The Seahawks Effect: To Root Is to Suffer

A look into the psychological state of the traumatized Seattle sports fan.

Sports fans are romantics. Obscenity-screaming romantics with painted faces wearing shirts with other men’s names on them, but romantics nonetheless. And Seahawks fans may be more romantic than most. How else do you explain staying in a 37-year relationship that has been so consistently disappointing?

Now that the Hawks are favorites to win the Super Bowl, you’d expect fans to be overjoyed. In fact, we’re terrified.

A lifelong Seahawks fan texted me recently: “I hate that I can’t enjoy this. I just feel sick.” When a team gets as close to a championship as the Seahawks are, it’s fun for peppy TV news anchors and my 6-year-old-nephew, but if you’ve been a fan for decades? It’s torture.

Savvy fans know that the best team doesn’t always win. And Seattle fans know it better than most.

Forbes magazine named Seattle “America’s Most Miserable Sports City” in 2013, awarding us the most “misery points” for “cities whose teams have been good enough over the years to make championship runs, only to disappoint in the end.”

A quick recap of how we garnered all those points:

1994 The Sonics finish the regular season 63-19, the best record in the NBA, then lose in the first round of the playoffs. (I was in high school, and I sneakily chugged half a bottle of red wine in a vain attempt to drink myself to sleep.)

2001 The Mariners tie a 95-year-old record for wins in a season, then wheeze out of the playoffs with four losses in five games against the Yankees. (I drank so many IPAs during their 12-3 season-ending loss, I have no recollection of it.)

2006 The Huskies basketball team is 1.8 seconds away from its first Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1953. Then they allow a game-tying three-pointer and lose in overtime. (I threw a trash can down the stairs. I may have been drinking.)

You may ask, as I certainly have: ”If it’s not fun, why be a Seattle sports fan?” Because there is no choice! You don’t decide to be a fan of a team any more than you decide to fall in love. It just happens. Let me paint a picture for you.

On December 11, 1983, a skinny boy with a home-clipped bowl cut stands before a 14-inch color TV in the living room of a small home three blocks north of Green Lake. The hometown Seahawks, who played their first game in September 1976, a month before he was born, are on the cusp of making the NFL playoffs for the first time. To do so, they need to beat the New York Giants, and with 31 seconds left, they lead the Giants 17-12. But New York has the ball at Seattle’s 10-yard line. It’s 4th and 7. The Hawks’ playoff chances ride on this one play.

The boy watches nervously as the grainy display shows Giants quarterback Jeff Rutledge roll to his left and fire a pass to wide receiver Earnest Gray—who catches it, then steps around Seahawks cornerback Dave Brown and into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.

Tears well in the boy’s eyes, and he collapses to the brown shag carpet, chest heaving between sobs. Then he hears his dad say: “Seth, wait—there’s a penalty flag.”  The Giants have been called for holding. The touchdown is nullified. Rutledge’s next pass falls incomplete. The Seahawks make the playoffs, advancing to the AFC Championship game after a comeback upset over Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins. They lose that championship game, but it’s too late: The boy is in love.

If you’re a romantic, you accept the highs and lows of your relationship. My friend who “can’t enjoy” the Seahawks also has a girlfriend with chronic health problems. Those aren’t fun either, but he’s not going to quit taking care of the woman he loves any more than he’s going to quit being a Seahawks fan just because they’ve lost 36 years in a row.

People who are fanatical about celebrities or food or music are much more practical, and I envy them. Johnny Depp fans aren’t demanding his agent be fired because The Lone Ranger flopped; people who love Sitka and Spruce don’t get into screaming matches with those who prefer Crush. “I like [name of band’s] early stuff” is a total cliche; it’s also a completely legitimate viewpoint. But it would be absurdity for a true sports fan to do the same; you can’t decide halfway through your life that you prefer the Red Sox to the Mariners. Well, you can, but then you are an asshole.

For better or worse, the romantic Seahawks fan has banked his or her emotional state on the strong arm of quarterback Russell Wilson, the powerful leg of punter Jon Ryan, the balky hip of wide receiver Percy Harvin.

So what can you do to help the Seahawks fan in your life? Obviously you’d first want to relax any hardline stances against cigarette smoking (here, I am talking specifically to my girlfriend). But, also, here’s a list of statements to avoid.

“I hope it’s close. Close games are so fun!”

Wrong. Close games are a stomach-churning horror. In a diehard fan’s perfect world, the Seahawks would win each playoff game 273-0. That would be fun.

“Can I invite [person who doesn’t understand football] over to watch?”

No. Football proselytizing should occur in September or October, when the games aren’t as meaningful. This person will likely ignore the game and try to steer the conversation toward frivolous topics like human rights.

“It’s only a game.”

Sure, and $1 million is “only a suitcase full of paper.”

John Wooden, probably the greatest sports coach of all time, won 88 basketball games in a row at UCLA. Win 84 of the streak was a 100-48 thrashing of the Huskies at Hec Edmundson Pavilion—the worst home loss in UW history. Nonetheless, here’s how Wooden described his emotions during a game. “I may appear calm. I strive to be calm. I strive to keep my players calm. But inside, I am not calm. It does not matter how many games we have won. You always want to win this one, too. And no matter how confident you are, you know you may not win. So you suffer until you have won.”

You suffer until you have won. For Seahawks fans, that’s what the next month is all about. But if they do win, the pent-up nervous energy from a generation of losing will ignite a city-wide celebration unlike Seattle has ever seen. Watch for me in the parade—I’ll be the drunk guy hurling trash cans.

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

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