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Monday, January 30, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Love for the Seahawks abounds in the 'burbs

Seattle Times staff reporter

Maybe they should be called the Burien Seahawks.

Sure, there are plenty of die-hard Seahawks fans in Seattle — even more in these bandwagon days. But to find the deepest blue-and-green vein, hop on Interstate 5 or cross Lake Washington. The suburbs are where it's at.

Football is by far the country's most popular sport, often marketed with a dose of patriotic, even militaristic attitude. You just don't find that sentiment in anti-war Fremont, the land of nude bicyclists and a statue of Lenin.

Consider the numbers.

Despite the "12th Man" flag planted atop the Space Needle, just 14 percent of people in Seattle identify themselves as strong NFL fans, according to Scarborough Research, a New York-based firm that conducts detailed surveys of consumer behavior.

The fan base is double that — 28 percent — in South King County. On the Eastside and in Pierce County, 21 percent follow the NFL and Seahawks. In Snohomish County, 16 percent. The data, based on surveys done before the Seahawks' playoff run, undoubtedly lag behind the current frenzy. But that also shows where the true Seahawk faithful reside.

If you think the numbers lie, consider this: None of the team's 19 official Sea Hawkers booster clubs meets in Seattle. Although two of the clubs include parts of the city, leaders confirm their membership is mostly suburban, and the groups meet in places such as Burien and Kenmore.

Why is that? Is Seattle too snooty for football?

For that, we have no firm data, but there are theories.

"Basically, a lot of the people living in the city right now are the latté group," said Jerry Martinez of Sequim, a lifelong Seahawks fan on his way to Detroit in his impossible-to-ignore motor home, the Seahawk Express.

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"To them, going out and sitting in the coffee shop and having a latté is fun. To me, being in the stadium all day long shouting and hollering for the Seahawks is fun."

Martinez notes much of his "Seahawks family" — the most zealous, elaborately costumed and colorfully nicknamed fans getting so much media exposure in the run-up to the Super Bowl — also lives in the 'burbs.

You'll find "Mr. & Mrs. Seahawk" in Auburn and "Kiltman" in Everett. "Painted Hawk" lives in Fife, and "Cannonball" in Bonney Lake. Perhaps the most ardent Seahawks fan of all, "Mama Blue," aka Patti Hammond, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999 for her devotion to the team, lives in Shoreline.

John Rizzardini, Seahawks vice president for marketing, confirmed the team's fan base is strong in the suburbs. In fact, 42 percent of the team's season tickets are sold to people outside of King County, he said.

Rizzardini said the Seahawks are especially popular in military towns like Everett and around Fort Lewis.

"The game of football is closely tied to the military. It's a very patriotic game," he said.

Do we need to mention Seattle's Lenin statue again?

Perhaps not incidentally, Seattle's new City Council president, Nick Licata, made his name in politics opposing taxpayer subsidies for sports stadiums as part of Citizens for More Important Things.

Asked about the Seahawks, Licata detachedly recalled how he used to watch football as a kid. "It was interesting to watch them run around the field. It wasn't as boring as baseball."

But there is a lot to do in Seattle, a city known for its book-reading, filmgoing population. Most of the time, people are focused on other things.

"You always root for the home team, but I think most of the time they're unaware of them," Licata said of Seattleites. "They're not 365-days-a-year fans."

That's not necessarily true in cities with a deeper football tradition. Certainly not in Steeler-crazed Pittsburgh.

"Pittsburgh has a history of winning championships, so there tends to be a stronger bond between the whole market and a team when they have a history of success," said Whitney Wagner, a sports business instructor at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center.

"Pittsburgh as a city is defined much more by the Steelers and its sports teams. Seattle is defined by Starbucks and Boeing and rain and the Space Needle."

In fact, the market-research data from Scarborough last year ranked the Pittsburgh area as the No. 2 market in the country in percentage of football fans, with 41 percent of the people there identifying as strong fans. The Seattle-Tacoma region ranked 65th, with about 20 percent of the population.

But if the Seahawks pull off an upset victory on Sunday, who knows?

For the record, David Israel, the president of the Sea Hawkers fan clubs, does live in Seattle's Seward Park neighborhood. Israel said there used to be more fan clubs in the city, but they faded away over the years.

Israel said he sees plenty of Seahawks fans in the city. And if Seattle isn't known as a football town now, this year's success could be the start.

"I guarantee that's gonna change. Even if it is bandwagon fans," Israel said.

Times staff researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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