SEATTLE — By noon Saturday, 49ers fans had taken over the J&M Cafe in Pioneer Square, which is no small feat. The J&M is this city’s oldest bar, a 124-year institution where Seattle pioneer Doc Maynard once played poker with Wyatt Earp.
This was a different kind of full house. Fans arrived for a scheduled “Quest for Six” rally dressed in red and gold, a few of them waving 49ers flags.
San Francisco hopes there’s a similar takeover Sunday at CenturyLink Field, another Seattle hot spot, where the Seahawks and their 68,000 fans host the NFC Championship game.
Saturday’s scene at the J&M offered a rare dash of red in a sea of green. Seattle hasn’t won a Super Bowl since “¦ ever. So this bar is one of the countless places throughout the Pacific Northwest where anticipation for the 3:30 p.m. kickoff borders on frenzy.
“There will be people here at 8 a.m.,” said Jacob Isaacson, a server at the J&M. “We’ll probably be packed by 9.”
Isaacson noted that some of those people will be there for the undercard, the AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots that starts at noon.
But people will stick around for the heavyweight slugfest between two NFC West foes who can’t stand each other. Brock Huard, a former University of Washington quarterback who had two stints with the Seahawks, now hosts a sports talk show on KIRO-AM in Seattle.
“I’m sure the phone lines would be filled up all week if it was Atlanta or Green Bay,” he said. “But there’s just something a little extra when it’s in your division, when it’s the closest team in all the NFL, proximity-wise, to South Alaska, when there is a history between Pete (Carroll) and Jim (Harbaugh) and all that. And all these games have been really hard-fought.”
On Saturday, it was tough to go two steps without seeing the ubiquitous “12” that symbolizes the Seahawks’ fan base. One storefront hung a sign that said: “12 &49.” (Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times dubbed it “Seattle math.”)
At the QFC Super Market on 5th Avenue North, a clerk poured Skittles into a trash-can-sized box near a sign that said, “FEED THE BEAST.” That’s a nod to Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch and his favorite pregame snack.
Still, there were brave troopers such as Henry Bourja, 55, who has been walking around downtown Seattle since Thursday proudly wearing his retro gold Niners jacket. And what do Seahawks fans tell him?
“That I got the nerve,” the Manteca resident said.
A few miles down the road, a fan group known as “Volume 12” held a rally at the Redmond Town Center. Joe Tafoya, who a day earlier helped raise the No. 12 flag atop the Space Needle, invited a crowd to gather near his “Volume 12” store, which caters to the people who make all that noise on Sundays.
For Tafoya, this matchup is a tad personal. Tafoya attended a 49ers pre-draft camp in 2001, but an assistant coach — he can’t remember the name — pulled him aside and told him: “You have really slow hands. I don’t think you’re going to make it in the NFL.”
Tafoya, a 1996 graduate of Pittsburg High, smiled as he recalled the story. The former University of Arizona defensive lineman went on to play six seasons in the NFL, including two in Seattle.
“I wanted to play for the 49ers, but they didn’t want me. Now I have no problem with letting people know how much of a Seahawks fan I am,” he said.
Jen Oxley, a Seattle resident and a season-ticket holder since 1997, says the vibe around town reminds her of the 2005 season, when the Seahawks beat the Carolina Panthers to advance to the Super Bowl.
She was driving in her car a few days later when a radio sports-talk host wondered why it was uncharacteristically quiet around town. Where was the excitement?
Oxley called the station to protest.
“All I could muster was a breathy whisper,” she recalled. “The screener put me on anyway, and I whispered to the host — and to all the radio world — ‘We’re here. We just don’t have our voices back yet! When we get them back, THEN you’ll hear us!’ ”
The host dumped her and moved on.
“Yeah, my sister was at the game,” the next caller said. “And she sounds just like that last lady.”