By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — No one could have possibly known the powers within its walls when a new downtown Seattle sports facility, originally called Seahawks Stadium, opened its doors on Sept. 15, 2002.
Call it Kryptonite. Sensory overload. A four-hour virus. Something gets into opposing teams when they walk into the facility that came to be known as Qwest Field and then CenturyLink Field. Sometimes it feels like words can’t even describe the effect.
But no one could have known that back then.
When the Seattle Seahawks played their first official game at the facility more than a decade ago, it was the Seahawks themselves who seemed out of their element. An underachieving running back named Thomas Jones torched the Seattle run defense for 173 yards, leading an Arizona Cardinals team that eventually finished with a 5-11 record to a 24-13 win over the Seahawks. Seattle went on to lose three of its next four games at Seahawks Stadium.
Then the mojo changed. Since its inaugural season, the facility has been the best thing that’s happened to Seahawks football. Seattle has a 51-25 record there since 2003, good for a .671 winning percentage — which nearly mirrors the franchise’s abysmal road record of 26-52 during the same span.
And if that wasn’t enough to prove the powers of what is now CenturyLink Field, just look at what the place has done for University of Washington football and the Seattle Sounders. The Seahawks, Sounders and Huskies teams have a combined home record of 19-5-3 this season.
The Huskies have won five of six games played at CenturyLink, dating back to last season’s Apple Cup, and two of UW’s past three trips to the downtown facility have resulted in upsets of top-10 teams.
The fans, with a 12th Man nickname borrowed from Texas A&M, have relished their role as antagonizing hosts, and yet that’s not the only thing that has tripped up the opposition in recent years.
Dig a little deeper, and CenturyLink seems to have a stronger, almost magical, effect on players and teams. Stanford’s Josh Nunes and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion looked like they were playing quarterback for the first time in recent visits, and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder managed just 63 passing yards in Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks.
In perhaps the most famous game ever played at the facility, Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme threw three interceptions in the NFC Championship contest after the 2005 season. How could a field that’s 100 yards long and 531/2 yards wide — just like all the rest — have such an effect on opposing passers? It’s not just because of the acoustics.
CenturyLink is seen as one of the least friendly environments for road NFL teams, and yet the stadium seems to be loved by all.
“Probably the most fun I have anywhere on the road, playing there,” Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald told the Arizona Republic last year. “They have a distinct home-field advantage, and when you walk out of that tunnel and they come out of there with the bird and the flags and stuff, you know you are in a hostile environment.”
But it’s not just the host’s hostility that gives home teams such an advantage at CenturyLink. Some kind of invisible mojo seems to be working at the facility, which has been the place of some incredible twists of fate over the years. Most of those twists have favored the home team.
Who could forget Tony Romo’s inexplicable botched snap as the Dallas Cowboys were lining up for the game-winning field goal at the 2-yard line of a 2007 playoff game? Or the infamous replacement official gaffe that resulted in a Golden Tate touchdown to beat the Green Bay Packers earlier this season?
What about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady — not even Tom Brady is safe there — inexplicably throwing a ball out of the back of the end zone to draw an intentional-grounding penalty that gave the Seahawks life just before halftime of an Oct. 14 game.
On the surface, these events might all seem to be typical home-field fodder for any NFL team. Now, add in a college program that has found just as much success and its own twists of fate at the stadium and the mysterious phenomenon of CenturyLink grows.
The Huskies and Seahawks have a combined record of 8-1 at the venue this season, with the Packers, the New England Patriots, ninth-ranked Stanford and seventh-ranked Oregon State among the victims. The lone football failure of CenturyLink’s mojo came when No. 11 USC jumped out to a big lead and held on for a 24-14 win over the Huskies on Oct. 13.
The Huskies’ 2012 success at CenturyLink wouldn’t be quite as surprising if not for the staggering scores of the losses Washington has suffered on the road this season. Away from CenturyLink, the Huskies are losing games by roughly a 40-16 margin. That’s markedly different from Washington’s 24-16 winning margin in home games.
UW coach Steve Sarkisian didn’t make much of the Huskies’ home success in their one season at CenturyLink, saying: “We’re pretty good at Husky Stadium, too.”
Tonight’s game between the Huskies (5-4 overall, 3-3 in the Pacific-12 Conference) and Utah (4-5, 2-4) marks the first of consecutive days of scheduled action at CenturyLink. The Seahawks play host to the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon. (The Sounders almost had a Monday night playoff game, which would have made for a unique three-teams-in-three-days opportunity, but that got squelched when San Jose lost to Los Angeles in the MLS playoffs three days ago.)
Today also is supposed to be the final time the Huskies will play at CenturyLink before renovations to Husky Stadium are complete for a full 2013 schedule there beginning next fall.
“To have the opportunity to play in a stadium like CenturyLink Field has been awesome for us,” Sarkisian said, “but, quite honestly, we can’t wait to get back to Husky Stadium because it’s our home.”
Not that the Huskies mind having one more game at the host-friendly confines of a stadium that has come to be quite an advantage for football teams of all sorts.
The venue once known as Seahawks Stadium has certainly treated the home teams well over the years, and the Huskies have been the latest beneficiaries.