That was the mantra Seattle Seahawks wunderkind quarterback Russell Wilson espoused to his teammates all season. Even the casual sports fan surely knows by now that the Seahawks, lead by 25-year-old undersized and underappreciated quarterback Russell Wilson, answered the question with a statement 43-8 Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos.
“Why not us,” applies to not only the team but the fans. I’ve lived in a lot of great sports towns across the USA during the peak of fan frenzy. I resided in Minneapolis during the Minnesota Twins winning campaign for the 1991 World Series. I was in Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympics. However, I have never lived in a town that was so united in support of a team until this year in Seattle. This Espirit de corps is known here as the “12th Man,” the spirit added to the eleven players on the field. Never has the word fan been a more appropriate short-form meaning of “fanatic.”
Seattle fans believe they are a part of the team and play a role in team victories. And why shouldn’t they? They have set world records for crowd noise. Opposing teams have more false starts in the Seahawk’s stadium than anywhere else in the league. Players and coaches alike always thank the 12th man fans in media interviews. The fans turnout whether the team wins or loses. Last year the team plane arrived on a Monday morning at 3 a.m. after losing a playoff game, yet the players were greeted by thousands of cheering fans. Need I say more?
Cynics may dismiss 12th fan enthusiasm as a construct created by the clever marketers of an NFL team, but the 12th man would never buy it. Seahawks followers and ticket holders span a geographic range from Alaska to Western Canada to Portland – the part of North America that is low-key and a little aw-shucks but fiercely loyal and intense.
Seattle skyscrapers have been bathed in lights of Seahawk blue and green for the past several weeks. Flags with the number twelve have flown from thousands of homes and offices, car windows and the Space Needle. Strangers passed each other on the street with,” Go Hawks!” as an all-purpose coming or going gesture. Our very own Northwest version of “Mahalo” or “Shalom.”
“Go Hawks” even permeated the theater scene in Seattle. The cast of Seattle Opera’s Rigoletto production apparently came out for their curtain call wearing Seahawks T-shirts and lowered a 12th Man banner. In a Seattle production of Spamalot the Knights of Ni had one more thing to say after Graham Chapman’s oft quoted line, “We are no longer the knights who say Ni! We are now the knights who say ekki-ekkie-ekkie-pitang-zoom-boing!” Knight One turned to the audience and said,”SEA” to which the entire audience enthusiastically shouted in unison, “HAWKS!” The 12th Man was everywhere.
Outsiders, especially those who disdain sports, might wonder how the entire region could go so crazy for grown men running around a field in shiny helmets and tight Capri length pants. Well, the team is just so us; a perfect fit for the independent spirit of the Northwest where saying you can’t climb a mountain and survive in the woods plays perfectly into the local psyche.
The relationship between the fans and the team was further cemented as the national media supported the Broncos. We were an outpost of outcasts, our own Island of Misfit Toys of unwanted and undrafted players. We wore a collective chip together. Us against the world, but we believed. Coach Pete Carroll said to ESPN.com after the game, “And I feel so humbled about bringing this championship back to Seattle. There’s no fan base that deserves this more, one that has supported this team with more passion and love and spirit.”
Nike ran a full-page advertisement in the Seattle Times this morning that summed up this sentiment:
“An undersized QB shouldn’t play so big.
Running backs shouldn’t look for contact.
Fifth-round corners shouldn’t be shutdown corners.
The defense shouldn’t be the star of the show.
Head coaches shouldn’t coach like they’re still in college.
Teams shouldn’t wear uniforms that make them stand out.
Fans shouldn’t set records for noise.
A team with no rings, from the Pacific Northwest, shouldn’t win.
What shouldn’t they do next?
Just do it.”
The 12th man is “loud and proud” and doesn’t seek permission. Why not us?
Carol Lewis Gullstad February 3, 2014