The loudest thing I had ever heard at a road stadium was when Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS went to extra innings. Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield emerged from the Red Sox dugout and began to walk to the bullpen as “Lose Yourself” blared throughout Fenway Park and every Red Sox fan in attendance, still high off the Red Sox’ two-run rally to tie the game in the eighth inning, went absolutely wild. And at that moment, I knew the Yankees were going to lose the game. I didn’t think they would lose the series with Games 6 and 7 to be played in the Bronx, but I knew that eventually on that Monday night, they would lose. Five hours and 49 minutes after the game started, the Yankees lost.
I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I went to Seattle for 36 hours for the NFC Championship Game. I had no idea when I boarded a packed plane from Newark headed to Seattle at 7 a.m. on a Saturday (32 hours before the game) that my girlfriend and I would be the only ones not completely decked out in Seahawks gear. We were surrounded by 12th Man and Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch jerseys. Surrounded by cheerful faces of people, who couldn’t be happier to be in the city of Newark at the crack of dawn on an Alaskan Airlines plane for the next six-plus hours. I had a feeling I was dealing with a different breed of fans when I walked down the aisle to find my seat and saw an elderly married couple sitting in first class, eating breakfast with matching 12th Man jerseys on with smiles on their faces as wide as Vince Wilfork.
I lived in Boston for five years and through two Red Sox (2004 and 2007), one Patriots (2004) and one Celtics championship (2007-08). The only thing that kept me from drinking my way through every day was Super Bowl XLII when I watched the Giants avenge what had happened to the Yankees and to me in October of 2004. But even during Boston’s historical run when every person in the city seemed to be wearing a David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez or Tom Brady or Tedy Bruschi or Paul Pierce of Kevin Garnett jersey, I had never seen people this nutty. And I think “nutty” is the perfect word for Seahawks fans. They aren’t crazy or insane, they are just nutty.
I never understood the “12th Man”. I mean I have always understood what the Seahawks and their fans were trying to do, but I never understood how or why everyone bought into the idea of it. I thought it was weird to see fans wearing a “12th Man” jersey instead of a real player’s jersey and found it awkward to hear fans refer to themselves as 12s, while Pete Carroll and his players referred to their fans as 12s. It was odd to see “12” flags around the city and “12” banners hanging from buildings and storefronts. I have no problem with any fans thinking or acting like they are part of the team by using “we” when talking about their team, but thinking of yourself as a person or player on the field because of the noise generated? That always seemed a little strange. Nothing could possibly be as loud as CenturyLink has been made out to be even with everyone in attendance consuming an exorbitant amount of alcohol.
Seattle on Seahawks game day (or at least on game day when that game happens to be the NFC Championship Game) looks like Dillon on Panthers game day in Friday Night Lights. Most places were closed and those that weren’t had handwritten signs hanging in the window to let you know they would be closing at noon, which was coincidentally when the Seahawks would eventually be kicking off to the Packers.
But it makes sense since Seattleites only really have the Seahawks. Their basketball team moved to Oklahoma City and when it comes to the Mariners, they haven’t reached the playoffs since 2001 when the Yankees ended what was a 116-win regular season for the Mariners, and 11 years later, the Yankees traded for the face of their franchise in Ichiro. The Seahawks are all they have. Well, the Seahawks, Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano (eff you, Seattle) and fat jokes about Jesus Montero. And I guess we can throw in Starbucks, non-stop rain and being the home to Pearl Jam to beef up their resume. But that’s it.
On the morning of the NFC Championship Game, the non-stop rain was still there. I had seen rain from right before the plane was about to land through my first day in Seattle and now 24 hours later, it was still raining. It wasn’t raining hard, but it was raining. Not until we left the hotel and began our walk to the game did the sky open up and in seconds turn me from “Hey, I’m going to the NFC Championship Game!” to “I need to go back to the hotel, order a pizza and watch the game on TV.” I was soaked. My jeans were stuck to me, my coat had absorbed enough water that it felt like the lead vest they give you when you get an X-ray and my decision to wear sneakers rather than boots proved immediately costly as my socks had become useless and now detrimental to my day. Fortunately, as we hid in Pike Place Market for a few minutes, the sun emerged for the first and only time of the weekend and stayed out long enough for us to walk to CenturyLink Field.
SEA … HAWKS! SEA … HAWKS! SEA … HAWKS! SEA … HAWKS! SEA … HAWKS!
That was the chant that filled 1st Avenue from Pike Place to CenturyLink and it grew louder with each passing block as the stadium grew closer. The scene on the blocks leading up to CenturyLink reminded me of walking through the parking lots of a tailgate at the Meadows in Hartford for a concert. The only things missing were stoners with three-foot long dreads trying to sell veggie burritos (there were stoners with three-foot long dreads trying to sell other things), people buying nitrous balloons and “Let’s Go Whalers!” chants breaking out.
SEA … HAWKS! SEA … HAWKS! SEA … HAWKS! SEA … HAWKS! SEA … HAWKS!
From the moment I got to my seat just before kickoff until the Seahawks rushed the field following Jermaine Kearse’s game-winning touchdown in overtime, it felt like that “Lose Yourself” moment at Fenway multiplied by about 29,536,758 for three-plus straight hours. I had become a believer in the 12th Man. It’s a real thing.
I have never heard noise like that. At least not generated solely by people. The construction going on outside my apartment on the Upper East Side (which starts at 7:30 a.m. sharp every morning) mixed with being inside a firehouse garage while the sirens go off, mixed with standing next to an amp during Guns N’ Roses’ “Use Your Illusion Tour” might equal the magnitude of noise at CenturyLink Field I experienced. And that noise came from people’s vocal chords.
No one sat down and no one stopped yelling. Unfortunately, the woman (a Packers fan) two rows behind me, who thought it was a good idea to yell “DE-FENSE!” over and over when the Packers’ defense was on the field didn’t stop either. I’m not sure if she thought that Dom Capers or Clay Matthews or Sam Shields could hear her from the upper deck over the voices of 65,000 Seahawks fans, but I hope she lost her voice the next day and still hasn’t gotten it back.
I didn’t care who won the NFC Championship as long as that team was prepared to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl because even before the Patriots’ demolition of the Colts a few hours later, everyone knew the Patriots were going to the Super Bowl when they beat the Broncos in Week 9 and locked up the 1-seed. I felt like the Seahawks would have a better chance against the Patriots because they have the best defense in the league and because the Patriots haven’t seen a quarterback like Russell Wilson all season. Actually, they haven’t seen a quarterback like Wilson since the last time they met, when the Seahawks beat them 24-23 in 2012. I know that the Packers did beat the Patriots already this season, but the Packers beating a team 26-21 in Green Bay is virtually a win for the opponent, since a five-point win in Lambeau for the Packers is equivalent to a loss on a neutral field.
I wanted a good game and wanted the winner to come out of the game healthy in order to best represent the NFC in Arizona and have the best chance to continue the Patriots’ championship drought. In return, I got possibly the best non-Super Bowl postseason game of all time, the best fourth-quarter comeback in postseason history and a Seahawks team without any serious injuries ready to defend their title in Super Bowl XLIX.
Because I attended the game with Packers fans, I wasn’t going to root outright for the Seahawks and when every Seahawks fans offered their condolences to my girlfriend’s family after the game and tried to offer it to me, I let them know I was a Giants fan. And I wanted them to know that I needed their team to do what the Giants had done in Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI and beat the Patriots.
Before the postseason began, I wrote My Super Bowl XLIX Dilemma and ranked the 12 playoff teams in order from which team I would most like to see win Super Bowl XLIX to which team I don’t want to see win at all. The Seahawks were 3. The Patriots? Last, of course. So this decision is easy for me. On Sunday, I will be an honorary 12th Man.