For Keith Bell, getting to this Pacific Northwest city from his hometown of Victoria, B.C., is a load of work. There are ferries to catch and borders to battle and to make it here and back in one day, as he often does when coming to see his beloved Seahawks, is an 18-hour grind.
“It’s like a pilgrimage,” says Bell, 52, who has been going to games in Seattle for 25 years. “You can sit at home and watch it on TV but it’s not the same. It’s like going to Mecca and once you arrive you’re so glad you did. You’re there with tens of thousands of people in this stadium and the noise and the atmosphere is insane. There’s something tribal about it.”
The Seattle Seahawks have emerged as one of the NFL’s it teams in 2013. They are the pick of many league analysts to win the Super Bowl, thanks to one of the hottest young quarterbacks in the league, Russell Wilson. The defence is young and dynamic. Their coach, Pete Carroll, is passionate and charismatic. And the team is supported by one of the most fervent fan bases in the league, one that has its own name: 12th Man.
For a decade, CenturyLink Field has been considered one of the toughest stadiums in the league for visiting teams. It’s also been deemed the loudest; an honour it officially held with the folks at the Guinness World Records until a few weeks ago when fans in Kansas City eclipsed the record set by the 12th Man a few weeks before. That score of 137.5 decibels was set with the help of stadium scoreboards, which urged people to scream and surpass Seattle’s meter mark. Chiefs’ fans could see the decibel level they were hitting and how much higher they needed to go to beat Seattle’s effort of 136.6 decibels.
The Seattle record was established during the regular course of play, without any prompts inside the stadium to raise the volume. Most fans didn’t even know they were being measured for sound. Consequently, some believe that is a more honest measure of the ambient lunacy typically evident at the stadium.
The 12th Man’s reputation to get loud is also backed up by the facts: the Clink, as the stadium is known to locals, is the scene of more false starts by opposing quarterbacks than any stadium in the league. False starts are most often attributed to noise volume at field level. In one game in 2005, the visiting New York Giants were called for 11 of them.
The legend of the 12th Man took a huge leap in January of 2011 when, during an epic touchdown run by Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch during a playoff game against New Orleans, the cheering caused the ground underneath the stadium to shake. A nearby seismic-monitoring station registered seismic activity for 30 seconds during Lynch’s legendary romp to the end zone, one in which he broke nine tackles.
“Seattle fans were always among the loudest, even in the old Kingdome,” recalls Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon.
After five years in the CFL, Moon played for Houston and Minnesota of the NFL before a two-year stop in Seattle. He finished his career with Kansas City. But he’ll never forget his trips to the Kingdome, which was torn down in 2000.
“As a visiting player it was a real problem,” Moon said in an interview here. “In Houston, we ran a run-and-shoot offence and I liked to do a lot of audibling at the line of scrimmage. Well, we had to use hand signals a lot. It was a real nuisance. And now it’s even louder at the new stadium. It’s just crazy in there.”
Moon believes Seahawk fans arrive for games believing not only that they have a crucial role to play during the game, but they are a major reason the team wins at home. The team is currently on an 11-game home winning streak that dates to week 16 of 2011. In that span at home, they’ve outscored opponents 357-141.
“The noise contributes to a lot of confusion on the field for the opposing team,” says Moon, who does colour commentary of Seahawks games for ESPN radio. “I see it all the time now covering games. It just throws the other team’s rhythm off. Even hand signals can be a problem because of the general chaos and distress the noise creates.”
Moon remembers the NFC championship game in 2005 against the Carolina Panthers that sent the Seahawks to their only Super Bowl appearance. “That was the loudest I ever heard the place for the entire game,” Moon recalls. “The press box was actually shaking that day. We were actually getting nervous up there. We thought it was an earthquake at first.”
Before CenturyLink (formerly Qwest Field) was even on the drafting board, Seahawks owner Paul Allen met with architects to convey what he wanted in a new stadium. And what he wanted, he told them, was something that would produce the same noisy fan experience enjoyed at Husky Stadium, football home of the University of Washington. Allen attended games there growing up.
The result was an open-air stadium with two large overhangs that cover 70 per cent of the seats. There are also two additional overhangs that function as the floor of the upper-bowl seating.
Bill Stewart, an acoustical engineer and co-founder of SSA Acoustics in Seattle, said the two main overhangs are not only angled inward toward the field but are also concave. “What that does,” Stewart said in an interview, “is send the sound energy down to the field. You not only get the giant reflector sending the sound energy to the centre of the field, it also compresses the sound. The voices of those in the upper bowls are not only going out but also up, hitting the canopy and sending that sound energy back down to the field.”
Stewart is the one who conducted the measurements for the folks at Guinness during Seattle’s record-breaking sound attempt in September during a game against the San Francisco 49ers. He said the new mark was set when the crowd went wild after the Seahawk defence stopped the visitors on a third-and-two attempt near the Seattle goal line in the third quarter.
Tristan Carpio of Vancouver was there. As he was for Lynch’s run against New Orleans three years earlier. At 30, he’s been a Seahawks fan for half his life and has been making the trip down the Washington State’s I-5 to attend as many games as he can, one of thousands of Canadians, mostly from the Vancouver area, who make up 10 per cent of the team’s season-ticket base.
“The stadium has definitely become louder over that time,” says Carpio, 30 “As the team has gotten better, the fans have gotten louder. As a fan, I can say it’s a huge source of pride to be known as having the loudest stadium in all of sports. We wear it as a badge of honour.”
As does Greg Mitsiadis, a 30-year-old electrician from Burnaby, B.C., just outside Vancouver. He grew up attending Vancouver Canucks and B.C. Lions games. Then he went to a Seahawks game several years ago and never looked back. The experience, he says, is simply superior to anything found in Canada.
“Going to a game at CenturyLink changes you,” Mitsiadis said in an interview. “I know that sounds weird but it does. Once you’re in the middle of that madness, once you get a taste of it, it’s like you instantly want more. It’s addicting. You feed off the energy in that building. Everyone feeds off of it. That’s why the place is so bloody loud. There is no other place in North America quite like it.”
You won’t get an argument from the Island’s Keith Bell. As daunting as his one-day, return-trips to games are, it’s worth every second of the hassle. It makes him proud to say he is a member in good standing of arguably the most fanatical fan base in all of sports.
“Even with a bad team the 12th Man is good for six wins a year,” Bell says. “We make a difference at the games. We impact the outcome. And that’s very cool.”