SEATTLE -- Bubba Ventrone, one the 49ers' new special-teams aces, awaits his initiation Sunday night into one of the NFL's biggest battles: 49ers vs. Seahawks.
"Just watching this new rivalry the last couple years as an outsider, you can tell there's hatred on both sides," Ventrone said.
There's also top-flight similarities between the teams: tough defenses, old-school running backs (see: Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch), young studs at quarterback (see: Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson) and high-wired coaches.
This rivalry's great divide often unfolds on special teams. Returns, punts, kickoffs, field-goal attempts -- they've all factored into this series' evolution the past two years during the 49ers' rebirth under coach Jim Harbaugh.
The 49ers are 3-1 in those games, losing only Dec. 23 when the Seahawks routed them 42-13.
Special-teams highlights began in the 2011 season opener, with Ted Ginn Jr.'s kickoff and punt returns for fourth-quarter touchdowns helping to secure a 49ers victory. Then there was the early death blow to the 49ers in last season's defeat: Richard Sherman's 90-yard touchdown return of a blocked field goal for a 21-0 lead.
Defenses have made punts and field goals more common in this rivalry than any Sharpie-signed touchdown ball (see: Owens, Terrell).
"It's going to be obviously an intense game," Ventrone said. "The No. 1 thing for us is to play physical."
Linebacker Patrick Willis overheard Ventrone's statement and responded: "That's why I'm a fan of yours."
Ventrone, a seventh-year veteran who joined the 49ers in June, is responsible for patrolling the middle of the field on all four kicking and punting units. He most notably is in the backfield as punter Andy Lee's personal protector.
"Special teams in general, every play is high intensity, every play is a sprint and full-speed collision," said Ventrone, who made his NFL debut with the New England Patriots in 2007 and spent the past four seasons with the Cleveland Browns.
Ventrone was one of 10 players assigned only to special-teams duty in the 49ers' 34-28 season-opening win over the Green Bay Packers. The others: Tramaine Brock, Anthony Dixon, Craig Dahl, Dan Skuta, Nick Moody, Corey Lemonier and the three specialists -- Lee, kicker Phil Dawson and rookie long snapper Kevin McDermott.
Moody sustained a broken hand that's put him on short-term injured reserve, and he's been replaced by Kassim Osgood, an 11th-year veteran whose special-teams prowess has sent him to three Pro Bowls.
"We have a philosophy that special teams takes precedence over offense and defense, because it gives you a huge advantage," Osgood said. "With the parity in our league for offense and defense, special teams is an ace in the pocket for us."
Harbaugh noted that special-teams importance is emphasized every week and not just against the Seahawks. Spillman echoed that, adding: "We're doing what we can do individually to make our unit grow and shine."
Here are the special-teams highlights from the 49ers' and Seahawks' past meetings:
Ventrone made for a good special-teams spokesman when he said: "I hope people look at me as a tough, physical, fast player, and you need that to play special teams. You can't have any reservations."