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In Seattle, It's All About Team Spirit

The city known as the capital of cappuccinos and computers is buzzing with pride over the Seahawks' first Super Bowl game.

January 29, 2006|Sam Howe Verhovek | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — The men in teal and neon green may not be the most fearsome-looking bunch in NFL history, but the Pacific Northwest's first-ever entry into the Super Bowl has turned a region better known for its coffee sipping and software programming into a noisy hotbed of football passion.

As Methodist minister Monica Corsaro put it Monday to a cheering crowd at an Equality Day rally at the state Capitol in Olympia: "We are gay, we are straight ... and we are Seahawks fans!"

On one side of next Sunday's Super Bowl XL matchup will be one of the league's most storied tough-guy franchises, the Pittsburgh Steelers, with fans who swirl their Terrible Towels.

On the other side will be a team that in some curious ways reflects Seattle's high-tech soul with a sort of "Revenge of the Nerds" entry into football's biggest game.

Seahawk MVP running back Shaun Alexander teaches children to play chess. Nice-guy quarterback Matt Hasselbeck showed up at a recent post-game news conference in an argyle sweater with lavender accents. Rumpled billionaire owner Paul Allen is perhaps the ultimate geek: He co-founded Microsoft.

Before this season, the team had last won a playoff game in 1984, when the number of Starbucks stores could be counted on one hand (all in Seattle) and shares of Microsoft had yet to be publicly traded. It would be a decade more before would sell its first book on the Internet from a suburban Seattle garage.

But despite years of frustration and the team's threatened move to Anaheim in 1997, Seahawks colors are now visible all over the area, including the banner atop the iconic Space Needle and the blue and green No. 12 pins worn by boosters. That denotes the "12th Man" cheering on the 11 on the field -- or, as some here prefer, the gender-neutral "12th Fan."

The team has captured not only hearts, but lungs too, despite the area's reputation for reserve that supposedly originates in the Scandinavian roots of a once-dominant fishing industry.

The boisterous crowd at Seattle's Qwest Field, where the team went undefeated this season, was so loud when visiting teams had the ball that those teams committed 24 false starts, the most for any stadium in the league.

"I've played in a lot of stadiums," Hasselbeck said, "and this is the loudest." (Fans generally quieted down when the home team had the ball, so that Hasselbeck could call out to his players and coordinate the snaps from center.)

The huge banner atop the Space Needle has a 12 on it, and continues to fly despite a complaint recently lodged by Texas A&M University, which asserted that it had legal rights to the 12th Man theme. The school said it was a campus tradition dating to 1922.

The 12th Man came into vogue in Seattle in the 1980s, when the crowd was known for the deafening noise it made when the team played at the indoor Kingdome, which was imploded in 2000 to make way for a new outdoor stadium. The team retired jersey No.12 in 1984.

No one here seems inclined to worry about a trademark battle over the number.

"I love it," said Willie Johnson, a 55-year-old Seattle roofer and longtime Seahawks fan, who was recently shopping at the team store for T-shirts that said "Seahawks -- NFC Champions."

"I love to see that flag flapping around up there," Johnson said, referring to its Space Needle perch. "Makes me feel appreciated as a fan."

The Steelers have a fabled history, winning four Super Bowls in the 1970s with a fearsome defense known as the Steel Curtain.

In Seattle, though, it has not always been so much fun to cheer on the Teal Curtain.

As one fan, Nate McKinney, 27, a fire-sprinkler installer, put it: "I've been through a lot of ups and downs with this team -- more downs than ups, at least until this year."

The Seahawks were awarded an NFL franchise in 1974 and started play two years later. The team didn't make it to the playoffs until the 1983 season, when it advanced to the AFC title game by beating the Denver Broncos and the Miami Dolphins, but then lost to the Los Angeles Raiders. And that was the closest it got to the Super Bowl before this season.

Only one Seahawk player, Steve Largent, a receiver who became an Oklahoma congressman after he retired from football, has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In 1994, because of falling ceiling tiles in the indoor Kingdome, the Hawks had to move two preseason and three regular-season games to the University of Washington's Husky Stadium.

And, two years later, then-owner Ken Behring announced he was moving the team to Southern California: He had the squad's equipment packed into moving trucks and sent south.

But threatened by a $3-billion state lawsuit for reneging on the Kingdome lease and the prospect of huge fines by the NFL, Behring relented and the trucks came back.

Then, later that year, Allen, the Microsoft co-founder, entered the picture, putting together a deal to acquire the team pending voter approval of partial public financing for a new stadium.

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