There's no man like the '12th Man' in Seattle


Seattle Seahawks fans cheer and wave their 12th man towels during the opening kickoff of the Seattle Seahawks vs. Carolina Panthers NFC championship game on Sunday, Jan. 22.

The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
SEATTLE - Around Seattle, the symbol of the Seattle Seahawks' "12th Man" is like winter rain.
It's everywhere. Every day. Over downtown office towers. Across the sides of buildings. On the jacket lapel and over the entry to the state Capitol suite of Gov. Christine Gregoire.
"I mean, the thing's hanging on top of the Space Needle," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said, marveling that a blue flag with a white, block numeral "12" has been topping the Pacific Northwest's most recognizable landmark.
It's even in a mini-controversy at Texas A&M University. Some there claim Seattle's "12th Man" is an infringement upon the "Twelfth Man," the Aggies' 84-year-old, on-field representation of their student body.
It is also on the back of Mike Davis' head.
Davis, a 44-year-old internet sales director for a suburban car dealership, had his wife shave the symbol for Seahawks fans into the dark hair on the back of his head. That was two weeks ago, before the divisional playoff game against Washington he attended at Qwest Field.
"I didn't want to do face painting," said Davis, who has been a Seahawks fan since he moved from Boise, Idaho, in 1982 - two years before the team began officially recognizing their 12th Man.
Davis' head art worked. The Seahawks won.
So he had his wife shave another, fresh "12" for the NFC title game, with a twist: An "XL" on the side representing the Roman numeral of the Seahawks' intended destination, the Super Bowl.
"My wife looked at me like I was nuts," Davis said. "But I didn't want to jinx it after the Redskins game."
That worked, too. Seattle trounced Carolina to advance to its first-ever Super Bowl, Feb. 5 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's the closest Seattle has been to a major men's professional sports championship since 1979, when the SuperSonics won the NBA title.
"I mean, it's huge. It's HUGE," Davis said of the 12th Man's effect on the Seahawks.
"Look at the record the last two years at Qwest Field," he said.
That would be 15-3 - including 10-0 this season.
This next game, the biggest one of all, is taking place 2,350 miles away. Yet the 12th Man will be there. Of course, Seattle supporters may have to strain to be seen and heard amid the likely influx of Terrible Towel-waving Steelers fans making the relative short trip to Detroit from Pittsburgh.
"You can sense this is a big deal to a lot of people," Hasselbeck said.
The 12th Man began in 1984, when the Seahawks retired the jersey number 12 to honor their fans. Back then, the otherwise drab Kingdome was the loudest venue in the NFL, even though the team had just two winning seasons in its first seven years after beginning play in 1976.
The league even briefly instituted a rule in the 1980s calling for a five-yard penalty on teams if their home crowds did not quiet enough for visiting teams to call plays. It was widely known as the "Kingdome rule."
Davis said "the most amazing thing I had ever seen" was the day Denver's John Elway stepped away from his center amid the din. Elway turned his palms toward the Kingdome's concrete roof and pleaded to the referee that he could not call signals. The referee eventually flagged Seattle more than once that afternoon.
"And then we got even louder," Davis said. "It was awesome."
Now, two title-free decades later, Seattle has seen the 12th Man become a civic rallying point - and an embodiment of Seahawks fans in general.
"That's the way Qwest Field is now," Davis said, equating the noise to that of the since-demolished Kingdome. "Those last two games, it was unbelievable."
Just before each home game, a secret presenter - most often a past Seahawk - appears on a promenade behind the south end zone inside Qwest Field to raise the "12th Man" flag. The anticipatory buzz is palpable among the over 67,000 who feel linked to the symbol.
Last week, owner Paul Allen did the deed.
"To be able to be even playing in an NFC championship game, with the support of all the fans, and the kind of outdoor environment that I dreamed about when I first got involved with the Seahawks, its just so rewarding and heart warming," Allen, the team's owner since 1997, said after last Sunday's historic win.
"And I was really touched. There were a lot of people up there saying thank you. And that kind of got to me, actually."
The Microsoft founder credited third-year team CEO Tod Leiweke for having "placed a special emphasis on trying to reconnect with the fans, who had always known and supported the team."
So how great has this season been? The franchise records of 11 straight wins and 13 wins overall, a league MVP, the seven Pro Bowlers, tied for most in the league?
"Its incredible," said Allen, born and raised in Seattle.
"I'm just really happy for the fans and the community. Everybody has supported the team all these years. And this year has been a special year - especially for the fans and the community."

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