday conference call that he believes Saleh has what it takes to become a head coach and that Sherman is still as Sherman as ever.

“I think [Sherman’s] playing great. He’s doing great stuff,” Carroll said. “There’s nobody that understands the game at his position better than he does. He’s savvy; he’s smart, he’s tough, he’s a playmaker. He’s doing everything just like he’s capable. I don’t see any drop off in his game at all.”

This is not to say that there won’t be testy moments, or the rivalry between the 49ers and Seahawks won’t be renewed in some respect, but it won’t ever be what it once was. The identity and demeanor of the Kyle Shanahan-led 49ers stands in sharp, pragmatic contrast to the Jim Harbaugh-era 49ers.

As the head coaches go, so too do the players, and where Harbaugh was something of a firebrand, get you hyped enough to run through a wall type coach, Shanahan doesn’t need much of that pomp and circumstance.

Shanahan cuts through to what works and what doesn’t with little fanfare and heavy doses of film study. Just as he has an affinity for digesting New England Patriots tape, his approach is similar to New England’s in that it’s founded in business above all else. If the embers of this rivalry are to be stoked once again, it will be almost solely on the field. That once-undeniable 49ers-Seahawks din seems to have been quieted in the locker room, at least for now.


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