They sit shoulder to shoulder as football commentators but don’t always see eye to eye, especially when it comes to a particularly intense NFL rivalry.
Andrew Whitworth and Richard Sherman, now Prime Video teammates as “Thursday Night Football” analysts, once stood on either side of the sports divide separating Los Angeles and Bay Area.
Whitworth played left tackle for the Rams, Sherman played cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers. Both were All-Pro selections. Both are on track for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
They’re realistic about the landscape — the Rams haven’t beaten the 49ers in the regular season since 2018 — even though they once saw the football world in shades of blue and red. The Rams play host to the 49ers on Sunday.
“It’s hard to call it a rivalry,” said Sherman, who played for the 49ers from 2018 through ‘20. “Because we’ve won all the matchups.”
Well, not all of them. The Rams are 1-8 in their last nine games against the 49ers, but that lone win was a huge one, a 20-17 triumph in the NFC championship game two seasons ago. That paved the way for the Rams to win the Super Bowl on their home field.
San Francisco swept the regular-season series that season, overcoming a 17-0 deficit to win a Week 18 finale in L.A. That loss proved to be a turning point for the Rams.
“After the game, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh man, we let them off the hook,’ ” Whitworth said. “The talk was, ‘Wow, those dudes are really freaking good.’ So when we played them in the NFC championship, that was the first time we played them as, `They’re going to beat us if we don’t play great.’
“Instead of us thinking of ourselves as Drago and they’re Rocky, we finally flipped it and it was like, ‘Oh crap, we’re actually Rocky.’ ”
Home doesn’t always feel like home when the 49ers are in town. Fans of the 49ers paint the place red, paying top dollar for seats and triumphantly referring to the place as Levi’s Stadium South.
Among the objectives of the NFL in returning to L.A. after a 20-year absence was rekindling the rivalry between Northern and Southern California. That has happened quicker than anyone might have expected. In four of the last five years, either Rams, 49ers or both have reached the conference championship game.
“L.A. is such a transplant city,” said Sherman, who grew up in Compton and played collegiately at Stanford. “If it was the Raiders, it would be an even crazier rivalry because they have such a fan base in L.A. For the Rams, it’s probably an odd situation.”
The Rams have done their part on the field under coach Sean McVay, reaching the Super Bowl twice in the five seasons and tying New Orleans for the most wins in the NFC since 2017.
McVay and 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan are close friends with a history of working together, and have a fiercely competitive rivalry of their own. The Rams and 49ers have competed for many of the same coveted acquisitions over the years, among them Pierre Garcon, Aqib Talib, Matthew Stafford and Christian McCaffrey.
“Kyle’s just had Sean’s number,” Sherman said. “I don’t know if it’s schematic, if it’s mental, what it is. Kyle’s mentality has always been really aggressive.”
Whereas the 49ers led by Joe Montana and Steve Young were often regarded as finesse teams, today’s versions rely more on brute force. The 49ers might be the most physical opponent the Rams will play all season.
San Francisco is loaded on offense, with preternaturally polished quarterback Brock Purdy distributing the ball to stars Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle.
Wreaking havoc on defense are standouts such as Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, Arik Armstead and Drake Jackson, the second-year defensive end from USC who collected three sacks in a Week 1 blowout of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Sean’s always been able to put guys in advantageous positions, and when he plays Kyle Shanahan, Shanahan does the same thing,” Whitworth said. “So that’s over with. So now it truly comes down to players on players, and I think roster-wise and how [the 49ers] were built, they are just better than the Rams are.
“[The 49ers’] roster is built on physicality and toughness and how they play snap in and snap out. Our roster has been built on high-priced four, five, six guys and the rest is hopefully we made good decisions.”
In light of that, it’s no surprise that the 49ers are favored Sunday by 7½ points. They were in the NFC title game last season, and almost certainly would have given the Philadelphia Eagles much more trouble had Purdy not suffered a devastating elbow injury.
The Rams, meanwhile, had a constantly rotating cast of offensive linemen, dealt with all sorts of injuries, and followed their Super Bowl victory with a five-win season.
It has to give San Francisco pause, though, that the Rams looked remarkably solid last Sunday in a 30-13 victory at Seattle, even with star receiver Cooper Kupp sidelined by a hamstring injury. The offensive line protected Stafford, who had that pinpoint accuracy of two years ago, and the defense held the Seahawks to a mere 12 yards in the second half.
The Rams’ first possession against the Seahawks was their longest opening drive since at least 2000, a 16-play, 75-yard marathon that consumed 9 minutes and 13 seconds.
By Whitworth’s thinking, the Rams — the league’s second-youngest team to Green Bay — will need that type of maturity, patience and efficiency to pull off an upset Sunday.
“Right now, their goal should be to win that type of decision against the 49ers,” he said. “Like, `Let’s try to win a decision. Let’s take these dudes into the fourth quarter and be in a tight game, and see if we can find the play.’
“They’ve got to play nasty and dirty and physical and everything else, and say, `Let’s take this thing into the fourth quarter and see what happens.’ ”