Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How This Mets Fan Became A Seahawks Fan

Gotta love my teams!

I became a sports fan at a young age.  When I was eight, I happened upon a Mets game on Memorial Day while my father was outside barbecuing.  The Mets defeated the Phillies in that 1981 game by the final score of 13-3, with Mookie Wilson running wild on the bases.  I became a fan of Mookie and the Mets that day.  The Mets were a terrible team when I became a fan and continued to be so until 1984, when they posted their first winning season since 1976.  Two years later, in my sixth season of fandom, I was rewarded with a World Series championship.

My football interests began quite differently than my baseball interests.  Although I’ve always been a New Yorker, I never rooted for the Jets or Giants.  I would watch their games (more Jets because they played their home games at Shea Stadium) just because they were on TV, but I didn’t get emotionally involved with either team.  That lasted until 1983, for on December 24 of that year, I found the team that would soon become “my team”.

Before the days of DirecTV and the NFL package, if you were an 11-year-old kid wanting to watch football, you just had your local teams and whoever was playing on Monday Night Football.  Of course, I couldn’t watch Monday Night Football at that age because the games were on too late and I had to go to school the following day.  So basically if I wanted to see a team that wasn’t a New York team, I had to wait until the playoffs to do so.  On Christmas Eve 1983, I did just that.  The Seattle Seahawks were hosting the Denver Broncos in a wild card playoff game and I decided to watch the game.  At the time the Broncos had a young rookie quarterback named John Elway and a top running back in Sammy Winder.  The Seahawks shut both of them down, blowing out the Broncos at the Kingdome, 31-7.  I was so impressed by how the Seahawks played that I watched them the following week, actively rooting for them to defeat the Miami Dolphins in South Florida.

The year before, I remember watching the Dolphins defeat the Jets in the AFC Championship Game, 14-0, with the Dolphins’ A.J. Duhe intercepting Jets quarterback Richard Todd three times on a rainy day that created a ridiculously muddy field.  Since most of my NFL viewing at the time was restricted to Jets games, I did not like Miami at the time.  The fact that they were playing this Seahawks team that I enjoyed watching the previous week made it easier to pull for Seattle in the New Year’s Eve game.  I knew that like Denver, Miami also had a dynamic rookie quarterback in Dan Marino.  But Seahawks quarterback Dave Krieg had a weapon of his own in wide receiver Steve Largent.  A huge 40-yard completion to Largent late in the game helped set up the go-ahead touchdown for Seattle in the fourth quarter.  The Seahawks tacked on a field goal and upset the heavily-favored Dolphins on the road, 27-20.

I was completely hooked.

Hall of Famer Steve Largent
Although the Seahawks lost the AFC Championship game to the Raiders, 30-14, I had become a fan.  I later found out that this was the first time the Seahawks had made the playoffs in their eight-year existence and felt even better about my choice to become a fan.  I guess you could say I became a bandwagon Seahawks fan during their first-ever playoff run in 1983 without realizing it.  Seattle made the playoffs again in 1984 after finishing the regular season with a then-franchise-best 12-4 record.  But this time, they defeated the Raiders in the wild card game (Denver had won the AFC West with a 13-3 record after Seattle lost its final two games of the regular season) and lost the divisional game to the Dolphins.

In 1986, the team that shared Shea Stadium with the Mets in my pre-Seahawks fan days was now playing its home game in New Jersey.  The Jets, who I kinda sorta rooted for prior to December 24, 1983, got off to a team-record 10-1 start that year while the Seahawks slogged through their schedule with a 5-6 record through their first 11 games.  After not making the playoffs in 1985, it appeared as if the Seahawks were going to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season.  I had only been a fan (or a “12”, as Seahawks fans are known) for four seasons, but the team I expected to be competitive annually after their 1983 and 1984 playoff runs was testing my loyalty.  “I could have been a fan of the AFC-best Jets, but I decided to root for this team in Seattle who I can’t even see on TV every week”, I would say to myself.  It wasn’t easy being a Seahawks fan in New York in 1986, especially after the Mets had won the World Series and the Jets looked like they were on their way to the Super Bowl.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the playoffs.

The Jets lost their last five games to finish 10-6 and the Seahawks won their final five games to go 10-6 as well.  There was only one problem.  The Jets had defeated the Seahawks during their 10-out-of-11 streak early in the season.  That meant they owned the tiebreaker over Seattle.  The Jets made the playoffs.  The Seahawks made vacation plans.

I hated the Jets then.

Seattle eventually made the playoffs in 1987 (losing the wild card game in overtime to the Houston Oilers) and finally won its first AFC West title in 1988 (losing the divisional playoff game to Cincinnati – damn you, Norm Johnson, for killing the rally by missing an extra point!).  So that was four playoff appearances in six years.  Things were looking up for the Seahawks.  And then everything went downhill.

From 1989 through 1998, the Seahawks failed to make the playoffs every year.  The 1992 team finished the year with a franchise-record 14 losses, but even when they were bad, they weren’t bad enough.  New England got the No. 1 pick in the draft, while Seattle got No. 2.  The Patriots drafted All-Pro quarterback Drew Bledsoe with the top overall pick.  The Seahawks took quarterback Rick Mirer.  Needless to say, New England got the better deal.

I was now entering my second decade as a Seahawks fan.  I had made it through the Tom Flores and Dennis Erickson eras and I even survived Brian Bosworth (even if the Boz couldn’t survive the schooling given to him by Bo Jackson in an infamous Monday Night Football game).  As a Mets fan, I was used to losing seasons, as the team had gone through six straight of those from 1991 to 1996.  But it was hard to say “I’m a Seahawks fan” for a full decade and having people respond with a blunt “why?”.  Of course, being a fan means hanging with your team through the highs and lows.  I was a 12.  And mediocrity was not going to stop me from continuing to be a 12.

Brian Bosworth couldn't stop Bo Jackson, nor could he prevent me from abandoning my loyalty to the Seahawks.

My patience was finally rewarded in 1999 in the form of a second AFC West title.  I had waited 11 years for the Seahawks to play in January again, just like I had for the Mets, who by coincidence ended an 11-year playoff drought in 1999 as well.  Seattle played Miami at the Kingdome in their first home playoff game since 1984, but lost a heartbreaker to Dan Marino and the Dolphins, 20-17.  It would be Marino’s last win as an NFL quarterback.  It would also continue Seattle’s streak of not winning a playoff game to 15 years.

Seattle didn’t make the playoffs again for another four years.  When they did, heartbreak followed.  They lost in Green Bay in overtime after the 2003 season.  Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck told America during the coin flip that “we want the ball and we’re gonna score”, then proceeded to get the ball into the hands of the Packers’ Al Harris, who returned the interception for a season-ending touchdown.  The following year, Hasselbeck kept the ball out of the hands of his opponents during a last-minute drive in the wild card round.  But he couldn’t put the game-tying touchdown in the hands of his own receiver, as Bobby Engram dropped a pass in the end zone on fourth down, giving the St. Louis Rams an unexpected victory in Seattle.

It had now been over two decades since I became a 12.  And after the 1984 season, all I had seen was playoff loss after playoff loss.  Then came the 2005 season.  And 22 years of fandom were finally rewarded.  First, Seattle finished the regular season with a team-record 13 wins.  Then they ended their 21-year winless drought in the playoffs by defeating the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers.  The latter win, a 34-14 thrashing, put Seattle in its first Super Bowl.

I had rooted for this team for more than half my life.  And I was finally going to see them play in the ultimate game.  But all my superstitions (standing up for the entire game, makeshift voodoo doll of Ben Roethlisberger, etc.) failed to help the Seahawks win the Super Bowl.  Perhaps I should have sent the referees a box of chocolates instead.  That way, they wouldn’t have bumbled their way through bad call after bad call.  The Seahawks lost Super Bowl XL to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 21-10, and it was back to the drawing board for Seattle and this New-York based 12.

Seattle won division titles in 2006 and 2007, but could only win one playoff game each year, falling to Chicago and Green Bay, respectively.  The team then posted four consecutive losing records (although the 2010 team made the playoffs with a 7-9 mark, then set off seismometers with an unlikely playoff victory over the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints) and it looked like the early 1990s all over again.

Until a man named Russell Wilson was selected in the third round of the 2012 draft.

Through shrewd drafting and a will to win that was instilled by head coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks started the 2012 season with a 5-4 record heading into their game with the Jets.  Yeah, those Jets.  The same Jets that kept the Seahawks out of the playoffs in 1986.  And the same Jets that also screwed the ‘Hawks in 1998, when Vinny Testaverde scored a “phantom touchdown” by getting his helmet into the end zone in a December game against Seattle but failing to push the ball over the plane of the goal line.  But there was one difference between this game and previous games against the Jets.

It was November 11, 2012, and I was going to this game.

You see, I was turning 40 that week, and my wife decided it would make a fine birthday present for me to finally attend a Seahawks game in person.  We had never been to Seattle and we decided to make a long weekend out of it.  Oh, here’s another factoid about that Seahawks-Jets game.  Did you know my wife was a Jets fan at the time?  Did you also notice how I said “was”?  She stopped being one after the game.  The Seahawks won the game and her heart that day.  Seattle didn’t stop winning until the middle of January.

After we attended the Seahawks-Jets game at CenturyLink Field in 2012, my wife traded in her Jets green for Seahawks blue.

Although the team was knocked out of the playoffs on a last-second field goal in Atlanta, they accomplished a number of things in 2012:

  • They ended a streak of four straight sub-.500 seasons, finishing with 11 wins – the third highest win total in franchise history.
  • They won their first playoff game on the road since December 31, 1983, which, if you recall, was the first game in which I actively rooted for the Seahawks to win.
  • They won over a new fan in my wife, making it easier for me to be a Seahawks fan in New York.
  • They planted the seeds for greater success in 2013.

With a little Seattle rain, those seeds grew into the season I waited 30 years for.  Three decades after deciding I was going to root for this team from the Pacific Northwest, they reminded me why I became a fan in the first place.  I went through early success as a fan in the mid-to-late 1980s.  Then I remained a fan through a decade of mediocrity.  Through all the lean years, I never wavered and I never gave up hope that someday I would be rewarded with a Super Bowl title.  I came close to feeling that unbridled joy eight years ago.  I finally got to experience it this past Sunday.

I watched my first Seahawks game on December 24, 1983.  I rooted for the team for the first time a week later.  I waited over 30 years to taste the nectar of victory.  And on February 2, 2014, I finally got that taste.  It was the sweetest thing I had ever tasted.

I became a Mets fan when the team was not very good, but it only took six seasons before they gave me a championship.  I became a Seahawks fan when the team was having its first bout with success.  It took a lot longer to climb to the top of the mountain with them.

It isn’t easy being a 12 in New York.  But it sure is a lot of fun.  And it’s even more fun now that the team has finally won a Super Bowl.  I’ve never been more proud of this team.  Go Hawks – today, tomorrow and forever.

We are the champions, my friend!  (Photo by Ted S. Warren/AP)


Anonymous said...

This is great. I fully respect your Seahawk fandom and congratulate you on your team's Super Bowl XLVIII victory. Your being a fan of the Seahawks closely parallels how I became a Dolphins fan, and nearly at about the same time frame.

I am from Los Angeles so I am a Dodgers fan. My dad was born in L.A. too, but when he was a kid there was no Major League baseball in L.A. He picked the Dodgers to root for. When he was 13, the Dodgers moved to L.A. My grandparents weren't particularly big sports fans so he'd have to go with friends to the Coliseum and the Dodger Stadium to see games.

When I was 5, the Dodgers won the pennant. And lost to the Yankees. When I was 6, they won the pennant again, and again lost to the Yankees. Thus fostering my still deep hatred for all teams New York most specifically the Yankees. (Sorry Mets, Giants, Jets, Rangers, Devils, Islanders; I don't like you either!)

My dad was also a fan of the L.A, Rams. But they always sucked, so I didn't want to be a fan of theirs. When I was in 5th grade, I had an NFL lunch box. On that lunch box, it had the helmets of all the teams, so I picked the Miami Dolphins to root for. Why? Who knows? I was a fifth grader.

That year, the Dolphins went to the Super Bowl. John Riggins and the Redskins destroyed them.

I figured they'd be fine. The next year, as you said, they drafted that strong-armed QB from Pittsburgh, Dan Marino. I did not remember about them losing to your Seahawks in the playoffs that year, but that year, my new second favorite team, the Los Angeles Raiders, went to the Super Bowl and beat the hated Redskins. Remember, they beat Miami the previous year.

The next year, Miami was back in the Super Bowl and they lost to Joe Montana and the 49ers. I figured, "That's fine. Marino is awesome. We'll be back." But alas...

Truth be told, through my childhood, I wasn't much of a sports fan. I watched the occasional baseball game, watched the occasional football game. I would definitely watch my teams' playoff games. I'd watch the World Series and Super Bowl every year.

What made me the huge sports fan I am today was my time in the Navy. In the Navy, I met people from all across the country and fans of teams from all over the place. I had to stick up for my teams in shipboard discussions, so I became the rabid fan I am today.

Of course I did watch the '88 baseball playoffs and saw my Dodgers win the World Series. I'll leave out descriptions of LCS that season.

I saw my Kings win the Stanley Cup a couple of years ago, I saw my Cornhuskers win a couple National Championships in the 1990s.

I am still awaiting my Dolphins and Dodgers to win championships while I follow them wire-to-wire in a season. I saw the Dodgers win in 1981 and 1988 and the Dolphins won Super Bowls in 1973 and 1974 but I didn't really watch those. I do brag about Miami being the only team to go undefeated, but it will be so much more important to watch an entire championship season.

Again, I congratulate you on you Seahawks Super Bowl championship.


Greg P.

Ed Leyro (and Joey Beartran) said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story with me and my readers, Greg! Can you imagine what it would have been like for both of us had the Seahawks moved to L.A. like they almost did 18 years ago? I can't see myself having allegiances to an L.A. team, but I would have had to. My love for the 'Hawks has always been strong. You might have even had some love for them in addition to the Dolphins, or at the very least, watched more of their games.

Anonymous said...

Nah. As an L.A. Raiders fan, I never liked the Seahawks. They were division rivals. And as I said, I'm a Nebraska fan so I hate all things Oklahoma. That includes Brian Bosworth. I loved Bo and I loved Bo running over "The Boz."

After the Raiders left town, I became a Chargers fan as my No. 2 team. I lived in San Diego 1991-1994 and 1996-2005.

Greg P.