Silence. Sometimes it’s golden. Sometimes it’s deafening. Sometimes it’s agonizing, depressing and gut-wrenching all at the same time. Oftentimes in sports, it’s accompanied by that seemingly endless moment of post failure self-reflection.
As a long-suffering Northwest sports fan, I’ve seen my share of disappointment. Whether it was Michael Jordan smugly shrugging off an unprecedented string of 3 pointers, Michael Dyer miraculously rolling over and running past a confused defense, or yet another utterly-baffling, drive-killing penalty flag lying on the turf of Ford Field, the only certainty I felt as a Northwest sports fan was that disappointment was inevitable. No matter how SURE I was that we were the best team and that we’d pull it out in the end, the guillotine always, inevitably, fell, and with it, the curtain on another season.
It’s a sentiment that every sports fan has been through. No matter if you’re a Lions fan or a Yankees fan. Whether you’ve spent the last 106 years rooting for the Cubs or 4 years cheering for LeBron and the Heatles, at some point, your team lost. The season abruptly ended when you least expected it, and while you watched the other team jump for joy, dog pile and spray champagne, there was nothing else you could do but sit there, block everything else out and ponder what could have been. Silence.
So, when the Seattle Seahawks and their #1 rated defense finally made that return trip to the Super Bowl this past February, it only seemed fitting that they’d be matched up against not just the #1 offense, but, what was statistically the greatest offense the league had ever seen. Of course they were. What a perfect set up for another oh-so-close moment for Northwest sports teams during my lifetime. This time, I was prepared for disappointment. I was prepared for the emotional catastrophe that has been my experience with Championships games. I braced myself for disaster as kickoff approached.
Then, 12 seconds in, and you could tell things were going to be different this time. The usually unflappable Peyton Manning was uncharacteristically flapped on the opening snap. A leak had sprung in his great wall. Slowly, more leaks sprang. Field goal. Field goal. TD. Pick six! All unanswered. Wait … could this actually happen? No way. Not getting sucked in yet. There’s still plenty of time. Keep quiet. Don’t say anything that will jinx this. Silence.
However, when the next half started, and (again) 12 seconds in Percy Harvin was standing in the Broncos end zone, having returned the opening kickoff for a TD, it was over. You could see it on the faces of both teams, and, more important to me, you could see it on the faces of the long-suffering Seahawk fans around me. The game had been reduced to nothing more than a simple countdown. A countdown to my first legit championship as a fan.
For about 10 minutes, all I could say or think was “is this really happening?!?!” Was it really THIS easy? No nail-biting finish. No wild swings of emotion. No stomach punch right at the end. No blank stare at the screen as the clock hits :00.
About mid-way through the 4th quarter, it really hit me. I am well versed in the art of defeat. I know how to make excuses, throw inanimate objects, and immediately begin telling everyone in earshot “Next year! We got this! NEXT year!!!” I’d been through that before. I knew that song and dance. This, however, was new ground for me as a fan. The moment that clock hit double zero, things changed. With it came the right (nay, the RESPONSIBILITY!) to break that silence. To high five every person you see, pop champagne (or beer, or tequila, or a nice bubbly Perrier) and scream at the top of your lungs. CHAMPIONS!
This was the moment that every fan dreams of at the start of each season. It’s the reason that we all pull ourselves out of bed at the ungodly hour of 10am on Sundays. It’s why we wear the same shirt for every game, develop ridiculous routines for every 3rd down, free throw or 3-2 pitch, and then change it all at the drop of a hat the moment we feel like it’s not “working” anymore.
Yet, it wasn’t until that elusive championship was all but in the bag, that I took a moment to legitimately ask myself “What the heck do I do now?” I mean, I know how to celebrate a big win, but, not THE big win. The win that they make commemorative t-shirts and mugs and leather-bound Sports Illustrated collector edition books for. The win that, as they say, lasts a lifetime.
I felt that it was a sort of odd crossroad in my life as a fan. As a perpetual sports loser, I had always been critical of how others reacted to being on top, yet, having never been in their shoes, I wasn’t able to truly say how I’d react myself.
Do I take the high road and whenever the subject of the NFL, Super Bowl or Seahawks is broached just quietly smile to myself, maybe shoot a knowing glance and nod at any fellow Seahawk fan in the vicinity, and diplomatically state, “It doesn’t mean anything now, on to the next year”?
Or, do I immediately go buy 2 dozen commemorative t-shirts, paint my house blue and lime green, get “Legion of Boom” tattooed across the small of my back, and start sending random 3am text messages of Richard Sherman to every 49er fan I know?
I want to be a “good fan” and all, but, what’s the point of bragging rights, if I can’t gleefully rub it in the faces of every opposing fan base I come across? I had waited nearly 30 years for this; I want to be able to do the Super Bowl Shuffle up and down the street any time I feel like it, dammit!
This all led me to, for the first time in my life as a fan, actually asking myself the question: “Was this all worth it?”
I had dedicated thousands of hours to watching, reading about, and obsessing over my teams; I spent thousands of dollars in tickets, hats, jerseys and the always necessary adult beverage of choice for each and every game. Did I really feel all that much different than I did last week, before all of this was supposedly validated with that one win?
For a while there, it sure didn’t seem like it. Everybody else had already moved on to next season. The combine, the draft, free agency; it all started up almost immediately. Before I even had time to fully process and enjoy the successes of the last season, we were on to the next one.
Then, a few months into the offseason, as the Super Bowl memories began to fade, and I thought for sure that this whole champion thing wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, it hit me, in the most unlikely of places: The Rose Garden Moda Center Rose Garden. Watching another one of my favorite teams on the quest to the top, reminded me exactly why it was so special to reach that pinnacle. It wasn’t about what you did once you reached the mountain top. It sounds cliché, but, now I know why it’s always said: It’s about the journey. It’s about those moments along the way, where you and your fellow fans can knowingly look at each other and realize that you’re witnessing something special, something that you will remember for the rest of your life. It’s about all those unforgettable moments where you can remember exactly where you were, what you were wearing, and who you high-fived first.
– The goal line stand in Week 1 vs the Panthers.
– Richard Sherman stealing victory from the jaws of defeat against the Texans in Week 4.
– Jermaine Kearse over the middle on 4th and long to take the lead in the NFC Championship game.
– Richard Sherman playing just-the-tip with Colin Kaepernick moments later.
– Malcom Smith snatching a wounded duck out of the air and personally escorting his feathered friend all the way to the endzone.
– Percy Harvin earning every last sent of his $12 million paycheck on one play to start the 2nd half.
That’s what it’s all about.
Well, that, and the silence. Not the agonizing, depressing, and gut-wrenching kind. The kind that you never knew existed, until you get to experience it first-hand. The kind that lasts all offseason. Every sports fans dream.
“Seahawks suck!” “Richard Sherman is an overrated, loudmouth %^#$!” “Russell Wilson is average, at best!” “[Insert trash talk here]”
“Oh, really? Who won the Super Bowl last year? That’s right!”
What typically follows is the kind of response only reserved for the reigning champs: Silence. Beautiful, glorious silence.
But, alas, with training camp underway, preseason up next, and Week 1 around the corner, it’s just about time to break that silence and begin the journey all over again. I can’t wait!