Shortly before 9am on Monday morning Sydney time, the 12th man sat in silence. Not by choice, mind you. My wife and I, decorated head to toe in our Seattle gear, had accidentally boarded the ‘quiet carriage’ of a city-bound train to attend an event to view what was to be an unforgettable Super Bowl. The irony was not lost on us – there we were, two members of the loudest fan base on the planet being held back by the invisible shackles of common courtesy to our fellow commuters. Many of them slept in their business suits, while others read books or watched videos on their phones. Our forced silence seemed only to compound the excitement (and nerves) of the day. Excitement, because, you know. Hawks. Super Bowl. Duh! But nerves because we didn't want this day to become another ‘what might have been’.
On our way (but shhhhh)
Perhaps I should add some background here. I have lived in Sydney, Australia my entire life. I met my wife while holidaying in Hawaii in 2009; we fell madly in love and she moved here from Oahu. With my long-standing love of sports, combined with my marital obligations of embracing American culture, it was only a matter of time before I would discover the NFL.
Aside from meeting my wife, 2009 was memorable for another reason. I was not a fan of the NFL at this point; the type of football I watched was the NRL, also known as Rugby League (the NFL could recruit some seriously talented running backs from the NRL, but I digress). My team, the Parramatta Eels, are a lot like Seattle. We play with heart. The pain of the ’05 season for Seattle draws parallels with Parramatta’s ’01 season. But this was supposed to be about the significance of 2009, so let’s return there.
The Eels struggled for the vast majority of 2009. In fact, by the start of Round 19 (A season is 26 rounds), the Eels had a record of five wins, ten losses and a draw. One might think that their season was over. Hell, I thought it was. But through some of the most extraordinary individual performances by a few key players (Jarryd Hayne and Fuifui Moimoi, in case you were interested), we started to win. And win. We won seven games straight, and by week 26, we had secured a finals berth as the 8th and final seed. Much like the NFL, the top seeded teams play the bottom seeded teams in the post-season; and first week of the finals, we were against the 1st seed St. George-Illawarra Dragons. No one, especially the Dragons, expected the 25-12 final score in favour of Parramatta. A week later in the semi-finals, we dispatched the 3rd seed Gold Coast Titans 27-2. Another week passed, and we played the 2nd seed Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in the preliminary final. The Eels shocked them with a 22-12 victory. We became the first 8th seed team to ever make it to the Grand Final – the NRL equivalent of the Super Bowl. 82,538 fans descended upon Sydney’s ANZ stadium to watch the Melbourne Storm face off against a red-hot Eels outfit. What happened next, well, let me just say this…
What might have been.
Maybe I am misremembering the details – but it seemed that every 50/50 call went against us. Big gains were called back. Scores were disallowed. The Storm defeated the Eels 23-16. Our streak without another premiership continued. The Melbourne side just seemed… so good. Too good? Perhaps. They had a lot of talent in their roster. An unusual amount of depth. They had made mid-season trades that had other teams scratching their heads as to how they could afford some of their acquisitions. In the months following the 2009 season, it came to light that the Melbourne Storm had breached their Salary Cap by several million dollars (that probably doesn’t sound like a lot to an NFL fan, but since the total Salary Cap for an NRL team at the time was $4.1 million, that’s a pretty big breach). They were stripped of their 2009 Premiership (along with another they won in 2007) for their indiscretions. Somehow the knowledge that the team to beat us in the Grand Final had cheated their way there made the loss feel even worse. We were not awarded the trophy – and currently the 2009 NRL season has no team listed as the victor.
What might have been.
I searched for distractions in the NRL off-season; and it turns out that Super Bowls make great distractions. So my first NFL viewing event became Super Bowl XLIV, Saints vs Colts. I didn’t have an allegiance to any particular team (in fact I didn’t know half the team names yet), but my journey to being a Hawks fan began here. And looking back now, I can see how coming to support the Seattle Seahawks was my black swan (the theory, not the movie).
One of the free-to-air stations began airing NFL games more regularly, and I started taking more of an interest. Then, in late 2012, I sat down with my wife, and said to her "Let’s get on board. Let’s pick a team and really do this". We sat down and spent eight hours on a rainy Saturday, armed with a whiteboard and Wikipedia, learning about every franchise, looking for ‘our’ team. We discounted teams based on all kinds of criteria – if we didn’t like their logo, or their mascot, or perhaps some off-the-field actions by their players, they were cut. We were brutal and merciless. "Oh, we can’t support THAT team, what’s-his-name supports them and he’s a jerk" was muttered more than once. Eventually, we whittled our potential teams down to two contenders – the Seattle Seahawks and the Dallas Cowboys. My wife’s family had been long-time Cowboys fans, but we didn’t want that to force us in to a team that wasn’t ‘for us’. This was going to be our team – our family tradition. And so we left our choice to fate - in the shape of our 10-month-old son. We wrote ‘Dallas Cowboys’ on one piece of paper, and ‘Seattle Seahawks’ on another. We placed them on the floor, and observed. Our son crawled straight over to the Seahawks paper, and picked it up proudly. "Might have been a fluke" we said. "It was the last one we put down – maybe that’s why he went for it? Let’s be sure". We repeated the process, but this time, we mixed them up and placed the pieces of paper on opposite sides of the room. Our son crawled straight to the Seahawks page, picked it up, carried it over to the Cowboys page on the other side of the room, slammed it down on top of the Cowboys page, and started rubbing it in. Then he tore up the Cowboys page. Seahawks it was.
The results are in!
What might have been (seriously, we might have ended up as Cowboys fans).
We had been chronicling our team-selecting saga on Facebook, and when we announced our decision, my dear Aunt, who I had totally forgotten lived in Seattle, told me how thrilled she was that we picked the team that her and my late uncle had loved for so many years. We had a rookie Quarterback, she explained. Our defense was solid. "And by the way, your niece is a junior Seahawks cheerleader. So good choice!" We were currently 4-4 for the season, having just lost back-to-back games to the 49ers and Lions. The first game I watched live was vs the Vikings at some ungodly hour on a Monday morning, which we won. Someone named Golden Tate made the first ‘how-the-f%!@-did-he-do-that’ catch of many that I would witness. I bought a ‘12’ jersey, and wore it every time I watched a game. Even the replays. I felt like I had come home. It was a good year, until something rather unexpected happened.
What might have been.
Close to midnight, one day in early December, I lay on my couch watching TV. I had felt terrible since the night before, strangely exhausted yet restless. Without warning, I felt as if someone was sitting on my chest. I couldn’t breathe. There was numbness and pain all at once down the muscles in my left arm. It felt icy. I felt sick. My wife slept on the couch, unaware as I stumbled down the hall to the bathroom, vomiting everywhere as I went. My face was white and my breathing was laboured. I had no strength. It was, with all honesty, the scariest moment of my life. As a fit 29 year old who had never smoked or ‘done’ anything outside of the realm of alcohol, the situation felt surreal. I somehow made it back to the couch and woke my wife, explaining that I thought I was having a heart attack and that I needed to call an ambulance. The paramedics arrived a short while later, and informed me that my heart was currently behaving normally and they didn’t think that I had gone in to cardiac arrest. I asked them to take me to hospital, because something was not right. I was later diagnosed with myopericarditis, and I was to remain on bed rest for a month. I filled the time obsessing over the Seahawks. I watched videos and read articles non-stop. I watched them finish their season in a dominating fashion and then take apart the Washington Redskins in the Wild Card Round. Our first playoff road win in a really long time. I almost forgot about my health problems with the thrill of that victory. And then there was that game against the Falcons.
What might have been.
I tell you, the final 31 seconds of that game was an emotional rollercoaster like I have never felt before. By the end, I was feeling physically and emotionally drained. My chest hurt again, but that may have been because of a Seahawks-related broken heart rather than my… uh… actual broken heart. I spent the remainder of the holiday break wondering, you guessed it, what might have been. Around this time, I discovered the Field Gulls site (how did I not know about you guys?!?). I started to think that next season, we were going to be so freaking good. Apparently, after that game, Russell Wilson shared this exact sentiment with Pete Carroll.
Once I physically healed, I began exercising more. I changed jobs. I enrolled in University. I decided to make 2013 a year of good things. Not what might have been; but what was going to be. I pulled out the good ol’ whiteboard from our NFL Team Selection day and drew up the Seahawks’ schedule as soon as it was available. We watched our first draft, and were delighted when a fellow Aussie by the name of Jesse Williams was selected by the Seahawks (‘Straya, Represent!) in the 5th round. For the rest of the year, I watched every game live – waking up at all hours of the morning to see the magic. Unbelievable come-back wins. Dominating performances against hated rivals. Tough, low-scoring affairs. Our first loss. Many more wins. The amazing and brief debut of Percy Harvin. A down-to-the-wire Division title. A second Beast Quake. Richard Sherman being the best, and loving him for every minute of it. Jim Harbaugh screaming in anger (I liked that last one a lot). The whiteboard slowly filled up… until there was just one game left.
One to go.
And so, my wife and I escaped the ‘Quiet Carriage’, and arrived at our destination, where a large number of expatriate Americans had gathered to watch the Super Bowl. Chili dogs appeared in our hands as buckets of Budweiser were filled, emptied and filled again. I had never met another Seattle fan in Sydney before, and before I knew it I was surrounded by them. Every time a Lynch, Wilson or Harvin jersey walked in the door, they were met by the cheers of approval from our ever-growing group of 12s. Some friends I invited turned up; Cardinals and Bears fans who were ring-in 12s for the day. Power in numbers, right? And the number of the day was 12.
From the first snap, as we watched the ball sail over Peyton’s right shoulder for the fastest score in Super Bowl history, time slowed down. Beer was poured, and consumed. And refilled. And spilled. Then Percy had an almost-touchdown off the ensuing kick. Then the points began to pile on. I got louder. My wife got louder. My friends got louder. It was like we thought that those in Metlife Stadium would hear us all the way from Sydney, if we could just be loud enough. More points. A pick six. A kick-off return for a TD. More beer. The end of the third quarter loomed, and Peyton cracked the seemingly un-crack-able defense. The entire bar erupted at the Broncos first points. My god, it was loud. I was enjoying the avalanche of points so much, I had hardly noticed just how many Broncos fans there were. But it was the last time they would cheer. The Seahawks spoiled their party. This was supposed to be Peyton’s game, dammit! We were ruining his moment. Our small group of 12’s had walked in to their house and wiped our asses on their cashmere rug.
Kearse and Baldwin both added to our total with supreme individual efforts, and we were all screaming "OMAHAAAAA!" at the top of our lungs, all while weathering dirty looks from the blue and orange swarm around us. The Seahawks had just put up a forty-burger and nearly shut out the greatest scoring offense the NFL has ever seen. We danced and sang to our own awful renditions of ‘Seahawk’s Time!’ and ‘Better (a.k.a.) Bigger, Stronger, Louder’. We made friends and exchanged numbers with people. We would not be the only 12’s we knew any longer. So next time, we will be louder.
We jumped back on our train (careful not to enter any noise-forbidden carriages), and returned home, where we cheered, cried, hugged and collapsed. The twelfth man was silent again.
Now it’s someone else’s turn to wonder what might have been.