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The Party Next Door

Warning: not baseball.

I wasn't intending to write about this. The plan was to just go, and have fun, or not have fun, and leave, and that would be the end of it. It would probably come up later in conversation, as friends would reflect on the time we had, but it wouldn't come up online. Why would it? I cover baseball. I know as much about football these days as I know about walnuts.

But here we are. Turns out I can't help it. Writing is kind of what I do, and there's no mental shutoff valve. There are boring games I can choose not to write about, but when a game's interesting, it's out of my hands. I can't not write. No matter the sport, apparently. It's a compulsion, or an addiction, or something. One way or another, words end up written.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to my first-ever home Seahawks game.

First, some quick background - I used to be a huge Seahawks fan. I used to be a huge football fan, but a fan of the Seahawks in particular. I had my little kid's uniform and helmet from Toys R Us and everything.

When I was younger, I was big into the four major sports. Eventually I gave up on basketball - this was before the Sonics moved, but after the Bulls series - but I still clung to my three. Clung hard. Through high school in San Diego, and into Connecticut, I was all about the Mariners, the Senators, and the Seahawks.

Then the Super Bowl happened and it caused an almost instant re-evaluation. Why do you care? This game is too flawed. You don't even like watching it that much anyway. The pace is too slow. You only have so much time and energy, so why devote so much to a sport you barely like? A sport where your victorious moment was stolen out of your hands in front of everyone, and no one could do a damn thing about it?

I didn't come out of it a conspiracy theorist. I didn't think the refs were bought off. I thought the refs were morons. I came out of it one of those people convinced that the Super Bowl was decided not by the players, but by a few of the people watching them. And that hurt. I'd never had one of my teams in the championship before. To see it taken away so unfairly - it was disillusioning.

I didn't know how to wrap my head around it. And when the next football season began, I asked myself how I could get back into something that had clipped (HA-HA) me so bad for no reason the year before. I didn't have an answer. So I didn't get back into it. I put forth some effort, then less effort, then even less effort then that, to the point at which the Seahawks became a team I liked in a game I didn't.

Fast-forward to last February. For the first time in my life, I was living in the northwest. I was excited for a bunch of reasons, most significantly the fact that the mountains up here can blow up, but I was also looking forward to the sports scene. Not so much in Portland, but in the region in general. Here, there are people who care about the Mariners.

And here, there are people who care about the Seahawks. I didn't think about it much early on, but as the months passed and the Mariners sank, I thought long and hard, and decided I had to give the Seahawks and football another chance. For years, I'd heard people rave about the atmosphere. About the experience. I'd seen the Seahawks in person before, but I'd only once seen them at home, and that was a preseason game. All the other times I'd seen them play the Chargers, and all of those games were on the road. I'd never seen them play a meaningful game in the Kingdome, and I'd never seen them play a meaningful game at Qwest. I decided this summer that, if I was going to go ahead and erase football from my radar, I could only do it after seeing what a home game was like.

As luck would have it, the Seahawks were scheduled to play San Diego. It was the perfect fit - the Seahawks for me, and the Chargers for Ms. Jeff. Tickets were bought. Anticipations were anticipated. This game stood the chance of being either one of the greatest Seahawks experiences of my life, or the last.

Fast-forward to yesterday. Gameday. I'd asked people on Twitter for advice, and to a man their replies all involved drinking. And that was fine. I'm a man who enjoys his drinking. But it didn't occur to me until I set my alarm that, if you're going to start drinking early Sunday morning, you probably shouldn't stay out drinking until three the night before. I'm not a college student anymore. What were once feats of strength have become more like feats of agony. You know you did something wrong when your contacts hurt from the moment you put them in.

 But this was a big day. This was a first. So I rolled myself out of bed, threw on my Hasselbeck jersey, put in my fucking contacts, and was greeted by the message that I should hurry up because one of our friends had been waiting downtown since 7:30.

It's amazing the way beer is its own medicine. When you're waking up from a long night of drinking, there are a number of things you don't want to do, but one of them is drink. There are two solutions to this quandary:

1)      Don't drink

2)      Drink

The first smell is the worst. The first taste is the worst. It gets better after that. It's not like I had a choice. It's not like the others had a choice. You don't get out of bed several hours in advance of a 1:15 kickoff just to sit in a bar and be sober all morning.

So we sat there in Temple and worked our way through pitcher after pitcher of what turned out to be brown liquid energy. What people don't tell you is that, in the morning, beer works a lot like coffee. It just isn't something you want to encourage in the workplace. With every pint, I could feel myself building. I could feel myself approach the appropriate blend of enthusiasm, overconfidence, and stupor for the occasion. I remember fist-pounds, and chest bumps, and coming out of the bathroom to the Seahawks drumline that had invaded the center of the bar, which I thought was just the coolest thing in the world.

That must've been the cue, because soon after the drumline stopped playing, we walked over to Qwest to stand in line to get in. There wasn't any chanting, but there was a definite buzz in the air, and though Ms. Jeff and her Chargers jersey didn't become a target for shit or words or shitty words, there was the right amount of taunting. Enough that we knew where we were without my having to be worried for her safety. We will never go to a game in Oakland.

We made our way to the 300 level and opted for standing room squares instead of the seats we'd been assigned. The way it was explained to me was that Robert liked to have room to run around. I didn't really get it then. I got it soon.

After years of hearing about the Qwest atmosphere, and after years of it being so incredibly loud that opposing players swore sound was piped in, I got my first taste when Nate McMillan raised the 12th man flag. It wasn't the loudest thing I'd ever heard. I've been near airplanes. I've seen Metallica in concert. I've watched the Stanley Cup on TV at home on maximum volume, turned the TV off, and turned it back on again later without remembering I'd forgotten to lower the sound. It wasn't loud enough to hurt.

But then, we were standing in front of a ten-foot concrete wall. All the sound from directly behind us was blocked. And it was still loud enough - sufficiently, sustainably loud - that I think my organs came loose. I'm pretty sure the duration and magnitude of the vibrations caused temporary liver failure.

And it didn't go away. Kickoff. First down. Second down. Third down. Plays themselves were less action, and more opportunities to breathe.

Then the Chargers fumbled.

The crazy thing to remember about a place like Qwest is that, when you hear the roar before a visitor snap, that's just a fraction of the crowd making noise. A significant fraction, but a fraction nonetheless. The roar after a turnover, or a stop, or a score - that's everyone. That's the sound of 70,000 people losing their minds.

It's a powerful, exhilarating sound.

I don't need to sit here and provide a play-by-play recap of yesterday's Seahawks game. I don't remember enough of the details, and you can get everything you need and more over at Field Gulls. Besides, there are only so many ways to express how loud people can be before you start to repeat yourself. What I will say is:

1)      Qwest Field is impossibly loud

2)      I got to celebrate my first-ever home Seahawks touchdown twice, as Deion Branch lost control of the ball at the goal line on a play that was overturned and ruled a fumble. John Carlson later hauled in an actual touchdown near the end of the half

3)      Seattle sports pessimism isn't limited to the Mariners, as I don't think anyone felt all that comfortable, even with the Seahawks up 17. It's a cautious city. Or a realistic one, depending on your perspective

I was happy that the Chargers scored, so that Ms. Jeff wouldn't have to come home having paid to see a shutout. I was not happy that the Chargers tied it up late, as self-interest took over. And Leon Washington's ensuing kick return is a play I remember all of, and none of.

Going into the game, I was talking to Robert about how few Seahawks I actually knew. I don't know if the total was limited to one hand, but it was definitely limited to two.

Leon Washington's on the list now. I don't remember the play for the runback. I remember the play for the running, and screaming, and hitting, and lifting, and being lifted, and hitting some more. My body remembers Leon Washington's second kick return better than my brain does. There's evidence everywhere. I just needed to wake up and look at my left arm to know that I wasn't just dreaming.

 The Seahawks, of course, held on. They held on just barely, but perhaps better than holding on with an easy four-and-out is holding on by surrendering every last inch and then snaring an interception. Ease is inversely related to response. The conclusion wasn't easy. The response was insane.

And then we left. One time, a few years ago, I was in San Francisco with a friend, and we'd gone to a Giants/Dodgers game. The Giants won, and as we left the park, a LET'S-GO-GI-ANTS chant built up and sustained for a good three minutes. I'd never seen that before, much less been a part of it. Yesterday, that changed. It was fucking weird to leave a stadium in Seattle and see people with smiles and pride.  

An easy angle to take here would be pointing out the difference in atmosphere between Safeco and Qwest. Qwest is regarded by many as one of the loudest venues in the nation. Safeco, on the other hand, is tame, coming to life only when prompted, or when Ichiro steps to the plate. By and large, these are the same people, aren't they? Why can't similar environments exist on either side of the street?

But that's too easy, I think. So easy that it would be incorrect and inappropriate to advance. There are too many differences. Too many differences in the fans and the attitudes, the game, and the scheduling to make one even remotely comparable to the other. Besides, Safeco can erupt. It's just had little reason to lately.

Qwest, though, is something else. There's no denying it. Though the game went well, the game didn't dictate the atmosphere like it might in other places. The atmosphere was almost independent. People were there to be loud and cheer on the Seahawks, and hopefully the Seahawks would win, but even if they didn't, the atmosphere would've been nuts. The Seahawks don't so much play home games as they do participate in 70,000 individual experiences.

I talk to Matthew about the Sounders sometimes. He isn't big into soccer, but he's big into the Sounders, and when I've pressed him on the issue, he's told me it's because of the crowd. Each game is like a two hour, coordinated venting of emotion. A person doesn't get many opportunities to vent. The Sounders provide them.

I understood what he was saying, but I didn't really get it until yesterday. I still don't love football, but a handful of hours was all the convincing I needed that I love the experience. One doesn't have to love everything about a game or a league to stick around as a fan. One can simply love a team because it provides what few things do.

The Seahawks and the NFL, I think, are back on my radar. And for that I have yesterday to thank.