The Seahawks Effect: Blue and a Little Green

The Seahawks’ success has proven great for the city’s psyche and, for some, the bottom line.

Down at the J & M Café, where on claw-foot tables surrounded by tasseled draperies Wyatt Earp once played poker with Doc Maynard, the joint rocks and the booze flows whenever the Seahawks duel. It has always been that way, from the moment the Sunday-morning doors swing open at 8 and the crowd fills every dimly lit crevice of this 124-year-old Pioneer Square institution.

This year, though, general manager Michael Petrone says the mood is different.

“The patrons go a little crazier now when the Hawks score. They’re ordering more drinks. The tips are better.” Gazing upward at the vintage painting of a nude, porcelain-skinned burlesque queen of yesteryear, Petrone adds, “I can’t explain it, but the electricity is different.”

There’s no question that the magic carpet ride taken these past few months by our gridiron heroes has swept Seattle off its feet. There’s a swagger to our step now, a cocksureness that total victory is inevitable. The team’s success has seeped into the city’s collective psyche.

Decidedly non-sports-centric watering holes, such as Ballard’s folkie hangout Conor Byrne Pub or Greenwood’s film bar Naked City Brewery, now have the games blaring, and their regulars have their game faces on. All the while, casual fans have become fervently obsessed, and people who not long ago thought the Red Zone was a Mars reference are walking around with Legion of Boom beanies on their heads.

Observes KIRO-FM talk-show host Dori Monson, who has been hosting pre- and post-game broadcasts off and on since 1996: “There aren't many happy things that galvanize an entire community, and the Seahawks are clearly a force that had done that. People are so fully invested in them.”

Indeed, Seahawk fever is epidemic, and oh boy, has it been good for business—at least for those businesses situated within earshot of CenturyLink’s 68,000 roaring fans.

DreamGirls at SODO, for instance, went gangbusters following December 2’s Monday-night victory over the New Orleans Saints, who return to town for this weekend’s playoff game. “We had 300 customers, and that set a one-day record,” marvels day manager Kevin Gano. “Business is usually good the Saturday night before the Sunday game, but really, it’s nothing like what happens when the game is over. If the team wins, they come pouring in.”

Brian Hale is still pinching himself to make sure he’s not dreaming. He opened his Gameday Sports Shop on Occidental Avenue on November 15, the day before the Seahawks slaughtered the Minnesota Vikings. Packed tightly with team gear, the place has a spectacular view of the stadium, and when the team scores and the stands ripple with a sea of green-and-blue-clad cheering fans, the shop vibrates, the windows rattle—and the cash register jingles.

Tailgaters, some of them at least one sheet to the wind, are lined up outside the door at 6 a.m., says Hale. They make a beeline for the beanies, mostly, though shirts emblazoned with Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Mode” nickname and Richard Sherman’s smack-talk, “You Mad Bro?” aren’t far behind. “And, in just the last two weeks, we’ve sold a couple hundred 12th Man flags,” reports Hale.

Taxi drivers, street vendors, and scalpers are riding high, but Seahawks-mania seems to have also drummed up some much-needed generosity, which has trickled down to the city’s most unfortunate. Take Alex, for example, a scraggly-haired gent with deep purple shadows around his eyes, who occasionally dines at the Bread of Life Mission on South Main Street.

“Last time they played, someone gave me a ham-and-cheese sandwich,” he recounts. After describing the meal in precise detail, down to the amount of lettuce and onion it contained, he thumbs his fingers and confides, “I don’t care about the green and blue they wear. I’m only interested in the green.”

It’s difficult to quantify how much green a sports team, especially one potentially bound for glory, can generate to pad a city’s pocketbook. Some years back, in a report commissioned by Washington, D.C.’s Cato Institute, sports economist Ben Humphreys wrote that “Professional sports generally have little, if any, positive effect on a city’s economy.”

Ivars CEO Bob Donegan, for one, has seen first-hand what economists call “realigned spending,” or the “substitution effect.”

“I work all the Seahawks games,” he says, “and I can tell you that sales at Acres of Clams at Pier 54 is double, whereas all the other Ivar stores drop because people are home watching the game.”

And if they aren’t at home, they might be at Central Cinema in the Central District. The 120-seat theater has been packing ’em in—and selling ’em beer and whiskey-chicken sliders—since they started showing games on the big screen, beginning with the Seahawks’ nerve-wracking squeaker over Tampa Bay on November 3, says Jessica Aceti, the cinema’s program director.

The Delicatus, a bustling Pioneer Square delicatessen, opened for breakfast for the first time this season, looking to cash in on the early-bird fans trawling First Avenue on game days. Manager Aaron Willis says the place is a madhouse on Sundays. Better get there early, he cautions, if you want to take out The Mudd Honey, a major fan favorite: sliced roast beef, turkey, Zoe’s slab bacon, white cheddar, horseradish aioli, and house barbecue sauce on a toasted Italian roll.

Meanwhile, the Silver Cloud Hotel, spitting distance from the stadium, has become the place du jour for visiting fans and foes. “We had the best fall and winter we’ve ever had this year,” notes Joe Anderson, a jolly Bostonian who grew up not far from Fenway Park and serves as assistant general manager for the 211-room hotel. “When the 49ers were here, one-fourth of the hotel was filled with San Francisco fans. . . . It’s like a Red Sox atmosphere here now.”

F.X. McRory’s is the epicenter of fandom in Seattle, the grand gathering hole for those coming and leaving the city’s sports-industrial complex. For 35 years, owner Mick McHugh has lived and died with our teams. He can remember the bad times.

“So dreadful,” he recalls of the early ’90s when his famous sports hangout began taking reservations on Sundays in the hope of securing more customers on game day. Despite the dwindling crowds at his bar, McHugh says that Seattle never abandoned the Seahawks. “They turned out. They weren’t happy, but they knew we were young compared to the Giants and other major franchises.”

And as painful as they were, McHugh says those bad years have helped him appreciate what the 2013 team has been able to accomplish. “It is not easy. You need a lot of help, a lot of stuff to go right to make it to the end. You don’t take it for granted.”

McHugh is taking his own advice. Greeting customers at his sprawling eatery during lunch hour just after Christmas, the owner, clad in a Seahawks vest, expounds on how the team’s resounding triumphs have translated into more dollars being spread around town.

“When the team’s going bad, the boss gives the tickets to the kid in the mailroom, and the kid in the mailroom doesn’t spend the money the way the boss would,” reasons McRory, also noting that “people who can’t afford a ticket or don’t have tickets, they’ll just come down here to be part of the scene, to hear the roar of the crowd.”

Read the rest of Seattle Weekly's collection of stories and essays inspired by this year's Seahawks team here.

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