Its been a full 24 hours since the epic 49ers-Seahawks NFC Championship game concluded. Today I drove Stone to see his special pediatrician in Oregon City so I had plenty of time to digest the contest and revurberations that resulted from Seattle beating the 49ers with a last-second defensive stand.
I went into this game with the attitude that it was the ultimate “win-win” scenario for me. While I wanted my beloved childhood team to make a repeat appearance in the Super Bowl and win that elusive sixth ring, I also thought I would be happy for my adopted hometown Seattle if they won the game. After all, I became an instant Seahawks fan when they entered the NFL as an expansion team. At that time they played in the same division as the Oakland Raiders and were fairly successful at beating them – so that was all I needed to like them. I also loved their early star Quarterback Jim Zorn and they way he would run around to make plays – actually not too dissimilar from current ‘Hawk QB Russell Wilson. I even created my own giant Seahawks poster/bumper sticker and insisted my parents put it on the back of our trailer when we went on camping trips and vacations when I was 14.
Yesterday’s game turned out to be as entertaining (and hard-hitting) as most of us anticipated. And as one of my friends texted me later, it was the kind of game you hate to see one team lose, because it was clear they were both such great teams.
But in the 4th quarter I read reports on Twitter that Seahawks fans threw food on injured 49er linebacker Navarro Bowman – who was being carted out of the stadium after suffering a gruesome knee injury that tore his ACL and MCL moments earlier. I was sick to my stomach reading this report. How could fans be so classless to do such a thing – let alone in a city like Seattle, which typically takes pride in its civility.
And then, after the Seahawks prevailed we all heard Richard Sherman’s rant heard ‘round the world. The news and social media cycle has had more than a day to chew this up and spit it out – long enough for Sherman to make his expected public mea culpa with a public statement and apology. Good for him. While I have tremendous respect for his abilities, I can’t say I have much for that kind of behavior. I think he was an Ass with a capital A at that moment. I’ve watched countless post-game interviews with players who made key/critical plays and can’t recall anything remotely similar to that level of poor sportsmanship. And yes I know we can’t (and shouldn’t) judge a person based on one episode, or as Pete Carroll put it today, “We aren’t perfect, and we all make mistakes.” Fair enough. As an aside, given that the Seahawks lead the NFL in PED suspensions, I think its clear that Carroll has become a leading authority in “mistakes” football players make. But thats besides the point. Back to yesterday’s game.
I expected my reaction to the Seahawks going to this Super Bowl to be similar to when they beat Carolina in January 2006 and I was genuinely thrilled for the team and region. Maybe it was because that Seahawks team came out of nowhere and wasn’t expected to be a contender that made that experience more fun. Maybe it was because the 49ers stunk that year so it was easier for me to jump on the Seahawks bandwagon. Maybe it was because it was before social media and so many obnoxious fans on Twitter. I’m not sure but the feeling was definitely different 8 years ago.
I’ve been as passionate a sports fan as any out there and as I’ve gotten older and (hopefully) more mature, I’ve tried to improve my own sportsmanship when it comes to dealing with other fan bases. I’m all for good-natured ribbing and teasing – and I’m lucky that I have friends who are fans of many teams that are natural rivals of my favorite teams who know how to give and take.
But I have been genuinely surprised at the level of outright hostility I’ve observed from local Seahawks fans at 49er players, coaches and fans. Local sports talk radio routinely refer to Jim Harbaugh as “Douchebag” and I’ve lost track at the number of times I’ve heard Kaepernick referred to as a “thug” (or worse).
And I suppose all of this is considered fair when it comes to sports – especially in the build up to such a big game. But even after the Seahawks prevailed and punched their ticket to New Jersey for the Super Bowl, I’ve been surprised to see so many Seahawks fans take (seemingly) as much glee in the 49ers loss – as in the Seattle win. I’ve seen very few comments by Seahawks fans about what a great game it actually was (or kudos to the 49ers for pushing the #1 seed to the brink). Maybe that’s expecting too much? I guess I truly don’t understand because even when I sat in Candlestick Park and watched The Catch knock out the truly hated Cowboys and propel the 49ers to their first Super Bowl, my first thought wasn’t too taunt Dallas fans (even as an immature 16 year old). My only thought was about how the 49ers were going to the Super Bowl!!! And the fact that they did it against a team that had knocked them out of the playoffs so many times earlier in their history made it more gratifying of course.
I sat through a similarly thrilling game when Oregon played Auburn for the BCS Championship in 2011. And just as my 49ers lost in the closing seconds of yesterday’s game, my Ducks lost late when Auburn kicked a field goal on the final play to pull out the victory. We had been sitting among Auburn fans and they were passionate – and extremely civil – throughout the game. After the kick was made, two Auburn fans who had been sitting in front of and interacted with us throughout the game turned around and shook our hands and said “great game – it’s a shame when it comes down to a fluke play (referring to the controversial Michael Dyer run – which set up the game-winning kick).
Last November I sat through the Ducks stumbling through a tough loss to Stanford in Palo Alto – another game when the final result was still in doubt in the final moments. And after this game Stanford fans around me patted me on the back, shook my hand and talked about how impressed they were with Oregon’s resolve at the end of the game.
Both are examples of what I call winning with class.
The Seahawks will be lining up against the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl and there is no player or quarterback I respect more than Peyton Manning. He has been the epitome of professionalism throughout his career and has excelled beyond expectations on the field after returning from what many considered were career-ending neck surgeries. I would be very happy to see Peyton win his 2nd Super Bowl and earn his rightful spot among the top 5 all-time great quarterbacks. So its not like the Broncos are an easy team to root AGAINST in this Super Bowl.
Its been well-documented that Seattle sports fans have only been able to celebrate one major championship – the SuperSonics NBA crown waaaay back in 1979. And this is the reason why I thought heading into yesterday’s NFC Championship Game it would be cool if the Seahawks finally brought home the Lombardi Trophy to the Emerald City.
I’ve long believed that every fan base deserves to experience the feeling of at least one championship. Given the amount of energy, emotion and passion fans put into their teams, they deserve that ROI once in their life. And there is no doubt that Seahawks fans are some of the most passionate in the NFL – the 12th man is no joke.
So at the end of the day I guess I’m still going to pull for the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl so I can see this city celebrate. I just hope they (and their fans) handle it with class.