Running back Tim Hightower makes a move against 49ers cornerback Shawnte Spencer in a game between Arizona and San Francisco last season.
It started on Twitter this week, a back-and-forth between Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and 49ers linebacker Takeo Spikes.
Spikes wanted to know from Dockett why the Cards had a 3-7 record. Dockett first responded by saying he could ask the same of Spikes. But since Spikes asked first, Dockett then said "not enough characters on twitter to explain.dam,dam,dam."
When the season first started, Monday night's game between the Cards and 49ers was going to be a showdown for the NFC West. Dockett and 49ers' players battled via Twitter all offseason. The 49ers were confident they would dethrone the two-time NFC West champs. The Cards felt good they could three-peat.
Then both teams struggled through their first 10 games.
"At this point, we wish our record was better," Dockett said. "They wish the same thing. But we've all got one thing on our mind, and that's getting a fourth win."
Said 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, "I think it is going to be a good Monday night game. Hopefully it won't go like the last two Monday night games (blowouts with the Eagles over the Redskins and the Chargers over the Broncos). I don't know what those teams are, they're supposed to be the prima donna teams of the league and look how that looked."
The actual meaning of the game may have faded a bit (although the loser will be the sole resident of last place, instead of first) but the intensity likely will not have changed. There is too much between the teams to have that fade.
"This is emotional," running back Tim Hightower said. "It wouldn't matter if we were both 0-10."
This summer, Dockett traded enough Tweets with San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis that the rivalry got a significant offseason boost. Quarterback Derek Anderson felt some of that as soon as he signed in April, saying Wednesday that he "understood" the rivalry based on conversations he had with new teammates and "I'll just leave it at that" he added with a grin.
One can only imagine what Dockett or someone else might have told him.
"There's no love lost," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.
The Cardinals are still smarting from being swept by the 49ers last season, including a difficult season-opening loss at University of Phoenix Stadium and then an embarrassing meltdown in san Francisco in December on "Monday Night Football."
But the Cards could turn back to their two straight division titles and finishing two games ahead of the Niners.
That help set up an offseason of jawing and, as Dockett pointed out, the need to circle Nov. 29 on the calendar – until, of course, the rest of the season happened first and both teams underachieved.
In some ways, it may make Monday that much more intense.
"A rivalry comes down to a true dislike and being physical," said linebacker Joey Porter, someone else going through the matchup for the first time. "Obviously they feel a certain way about us, and we feel a certain way about them. That's what I love about football. I wish it was this way every week."
Willis was more succinct. "When you put on that chinstrap," he said, "you have no friends."
The Cardinals and 49ers have a second meeting in San Francisco to close the regular season Jan. 2. That was supposed to be an epic way to end the year, although it's looking less so. Coach Ken Whisenhunt knows the NFC West isn't decided yet, but also understands it's a moot point if the Cards don't start winning games first.
Starting with the 49ers sounds good to the Cards.
"They took it to us pretty good last year," running back Tim Hightower said. "So we have to win. We have to win. At whatever cost."
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