Loyalty links Seattle sports fans no matter who they're rooting for
Seattle sports fans' loyalty to their teams is one of their most striking characteristics. In wrapping up his five-part Fanatomy series this week, that was Jerry Brewer's fitting conclusion.
Seattle Times staff columnist
As a food vendor, Walt Pillman can provide essential information about Seattle sports fans — their appetites.
Pillman, Ivar's director of stadium operations, can tell you that one out of 15 Mariners fans purchases garlic fries. He can tell you that Seahawks fans buy twice as much beer as Mariners and Sounders FC fans. He can tell you that Sounders FC fans turn the concession area into "a ghost town" during matches because they're so focused on the action, that Huskies fans still love their chowder in bread bowls, and that Mariners fans eat and drink about 30 percent more during night games than day games.
But for Pillman, those cravings don't define Seattle sports fans. Instead, when asked for their strongest characteristic, he abandons business data and refers to something immeasurable.
"Loyalty," he says. "Without a doubt, loyalty."
And with that, we've arrived at a fitting conclusion to this series.
We spent about three months examining local sports fans, gathering statistical data, dodging stereotypes, interviewing typical and atypical aficionados. We dissected five fan bases and scratched the surface of change. We started a fresh conversation, though admittedly it's impossible to fully define such a vast and diverse group. But in the end, we're left with the same description as Pillman had.
Loyalty is difficult to quantify, but you know it when you see it. And contrary to their fair-weather, bandwagon-jumping reputation, plenty of Seattle fans have it.
Most striking trait: The spirit and optimism of these supporters somehow outshines the misfortunes they've endured.
In only 42 years as a pro sports city, Seattle has lost two teams (Sonics and Pilots) and survived the near departures of the Mariners and Seahawks. It has won only one championship in the Big Three of American sports leagues (NBA, NFL, MLB), and that title came in 1979, just before the NBA experienced a huge popularity spike. It has never been to a World Series and experienced only one Super Bowl, which turned into a painful debacle of questionable officiating.
Instead of mocking Seattle fans for being more brainy and eccentric than others, it would be fairer to consider how remarkable it is that they have such a high hope-to-misery ratio.
In sports culture, it has become fashionable to measure sports fans by how much they scream during bad times rather than how loudly they cheer during good times. Perhaps looking at resilience would make for a better metric.
"Where that overemphasis of being loud and negative has come from is talk radio and the Internet mostly," said Mike Gastineau, a KJR-AM sports-radio host. "Realistically, those kinds of fans make up a small minority of society. It's a minute percentage. Most people aren't going to get engaged to that level. It's a misnomer to think those fans are a vocal majority."
Most likely, there will always be a perception/reality faceoff here. How can Seattle be the most literate city in America and still care about sports? Many don't get it. It's unfortunate. On the other hand, it's not like Seattle is begging to be figured out.
"It's an us-against-the-world thing out here, partly because of our geographic location," said Steve Goodman, 39, of Mountlake Terrace.
Goodman has lived in the area his whole life. He was a Mariners bat boy. He grew up a Huskies fan but converted after attending college at Washington State. He actually compares the underdog aspect of being a Seattle sports fan to being a Cougar.
"You know everybody outside of Pullman doesn't give a you-know-what about you," Goodman said. "When measured against the nation, Seattle is kind of like that. It's an underdog mentality you have to have."
Goodman remembers watching "Monday Night Football" as a child and hoping like crazy that Howard Cosell would feature the Seahawks during his halftime highlights package. Sometimes, it happened. Goodman and his friends would go crazy. He said Seattle sports fans, though they often deny it, crave more national recognition and have insecurities because they don't get it.
Rachel Kessel, a Seahawks fan, agreed.
"It's like the 2005 season when we went to the Super Bowl," she said. "It kind of changed the perception of Seattle. We got a taste of being relevant. And we want it back. We're tired of being dismissed. We're tired of being ignored. It's why people cling to the 12th Man nickname so much. It gives us an identity."
There's something to be said for a fan base that never loses hope, especially when it has been given ample opportunity to do so.
"Seattle sports fans have had a lot of knives in the heart, man," Goodman said. "All those knives in the heart, and what's the Seahawks' theme song when they come out on the field? 'Bittersweet Symphony.' No other NFL team would have that as their theme song. We know the love and the pain and the whole crazy thing."
Goodman says that, over the years, he has become increasingly bitter about sports. But that doesn't stop him from creating song parodies using Seattle sports and calling my voice mail to sing them.
He once read a Billy Graham book called "Hope for the Troubled Heart" and retained one valuable fact.
"The Chinese character for perseverance is a knife in the heart," he said. "We know a lot about that, and we keep going. We keeping on, baby. We persevere."
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
email@example.com | 206-464-2277
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.