By Ed Guzman
Ed Guzman, who grew up in Southern California and grew up a Lakers and Dodgers fan, writes about why the Seahawks-49ers game is so compelling. He is an assistant sports editor for The Seattle Times.
The excitement and anxiety of Sunday’s Seahawks-49ers NFC title game felt so familiar, but at first I couldn’t figure out why. I’m not from here, and I am not a fan of either team.
And then memories of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce started dancing in my head, and it hit me:
It’s the feeling of playing your most hated rival for a championship. That’s what these Seahawks fans are feeling, and it’s a high-risk, high-reward proposition.
I grew up in L.A. watching the Lakers, and thanks to the “Showtime” era, I became a lifelong fan. Other than perhaps the Kirk Gibson home run (I’m also a Dodgers fan), I can think of no greater childhood sports memory than the Magic Johnson junior sky hook that beat the Celtics in Boston Garden in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals.
All those highlights of Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Michael Cooper and Byron Scott running the break, of Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s graceful sky hook, of Chick Hearn’s “words-eye view” making it all come to life will live in my mind forever. But the moments that resonate the most, that make those memories truly matter, were those championship showdowns with the Celtics.
They met three times in the 1980s, with the Lakers losing in a hard-fought seven-game series in 1984, only to redeem themselves in 1985. The third meeting in 1987 also went to the Lakers, though a hobbled and proud Celtics team pushed them hard. They renewed acquaintances in this past decade, with the Celtics winning in six games in 2008 before the Lakers beat the Celtics in a Game 7 for the first time ever to nab the title in 2010.
I think as fans we tell ourselves that when our team is navigating the road to a championship, we want them to go through the absolute best teams to get there. When they win, it feels exhilarating. The problem is, there’s a chance your team could lose. And losing to your biggest rival only feels that much more devastating.
That’s certainly how those Lakers-Celtics matchups feel to me. I never get tired of watching Game 6 of the 1985 Finals, when the Lakers finally knocked off the Celtics – in Boston Garden, no less. I always smile when I see the clip of owner Jerry Buss, while happily holding the trophy, declare: “This has removed the most odious sentence in the English language. It can never again be said that the Lakers have never beaten the Celtics.” I also love watching Game 7 of the 2010 Finals, as grinding and intense a basketball game as I’ll likely ever see, that finally saw the Lakers emerge triumphant.
On the flip side, I can’t stand watching Kurt Rambis get clotheslined by Kevin McHale or James Worthy throwing the ball away to Gerald Henderson in the 1984 Finals. I have never gone back and watched Game 4 of the 2008 Finals, when the Lakers blew a 24-point lead at home and let the Celtics go up 3-1 in the series.
Is it rational? Of course not.
But these are the stakes for Seahawks fans Sunday. Win, and you can lord it over 49ers fans forever and it’ll always be in your top five greatest moments as a sports fan. Every time you see a highlight or replay of it on TV, you’ll always take a moment to watch it.
Lose, and you’ll never want to think about this game again, but it will always haunt you. That’s what squaring off with your most bitter rival does to you.
High risk. High reward.
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