Twenty minutes into the game, the sky an ominous grey all day, a city shrouded in fog, the darkness of night approaching, a normally crazed stadium of nearly 70,000 Seattle Seahawks fanatics went mute.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers had silenced the fabled 12th Man, the rabid backers of the Seahawks who in the past have registered their devotion on the Richter scale and on Sunday were stunned to quiet by a dream beginning to fracture.
Their heroes were down 10-0, after the tattooed Kaepernick had emerged as the early shining star, busting out the first notable offensive play – a 58-yard scamper in the second quarter that set up the game’s first touchdown – in a gridiron battle, the NFC championship, that was pure grindhouse.
The Seahawks, however, had in recent memory been down 10-0 in the playoffs at home, three years ago when Sunday’s favourites against the 49ers were decided underdogs against the New Orleans Saints. It was that monumental upset of the Saints when Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch inspired fans to set off seismic vibrations.
On Sunday night Lynch was part of the resurrected spark to bring the Seahawks back from the brink but it was, in the fourth quarter, quarterback Russell Wilson – as well as the league’s best defence – that propelled the stirring victory in what became an at-times weird, topsy-turvy affair.
The Seahawks did not wrench the lead away from the 49ers until the last quarter, and it was then the depressed fans finally found their voice again. There was emotional pain – and then there was joy, overflowing joy as Seattle hung on to secure a berth in their second Super Bowl. There were even cheers in the press box.
It was an incredible football game. A Seattle interception in the end zone, with 22 seconds left, ended San Francisco’s last gasp.
"If you're a football fan, you've gotta love that game," said Wilson in a late press conference.
The 12th man was widely saluted, from Coach Pete Carroll to state Gov. Jay Inslee.
"The 12s are just woven into the fabric of what the Seahawks are," said Carroll after the game in a press conference, offering the Super Bowl berth as a gift. "They just frickin deserve it."
Earlier, after a happy rain of blue-and-fluorescent-green confetti poured down, and Frank Sinatra's New York, New York played, Inslee was asked by a local reporter about being first among the 12th man.
"I'm one of 6 1/2-million," said the governor on the field, a big smile savouring a major win. "This is a big team. I've been here since '51. This was the most unified. It's great for the state. But we've got one more game to play."
Seattle, so long a poor cousin to San Francisco, upended its West Coast rival when it mattered, not breaking after the 49ers led from the start when Wilson weakly fumbled on the first offensive play of the game. In a game whose first half lived up to expectations of smashmouth football, suffocating defence that yielded nothing without a bloodletting, the Seahawks came through the slaughter as victors, as Wilson added a major chapter to his flowering reputation for a preternatural knack to win.
So in the stadium where Wilson had been 16-1 before Sunday in his two seasons in the NFL, he saved his and Seattle’s dream of a Super Bowl. The 49ers won’t get a chance to avenge their Super Bowl loss last year and instead it is Seahawks who will take on the Denver Broncos and star quarterback Peyton Manning in two weeks.
For the Seahawks, and the city of Seattle, it is a win that immediately lodges itself at the very acme of the region’s sporting lore.
Seattle had been superior to San Francisco through the season, only to falter in recent weeks, just as the 49ers coalesced and went undefeated since mid-November. It looked as though, for a lot of Sunday, momentum, favourable and negative, was unchanged. But Wilson delivered when it really counted, and Kaepernick, who had such an excellent game for three quarters, did not.
The two cities, these days, are so similar, West Coast, digital, liberal, foodie, but on the fields and in the arenas of sport, Seattle is a poor cousin. Seattle can boast only one championship, so long ago, the SuperSonics in 1979, an ancient era of the NBA. San Francisco, of course, is home to one of the great teams in football history, five Super Bowls, never mind World Series wins by the Giants in 2010 and 2012.
It is, however and of course, only the penultimate chapter. Wilson has one left to pen – and there is another man in the way, Manning, the man whose career not long ago had been declared over by many. It will be an amazing Super Bowl – and in America’s ultimate hero factory, Manning’s legend will be cemented, or Wilson’s fully launched.