700,000 celebrate Seahawks’ championship

SEATTLE — It’s been a while since we’ve done this as a region. Been a few years—OK, decades—since sports fans from Western Washington and beyond got together for a celebration of this magnitude.

In 1979, an estimated crowd of 300,000 filled the streets of Seattle to celebrate the SuperSonics’ first title. Thirty-five years later, the crowd was more than double that size as a long-suffering fanbase took to the streets on a sunny but cold Wednesday afternoon to party with the newly crowned Super Bowl champion Seahawks.

“I can’t believe that many people got to miss work today,” said Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett.

Work, school and just about every other normal weekday responsibility took a back seat to the party of all parties, an estimated 700,000 of the Seahawks’ closest friends cramming the streets of downtown Seattle over the roughly two-mile stretch of the parade route. The Seattle School District reported 13,523 absent students, and 565 more teachers, while untold thousands blew off work with or without permission.

Fans overloaded freeways, and crowded into busses and trains to be a part of something some hadn’t experienced in 35 years, and that many have never had a chance to witness. They climbed trees for a better view, they drank on the streets and yes, some partook in a recently-legalized form of smoking. Someone even painted their dog blue with a giant green stripe down its back. Come to think of it, maybe those last two were related, hard to say for sure.

Then as Seahawks fans do, they screamed, from Fourth and Denny to CenturyLink Field, the fans known for making noise made plenty of it as the convoy of players and coaches worked their way down Fourth Avenue.

The players, of course, returned the love, none more humorously than Marshawn Lynch, who rather than ride in the vehicle designated for running backs, sat on the front of the “Ride the Ducks” amphibious vehicle full of Sea Gals, throwing Skittles to fans. At one point Lynch was given a drum, which he banged away throughout the rest of the parade, then brought with him to the celebration in the stadium. After the rest of the players had been introduced and Russell Wilson entered last, carrying the Lombardi Trophy, Lynch jumped off the stage, ran to his quarterback, then showered Wilson and Lombardi with a bottle of Dom Perignon.

“As you’ve probably seen by now, this is not going to be a very formal event,” quipped Seahawks play-by-play man Steve Raible, who served as the event’s M.C.

“There’s just not enough words to describe the emotion and exchange that was given from the fans to our players and our players to the fans,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “It was just an amazing day. The consistency of intensity of the fans through the parade was amazing. … I’ve never seen anything like this.”

As the Seahawks wrapped up their 43-8 victory over Denver on Sunday night, it was a thrill to be there covering a huge moment in Seattle sports history, but a little part of me also wished I could have been in Seattle to see the celebration. Wednesday, I and so many others got to see exactly how this region celebrates a championship. Whether you’re a fan of another team or just a cynic who gets tired of the fawning over the love affair between a team and its fans, there is enough ammunition to mock the 12th Man phenomenon, be it the omnipresent 12 flags or the multiple Guinness World Record attempts for crowd noise. But here’s the thing, cheesy as it can sound at times, the connection between this team and its fans is very real and very unique. If you couldn’t feel that Wednesday, you may not feel much of anything.

“It’s about the people,” Carroll said. “The people in this area and the support that they have and the love in their heart to cheer for this football team is very, very special and very unique. … It’s hard to describe it other than it’s very real and it’s really cool that we have it.”

Players knew they were coming to downtown Seattle for a celebration of their Super Bowl win, but they weren’t entirely prepared for what they saw. The emotion going back and forth between fans and players was visible, from the smiles to the laughs to Red Bryant wiping away tears.

“It’s tough to put in words” said receiver Golden Tate. “It’s very, very special. It doesn’t surprise me though. The fanbase we have here is tremendous. It’s something this whole city takes pride in, and really the Pacific Northwest. I talked to some people who came from Spokane and different parts of Idaho just for the parade. That’s special. People taking off work, really the whole city shut down for this huge celebration. It was great to be a part of it and it’s something I’ll value forever and I’ll never forget it. … You can’t beat this. It’s special.”

This is what Paul Allen envisioned when he bought the Seahawks 1997 and saved them from a move to Southern California. Allen is a business man, an inventor and a philanthropist, but he’s also a local sports fan who like so many others has waited decades for this day.

“There’s something special about a first, and I’m excited to celebrate the first ever Seahawks Super Bowl victory with all of you today,” Allen told the crowd at CenturyLink Field. “As a man who was born and raised here, it’s a very special moment and the fulfillment of a dream, not just for me, but for everyone on the team.”

It was a nearly perfect day for the Seahawks and their fans, one both sides hope can be repeated in fewer than 35 years.

“It’s just not one year,” Carroll said. “We’re just getting warmed up, if you know what I’m talking about.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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