Sports fans are made, not born. Most of the time, team devotion is handed down from parents to children. In my case, I learned to love the Seattle Seahawks with the help of some friends, and with the help of a profound sense of loneliness.
I became a Seahawks fan about ten years ago. That was the both the year I left Seattle and the year the Seahawks became a Super Bowl team.
Before you accuse me of being a bandwagoner — or worse, a fair-weather fan — let me explain.
Becoming a Seahawks fan wasn’t just about switching loyalties to a successful team. It’s been a way to connect to the city where I lived for a significant decade of my life.
I moved to Seattle from the East Coast in my mid-twenties, while the rest of the planet was in the mid-1990s. During the ten years I was there, I spent too much time working at clerical jobs I disliked. But I also learned how to become a writer.
Plus I did lots of things that underemployed people in their twenties ought to do: I dabbled (and failed) in sketch comedy; I bar-hopped and went to ridiculous clubs. I appeared in drag in a stage adaptation of “Night of the Living Dead.”
I went to the Folklife festival every Memorial Day weekend and I went to Bumbershoot every Labor Day Weekend. I saw Death Cab For Cutie in a small club. I was not impressed, but they grew on me. I saw a band called The Paperboys. I was impressed. I have been a devoted fan ever since.
I bought a share in a Mariners season-ticket package. I spent two seasons as a shareholder in a Sonics season-ticket package. I went to an NFL game at the now-imploded Kingdome, when the Seahawks were bad and Dennis Erickson was their coach.
I joined a writing group that met every other weekend, filling notebooks with character sketches, scene studies and bits of micro-fiction. I fenced competitively, then quit when it became too expensive.
I eventually figured out that I wanted to work in journalism. I sold some stories to various weeklies and covered soccer, gymnastics and volleyball games for a daily newspaper. Then I was hired to run one of the small neighborhood papers where I had sold some articles. I continued to follow the Mariners and the Sonics.
I went to two more Seahawks games but only because the tickets were free. Century Link field was under construction, so both rainy December contests were held at Husky Stadium on the University of Washington campus. It was a giant horseshoe with the open end facing Lake Washington. Both times, it rained so hard my waterproof jacket became waterlogged and I left before the games ended. Though the Seahawks had improved — they had Mike Holmgren as head coach and a promising young quarterback named Matt Hasselbeck — I still wasn’t ready to switch allegiances from the Philadelphia Eagles, the hapless team I had followed since I was a kid.
I learned a great deal in my editor job, writing tons of stories each week, laying out the paper, writing headlines, editing copy and occasionally delivering papers on Wednesdays to the nice old ladies who called after circulation closed (but before I left the office).
I also learned that Seattle is an expensive place to live — and that editors of weekly newspapers don’t get paid much. After three and a half years I needed a job that paid enough to let me start paying off my student loans. Since Seattle was fresh out of newspaper jobs, I moved back to Pennsylvania, the state I had been glad to leave a decade before.
Everything about that move was painful. Seattle had become my home. I missed my friends. I missed the beach at Golden Gardens. I missed the sight of mountains. I missed living in a major city. (I moved from Seattle to Easton, which was half the size of Ballard, the neighborhood where I had worked.) Financially the move made sense. But in the immediate aftermath I was depressed, lonely and struggling to adapt to my new life.
Along came the Seahawks.
That same year, the team had the most successful season in franchise history, going 13-3 behind Hasselbeck’s arm and MVP running back Shaun Alexander’s legs. They were just plain fun to watch. Because good teams are shown more often on national TV, I got to watch the Seahawks more than anyone on the East Coast normally would have. Following the team gave me a connection back to the city I knew and had so recently left. Their postseason run and Super Bowl appearance only cemented my loyalty.
I know that makes me sound like a bandwagoner. But I still followed them through the stinking seasons between 2005 and 2013, when they again dominated the NFC West (and finally won a Super Bowl).
Friends who are devoted Eagles fans don’t understand how I could switch my allegiance. I do root for the Eagles when they’re not playing the Seahawks. But on those rare occasions — such as the 2014 season, when the two teams met in Philadelphia — I pull for Seattle. My rationale is simple: I lived in Seattle. I never lived IN Philadelphia.
In the ten years since returning home, I have married a wonderful woman, purchased a house in a great neighborhood and get to experience the everyday joys of being a father to a beautiful child. Leaving Seattle was also good for my career. I wouldn’t change anything about the life choices I made since leaving The Emerald City.
Still, Seattle is a place that I will always miss, no matter how many times I visit. Nostalgia makes us long for the past as if it were a geographical place. For me it is: the northwest corner of the country where it rains much of the time and everyone has a library card. I may go back to visit, but Seattle will probably never be home again.
Facebook, texts and phone calls help me stay connected to my friends in the Northwest. Sports helps me stay connected to the city. Football is ideally suited for that. Following the Mariners from three time zones away (especially on a daily basis) is a chore. The once-a-week (and occasionally on TV!) football schedule, on the other hand, is easier to manage. For a team representing my favorite city in the world, I can make that commitment.