One can’t separate the Seattle Seahawks from the 12th Man.
Blue flags with a white 12 fly all over the greater Seattle area. Before every home game, a local celebrity or former athlete raises the 12th Man Flag over CenturyLink Field. Fans wear jerseys with the number 12 and the player name “Fan.”
Arguments are made about how much influence fans have and how much validity is there when fans say “we” when speaking about the team.
But it’s different in Seattle.
We all know by now how loud CenturyLink Field gets during home games. It is the best home-field advantage in professional sports. Loud is not an adequate adjective. Cacophonous would be a better phrase. Perhaps painful. Noise at “The Clink,” as it’s called, has literally shaken the earth. But it’s more than noise.
It is the collective soul of a region crying out for success, attempting to shake off the torpor of defeat like so many rain showers that hover over the Pacific Northwest.
Not since the 1979 Super Sonics has the region featured a champion in any major professional sport. No offense to the two-time WNBA Champion Seattle Storm, but their stage is just not big enough. The NFL is broadcast the world over and is as big as it gets.
(As an aside, I supposed I could mention the 1917 Stanley Cup Champion Seattle Metropolitans, but I think even the NHL has forgotten about them.)
So when a Seattle fan expresses nervousness and doubt whenever the Seahawks or Mariners get close to their respective pantheons of greatness, it comes naturally.
The Mariners rarely emerged on the national scene with anything close to success. During a seven-year run starting in 1995, the M’s made the playoffs four times, including an impressive 2001 season where they won 116 games, sending their fans to fits of World Series wonder. But the sports gods, who have made it clear that Seattle was just a play thing, slapped reality in the team’s face by handing them the New York Yankees. The M’s went down in the American League Championship Series 4-1.
They haven’t even sniffed the playoffs since.
After the Super Sonics brought back hardware to Seattle, the team languished in old Key Arena. The team returned to competitiveness in the 1990s with Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, then later in 2007 with Kevin Durant, one of the brightest prospects in the NBA. But the writing was on the wall, and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who headed the ownership group, sold the team to Clay Bennett the year before, and the lawsuits ensued. As much as fans hoped the Sonics would stay, Bennett shattered fans’ hearts like a Dale Chihuly creation and moved the team to Oklahoma City – wherein the team has become one of the best in the Western Conference.
And the Seahawks? Sure, the likes of Steve Largent, Jim Zorn, Matt Hasselbeck, new Hall of Famer Walter Jones, and Shawn Alexander brought the team some success, but no one ever thought to look toward the Upper Left of the United States when identifying great franchises. The Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers … these are marquee franchises whose fan base extends beyond the realms of their home cities. But Seattle? Until this year, it was unlikely even those who style themselves ardent NFL fans could name many – if any – players on the roster.
Seattle came to expect this from its sports teams. No one ever gave them much of a thought, which was fine since the teams had the success to match.
No city wants to hear a “Oh, woe is us” story from another city’s fan base; no city with a major professional sports franchise has escaped its own period of inferiority and despair.
But how many have had the longevity, the almost pathological obsession with losing, always expecting the other shoe to drop?
That’s why 700,000 fans turned out on a cold, brisk Seattle afternoon to celebrate the Seahawks’ Super Bowl win. It was a collective, cathartic release of everything that was wrong with Seattle sports: stolen teams, free-agent busts (Brian Bosworth anyone?), getting so close to the top of the mountain (2001 Mariners, 2005 Seahawks in Super Bowl XL).
So many of those in attendance remembered the old days of the team. It became expected in Seattle that as soon as a Seattle team got close to anything, something would always happen. Either a superior team, or poor officiating, or something … something would come up and rip the heart right out of thousands of chests.
This could go on as a treatise on the Little City That Could finally receiving its gold star. But it’s more on how a team can so enrobe itself in the adoration of its fans that it pulls that very spirit and strength into itself.
The Seattle Seahawks are nearly unbeatable at home. The 12th Man has caused the most false-start penalties in the league. The noise in unbearable. The passion is incredible.
In a neutral site, as the Super Bowl was, the fan noise was not expected to be as much a factor. However, Peyton Manning will likely say otherwise, and the representatives of the 12th Man who made themselves known at MetLife Stadium forced themselves into the fabric of the game.
Photos of Seattle’s victory parade will make their way around the Internet, and other teams’ fans will shake their heads at those crazy Pacific Northwesterners who don’t know how to handle success. And they’ll be right. It’s never really happened up here. No one knows what to do.
Thus, it was a celebration of not only the Seahawks’ success, but also a release of that unrequited fandom that so plagued fans up here. Finally, after the decades of mediocrity, the fans earned their championship.
This article was written by freelance journalist and member of the 12th man, Jeff Howe.
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