After the Seattle Seahawks clinched the National Football Conference championship Sunday, a number of players took turns around the stadium to shake hands and thank the fans otherwise known collectively as the 12th Man. They werent just gestures.
In a close game at home with the Super Bowl on the line, you could argue that the 12th Man made a difference, maybe even the difference, in the 23-17 victory.
I dont believe weve ever seen a team represent as large a region of the country as the Seahawks do the Pacific Northwest.
In baseball, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Boston Red Sox and the Cubs in Chicago owned the hearts of their cities. Certainly NFL teams have had similar romances with their immediate surroundings: Green Bay comes to mind, as do the Saints, who won a Super Bowl victory for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
But in purely geographic terms Seattles reach is unequalled, with five states and Western Canada claiming the Hawks as their own. With fans in the stadium not only local, but from Billings and Butte, Medford and Portland, Idaho Falls and Salt Lake City, its understandable the team wanted to return their delirious affection.
Scattered throughout the crowd at CenturyLink Stadium Sunday were many veterans, service and family members, who clearly occupy a special place in the teams heart. The Seahawks have come to Joint Base Lewis-McChord a lot over the years to pay their respects. But the number of visits doesnt tell the story.
You can tell when somebody is sincere while another is going through the motions. Head Coach Pete Carroll and the parade of players clearly care about service members, wounded warriors, DOD civilians and military family members. Carroll has spoken passionately to JBLM crowds about leadership and about traumatic brain injuries, a serious issue shared by the services and the NFL. His players have conducted youth football camps on base, run the Lewis North confidence course, arrived in twos and threes for countless signings and even presented a 12th Man flag that rotates annually among units. The 446th Airlift Wing proudly flies it today.
If youre a football fan stationed at JBLM, youve had a chance to meet NFL players even stars like quarterback Russell Wilson, receiver Doug Baldwin and our own military brat and Lakes High School graduate, receiver Jermaine Kearse.
The team also hosts many salutes to the service and military appreciation days. Honor guards and a variety of Soldiers and Airmen have played parts in myriad opening ceremonies and halftime shows at Seahawk games. A World War II veteran recently hoisted the 12th-Man flag at C-Link, a tradition now famous around the NFL.
A miniscule percentage of humans get to experience the thrill of appearing in an NFL Super Bowl. Thanks to our Seattle players, we all get to live it with them.
One more perk in being assigned to one of the great installations in the U.S. military.