|Photo from Seahawks.com, Rod Mar|
I grew up with sports - football chief among them. The Miami Dolphins won the Superbowl the same year I was born (and, unfortunately, haven't won another one since) and even though I grew up on the West Coast, I spent my youth cheering for Bob Griese and team. My dad patiently taught me about holding calls and 2-point conversions and there were always two or three Nerf footballs lying around our yard. There were other sports we loved, to be sure, but following football was as much part of our lives as going to church on Sunday, and it was something we did as a family.
In high school I dated the quarterback for a while and froze my butt off in the stands every Friday night cheering on our team. I loved the rush of sitting with my friends, doing the wave, and rising as one entity, screaming with joy when one of our boys hit the end zone.
I watched helplessly in college as one of my friends was hit so hard he ended up paralyzed and suffered bleeding in his brain. He never recovered and spent the next few years of his life in a nursing home where he ultimately died of the brain injury. The community of students and staff rallied closely around his family and Eric's room was rarely empty for the remainder of his days.
For the past few weeks our town has been a frenzy of excitement and I have been reminded of the power of community. A few years ago, the team and its supporters began using the phrase "12th man." The idea picked up steam and while it may not have originally been intended, the fans of this team have become an integral part of its success. 12 man flags fly all over town and at the end of every victory, both the coach and players thank the fans. Beyond giving the team a home field advantage by generating so much noise the opposing team can't hear each other, the fans have folded the coach and players into the life of the town so deeply that they have become intertwined. The players appear in local hospitals and schools, and the owner has a rich history in Seattle as well.
There is something really amazing about feeling as though you are truly a part of your team. However absurd it sounds, the sentiment of ownership, of pride, is palpable in this town right now. From the young coach who folks thought couldn't lead an NFL team to victory to the quarterback who was told to stick to baseball to the owner whose major accomplishment prior to buying the Seahawks was helping Bill Gates start one of the most successful technology companies in the world, this team was built on hard work and a dream. (Okay, yes, and a boatload of money, but not the most money in the league by any stretch of the imagination.) I love the fact that prior to this Superbowl, none of the players on this team had a championship ring. Each and every one of these players got their first Superbowl ring last night. Each and every one of them appears to have taken Coach Carroll's philosophy of playing to heart: that every minute of every game is as important as another. I would venture to guess that many of the fans are doing the same, given the consistent efforts of their team.
I am aware of the many controversies involved with professional sports and struggle with many of them. Are players being exploited by the league when they are asked to hit and take hits that are increasingly dangerous? Is the game too violent? Is it necessary to pay these players such exorbitant sums of money? Why is the NFL considered a non-profit organization and, thus, exempt from paying taxes while raking in obscene amounts of money? But I won't deny the feeling of community and camaraderie that comes from cheering for this team who acknowledges the part their fans play in their success. In his post-game speech in the locker room, after calling out each individual player who made a spectacular play, Carroll asked the team to cheer for, "The 12s - there is something that's so real, they are so much a part of what we do..." I can't say that I'm not a little bit thrilled that this group of players who had the dubious honor of being the underdog went on to such a resounding victory, and they did it without nastiness or rubbing their win in anyone's face. As for the fans, so far Seattle has stayed true to its reputation by not letting this win spark riots and looting all over town. I, for one, am happy to see the 'Hawks go out on such a high note and I suspect their fans will ride this high for a while. There is something powerful about being swept up in the momentum of a group of people all rooting for the same thing, whether its a political rally or a sporting event or a group of friends watching a movie together all pulling for the heroine. It feels good, especially when your team wins.