A Big Win For The Twelfth Man

I’ve spent a lot of time in the Pacific Northwest lately, and I’ve learned perhaps the one thing they love more than salmon and Tillamook dairy products are the Seattle Seahawks.  When I visited last month, I struck up random conversations with fans who eagerly awaited this season’s opener with perhaps as much, or more, anticipation as the Super Bowl they won in New Jersey a few years back.

Last night was the return of the quarterback that got them their one World’s Championship to date, Russell Wilson, now a much richer man and the leader of the Denver Broncos, who at one time were the Seahawks’ bitter division rival during their AFC days.   With a Monday Night ABC audience just like it used to be, it was a much anticipated reunion.

So perhaps it was fate that when a power outage hit my building just before the Emmy Awards that I intended to watch for my other site (shameless plug: Leblanguage.net covers THAT in full today) it forced me out of my recliner and searching for a place to watch the game, ideally one with A/C.  I immediately thought of a nearby hangout across from the Sony studios where I used to work.  Turns out it’s a Seahawks bar, very much dedicated to the concept of the Twelfth Man.

For those who don’t already know, the Seahawks have retired the #12 in honor of this concept. As Fansided recounts, it’s actually a tradition now exactly one hundred years old, and with roots far from Puget Sound:

Seattle isn’t where the 12th man began. In fact, it begins in College Station, Texas – 2,280 miles southeast from the Emerald City. Let’s take a journey through history to see how Seattle became the home of the 12th man.

It’s Jan. 2, 1922, and the Texas A&M football team is playing top-ranked Centre College. The reserves become thin and Coach Dana X. Bible remembers basketball player E. King Gill, a former football player, is in the press box helping reporters identify players. He asks him to the field, telling him to suit up and be ready to play if needed. Gill isn’t needed, but the Aggies win 22-14.  “I wish I could say that I went in and ran for the winning touchdown, but I did not. I simply stood by in case my team needed me,” Gill said.

Gill becomes known as the 12th man because he supported the Aggies when they needed assistance. His devotion inspires the student body, creating a fan base willing to help in every way they can. It’s the beginning of a new era in fandom.

Fast forward a few decades.

The Seahawks are founded in 1976 and the city rejoices. The Kingdome sells out game-after-game, impacting the team’s success in the 1980s.

It’s Dec. 5, 1984, and the Seahawks are playing their regular-season finale against the Denver Broncos. During the game, Seahawks president Mike McCormack retires the No. 12 jersey to honor “the best fans in the NFL.” It’s the first time a professional sports franchise retires a jersey in honor of its fans.

And last night, #12 clearly outplayed #3.

Wilson was serviceable, going 29-for-42 and throwing for over 300 yards.  During a gripping fourth quarter, he continually converted third downs on two consecutive drives that wound up giving Denver a field goal to cut their lead to one, and then putting them in position to kick another won as the clock wound down.

But as they approached the true range for Broncos kicker Brandon McManus, the Lumen Field faithful began to roar; as the ABC cameras captured, decibels were close to 100.  Wilson was only able to get them to a 4th and 5 with 24 seconds to go.  Needing a completion to at least give them a fighting chance, and with the steely determination that he had showed Hawks fans for more than a decade, Wilson went under center and began to call the play.

But then–and, if you’re a Broncos fan, you’re probably cursing as you read this–new coach Nathaniel Hackett called time out–one of the three he had at his disposal– and sent McManus out for a potentially game-winning 64-yard attempt.  Now, if this were Denver, where field goals of this range have been made by previous Broncos kickers, this might have been defensible.  But in Seattle, by a kicker whose all-time high had been just 57 yards?  As Ricky Ricardo once said, “you got some ‘splainin’ to do”.

Sure enough, McManus did indeed kick a ball through the uprights at that distance.  But at that point, more seasoned Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had called time out himself, nullifying the kick.  He all but dared McManus to do it again, as the cacophony of Twelfth Men rose to Beast Quake levels.

And he missed.

And somehow, the Seahawks won a game with, of all people, Geno Smith outplaying Wilson.  As a historic supporter of the New York Jets, the mere mention of Geno’s name brings chortles.  One of the least successful top draft picks of a truly snake-bitten team, Smith won the Hawks’ quarterback derby practically by default on the heels of a surprisingly strong pre-season, and a noble effort as a fill-in for Wilson in a Thursday night effort against the eventual champion Rams last year.  But Smith had not started an opening game since 2014.  All he did was go 23-for-28, throw for both of the Seattle touchdowns, and, frankly, outplay Wilson head-to-head.

Many pundits outside the PNW believe this Seahawks team is far weaker without Wilson, and with Smith as their leader were arguably one of the least talented teams in the NFL.  Someday #3 will likely be retired in his honor; once time and retirement set a more thoughtful remembrance of his impact on this franchise and its fan base will be recognized.  But last night, Wilson was the enemy of the 12th Men (and women), and his failure was celebrated.  And, at least this week, the Seahawks are undefeated and alone atop the NFC West.

And I, for one, found an awesome place within walking distance to watch future games with.  With exuberant, passionate fans that remind me how much I love the PNW, especially when the climate is warmer and dryer than what it typically would be during football season.

What a great way to start the season.  Sea. Hawks!!


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