Something in me knew I wasn't ready. Something in me knew that for all the games I've watched, I was not prepared to witness. I had come back to Seattle expecting to be blown away by the experience. I now realize how absurd that expectation was. It was a woeful underestimate of what was coming. I was ready for a great football game. I soon realized I bought tickets to an execution.
I imagine most long-time displaced Seahawk fans fight the exact same internal battle I have fought for some time. "One of these days I'll make it to a game." turns to "HD is just like being at the stadium." which devolves in to my favorite fallacy, "Watching the game on TV is probably better than being there. Think of all the time and money I'm saving". Sad.
Last Wednesday something boiled over in me. Decades of quiet fanaticism suppressed by real world justifications had pushed its way to the surface, forcing me over the edge. There was no rationalizing with this thing. It had become irrepressible. "What if" suddenly became "Why not?". "Someday" was now "Sunday". THIS was the game. THIS was the week.
This fit of fan rage would have a large toll to pay. Since the schedule came out, week two Seahawks-Niners was immediately the most expensive ticket of the regular season. I'm not rich. I work for a living and that living is by no means extravagant. There would be no flight. There would be no hotel. There would be gas station "meals" and a couch on the other end of 11 hours straight to Seattle the night before the first biggest game of the year. This was a business trip, bitches.
I had a plan. Sleep in Sunday after the trip out. Recoup. Make ready to scream my lungs out, blow my ears up and (fingers crossed) celebrate the win by running to the car to consume copious amounts of caffeine to survive the 11 hours back in time for work on Monday. I know what you're thinking. Bulletproof.
I got to the stadium at 3pm to have plenty of time to soak in the Clink for the first time, visit the pro shop, get fleeced by the food vendors and then find my seat. So far so good. I had arrived. I found my seat in the south end zone regaled in my new Kam jersey, anxious to size up our team in person. My first "Holy shit" moment was as the Legion came out running around the edge of our end zone. Earl looked as I expected. Sherm looked long and lean. Then there was Kam. My hell, he looks like he was drawn up in a comic book to kick the world's ass. Death Backer indeed.
I watch each position group warm up. Our skill group's talent seems obvious. They move effortlessly and pluck each perfect pass out of the air like someone is passing them the salt at the dinner table. Our lines are enormous. Beast looks fast even when he's just messing around. This is what elite looks like. My confidence grows.
The 49ers are in the opposite end zone and to be honest, I don't care to size them up. I get a good look at their faces as they saunter back to the locker room. I get my first real chance to warm up the vocal chords in their direction. Vernon is trying hard to act distracted and aloof while talking to a teammate. The inactives are huddled together and walking slowly, doing their best not to show fear. Harbaugh jogs briskly into the tunnel, careful never to raise his eyes above the barrier. The only member of the enemy that isn't obviously covering up with extreme bravado or utter avoidance is Joe Staley. Staley walks purposefully with his eyes to the crowd. He looks as if he is making mental notes of who he's going to kill after the game. He's storing fuel. He's going to need it.
My first taste of the noise I had come all this way to experience is during pre game intros for the offense. The Seahawks know how to get the crowd warmed up as expertly as they do their athletes. The crescendo rises and falls with each intro. It builds through the lineman. It rises noticeably with Zach. It elevates again with Sid and Golden. It swells louder with Beast. Everyone has saved something extra for Russ. This was first gear for the 12s. It was jarring.
As captain's meet and the coin toss gives us the chance to defer, we rise again. We're getting our first shot at Kap and the record right out of the gate. Pete puts his defense on the field first on purpose. When our boys are on defense, the 12s are on offense.
We're ready now. We're idling. I'm waiting for the 12 man flag to be raised by some semi Seattle celebrity when it happens. I see the screen playing Shaun Alexander highlights and I get the chills. I get louder. So do my 68,000 friends. He raises the flag and bounds to the railing and waives his towel. It's in this moment that I think we all suddenly remember how much we love him. We haven't been kind to his memory since his sudden decline, heaping praise on Hutch and Walt to explain his gaudy production. But in that moment we all remembered his greatness. He is family and he deserves this roar for all he's done for us. We oblige in ernest. This is second gear. I am in awe, awash in emotion between the memories of greatness and the shock of the crowd's power. I compose myself and finish my roar. It lasts as long as Shaun waves his towel. He waives it until his arm goes dead. I turn to see the kick in mid air and we're under way.
As Kap takes the field, we find third gear. This is the start of our power band. Its a constant drone of contempt. It is a weaponized noise like an LRAD and the 12s wield it expertly. At that moment, the first moment I felt discomfort, I realize I left my ear plugs in the car. Fuck it. I'm all in and I'm going to enjoy it. The niners go three and out and we swell louder in celebration.
The game ebbs and flows as we trade possessions. When John Ryan's punt is blocked I cringe and gear up to yell louder towards the far end zone. The crowd readies as the defense gets set to fight with it's back against the wall. The drone rises in pitch and volume. I can hear the gear changes now. This is fourth and it's devastating. The niners inch closer to pay dirt. It's third down and Kap looks for room between the boom. He doesn't find it. WTIII crashes down and pops the ball into the air. We all know what is about to happen and we're already shrieking in celebration as Earl cradles the night's first offering to the Legion.
At some point durning a roll out by Russell, I see and hear the first lightning bolt split and crash. We're soon told to find shelter until it's safe for the game to resume but as a large faction heads to the concourses (mostly wearing red) I take the chance to get to know my neighbors. No one can remember a weather delay during a game. There was the storm in '06 that put bubbles in the turf "but that was before the game started, wasn't it?". We all laugh about the absurdity of rain delays in Seattle.
The Niners had been in this situation before. It worked to their advantage in the SuperBowl (almost, anyways) but this was going to be different and we all knew it. Ray Lewis believes the League caused that blackout to give the Niners a chance to get back in the game (That shit cray, Ray). The fans used it as a chance to lube up and I thought it had a noticeable effect on the volume when the game resumed. After that, we were consistently in fourth gear pre snap and our excited cheers would spike louder with each big play from the defense.
I heard later that It was some point in the third quarter that we spiked to 136 decibels to decimate the reading in the first quarter to best the record. I'm sure it was during a celebration. As much power as the 12s have to disrupt on a constant level, the effort to celebrate isn't effort at all. We were dominating and it only empowered us to go for the throat (That was a pun. I intended it).
The game hit it's stride as we celebrate each pivotal turnover and each big play on offense with the same zeal and even more so after we see the niners want no more. When Beast caught his touchdown in the red zone and stopped to toy with the defense, we went ballistic. The glee on every fan's face was priceless. What a huge "Eff You" to a team that spent the entire offseason making sure week 16 would never happen again.
Despite the long drive that awaited, I stayed to the end. I watched it all, celebrated as long as possible, thanked the fans around me, made sure to wave goodbye to the Niner fans sadistic enough to stay. It was glorious. I walked to the car surrounded by chant's of SEA! HAWKS! using the last of my broken voice to join in. I smiled all the way home as I relived the dominance of our secondary, the great flashes from our free agent pass rushers, and the merciless power of the fans I had finally seen and heard for myself.
Today is Tuesday. I still cannot speak. I still cannot hear. I still cannot stop smiling. I will always remember my first trip to Century Link Field. I will always hear the noise in my mind when watching from afar. I now know what it means to be a 12. We are mercenaries. We are to be feared and respected. We are Terrible.