Long-suffering fans need a champion

NEW YORK — To get an idea of how important this game is, all you had to do was take a walk during the last couple of weeks around downtown Seattle, or the Pike Place Market, or just about any public place in the Puget Sound region over the past couple of weeks.

Or if you’re fortunate enough to have been in New York this past week, a walk down 7th Avenue or Broadway to witness the sea of blue jersey, and to hear the shouts of “Sea-Hawks!” would also do the trick.

Seahawks fans need this win. The entire region needs it.

If you grew up a fan of Seattle sports teams, you and disappointment are probably well acquainted by now. Other than the Seattle Storm, which right or wrong, doesn’t resonate with a lot of sports fans, no major professional team in the area has won a title since the 1979 Sonics. That means sports fans who are younger than 40 or so don’t remember a pro championship, and it also means none of the current Seahawks were alive the last time the region celebrated a title.

And yeah, there’s also that tiny little detail that the last pro team to win a title is no longer playing basketball in Seattle, having been hijacked by disingenuous Oklahomans in 2008.

If baseball is your thing, you’ve watched the Mariners struggle for the better part of a decade, and before that you saw even the best teams in franchise history flame out in the playoffs. Even the 2001 Mariners, a team that matched a Major League Baseball record with 116 wins, failed to reach, let alone win, the World Series.

But as you walk around New York, you can’t help but get a sense from the Seahawks fans who flocked to this city that they believe a win is their team’s destiny. The energy in New York is palpable, and the fans carry themselves with the same swagger that has helped the team reach a Super Bowl. In 2005, Seattle made it to its first Super Bowl, but that team played one of its worst games of the season, and was hurt by a handful of bad calls, leaving fans disappointed once again. This time around, fans believe their time is now, and on the flip side of that, players are well aware what today’s game means to an entire region.

“Since it was settled that we were coming to the Super Bowl, the fans have let me know through social media and when I’m out in public what this means to them,” said receiver Doug Baldwin. “They’ve been thirsty for a championship in the city. They’ve been through some hard times, and as a fan of the game of football, I kind of feel for them. So it’s going to be an exciting moment to enjoy this moment, not only with my teammates and family, but with the city of Seattle, that’s special for us.”

Red Bryant isn’t just one of Seattle’s longest-tenured players, he also has a special connection to Seahawks history having married the daughter of former Seahawks star Jacob Green. Like so many of his teammates, Bryant was blown away by the sendoff from fans as the team drove from its Renton headquarters to the airport last weekend.

“I know what a Super Bowl win would mean to the city,” Bryant said. “The way the so many people lined up to send us off to the airport, it’s unbelievable. I’ve never experienced anything like that. Unbelievable. … Hopefully we can do something for the city of Seattle that hasn’t been done since the (‘79) Sonics.”

Only a couple of players on Seattle’s roster have ties to the area that extend beyond the fact that they play for the team, but they all understand they’re playing for more than just themselves.

“I know it would mean the world to them,” said safety Kam Chancellor. “They talk about it all the time. Anywhere you go in Seattle, they talk about it. ‘We’re behind you guys 100 percent, we want you guys to make history.’ We know how important it is to them. … We want to bring it back for them also.”

One person with a unique perspective on the Seahawks and their title-starved fanbase is running backs coach Sherman Smith, who was one of the original Seahawks having played on the 1976 expansion team.

“The way the fans have been, we’re really lucky,” Smith said. “I go back to ‘76, and our fans are deserving of a world championship, so I think it would be really special for the city, for the state. The way they’ve supported the team, I think it’s about time for that to happen.”

And it really feels like it’s time, doesn’t it?

Our little corner of the country is due for a celebration, isn’t it? NBA commissioner David Stern, the man who helped facilitate the theft of the Sonics, retired Saturday, which in Seattle was met with a reaction along the lines of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.” That night, Walter Jones, one of the best players in Seahawks history, was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his first year of eligibility. So if things really happen in threes, why not an end to a long title drought for a long-suffering fanbase?

Bryan Walters, one of Seattle’s two receivers from the area along with Jermaine Kearse, was a senior in high school when the Seahawks last played in the Super Bowl. Like most in the area, he was a fan, and he was heartbroken when his team lost to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL. He knows what a title would mean.

“It’d be huge,” said Walters, a Juanita High School graduate. “When was the last championship, the ’70s? I sure heard about that growing up. I remember the Super Bowl in 2005 and just how big that was to have a shot at a championship like that. As a fan, it was a letdown they didn’t come back with the trophy, so I want to make sure we don’t do that to the fans again.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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