Super Bowl dreaming in the City of Self-Doubt
Seattle Times staff reporter
BETTY UDESEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
JIM BATES / THE SEATTLE TIMES
So here we sit, on the verge of something Super.
In this, the City of Self-Doubt, we have put our shaky confidence squarely behind the Seattle Seahawks, a professional football team we adored when freshly hatched, then all but abandoned during the rebellious years.
Cruelly, we used to call them the "Seahacks."
But today, as the re-energized Seahawks line up against the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game, one win away from ascending to the Super Bowl, we beg forgiveness and ask a couple of favors.
Rescue us from our midwinter, 80-percent-chance-of-showers malaise. Lift us in ways that others — not to name names (the 2001 Seattle Mariners) — let us down.
"If the Seahawks make the Super Bowl, it will be as crazy in here as we've ever seen it," predicted Ron Zaffino, who opened Scoreboard Pub, a Federal Way sports bar, in 1982. "Like all sports-oriented businesses, we need that occasional shot in the arm that the Seahawks are giving us now. We get less of those in Seattle than other communities do."
Slapped silly by history, Zaffino is hardly bursting with bravado and forecasting a Seahawks victory today.
"I'm gun-shy," he said.
To repeat: At stake this afternoon is the right to play in Super Bowl XL. The Super Bowl, People!
Drop that stoic Seattle shtick, pretending to be more interested in the next reading at Elliott Bay Book Co. than in how our secondary is going to contain Carolina stud receiver Steve Smith.
More than just a championship football game with a Vegas-style halftime show and hilarious TV commercials, the Super Bowl arguably is America's biggest event. Bigger than the World Series, bigger than the Oscars, bigger than the final episode of "M*A*S*H."
And Seattle is frighteningly close to co-starring in it.
"It's just one game, and it's just one day, but the Super Bowl is like a national holiday in this country," said Robert Tuchman, president of TSE Sports & Entertainment, a New York City-based sports marketing firm. "The Super Bowl is it. It's the end-all, be-all."
Consider the facts: The 12 most watched TV programs of all time are Super Bowls, with the 2004 game the highest rated ever, with 144.4 million viewers watching at least a portion of the broadcast. Last year's game drew a rating of 41.1, compared with 25.4 for the Academy Awards.
More Americans watched the Super Bowl last February than bothered to vote in the 2004 presidential election.
The National Retail Federation estimates that about 44 million people attend 7.5 million Super Bowl parties on game day, making it a bigger excuse for a party than New Year's Eve.
And the game is preceded by two weeks of hysterical hype.
"The whole country — the whole world, really — will be focusing on your city for that length of time, which brings just a tremendous amount of exposure," Tuchman said. "The Super Bowl is a showcase not only for the teams involved, but also the cities involved. And the Seahawks will be a very good story because you've never been to the Super Bowl before."
No. No, we haven't.
But the three other teams still alive in the playoffs have. Their fans know the score.
"It's a long two weeks leading up to the game," recalled Marc Teklinski, 37, a Pittsburgh native who traveled to Tempe, Ariz., in 1996 to watch the Steelers play in Super Bowl XXX . "Being there was almost like a religious experience."
And the Steelers lost that game.
Teklinski is director of operations for Primanti Bros., a restaurant chain that invented Pittsburgh's signature sandwich: grilled meat, coleslaw, fried egg, tomato and French fries between two slabs of Italian bread. But it's the success of the Steelers, not the sandwich, that gasses up the town.
"Pittsburgh is defined by the Steelers," Teklinski said. "The Steelers' style of offense mirrors the city's work ethic. Run first; pass later. That has never changed. And that's what Pittsburgh is — hard-working. You grind it out, and you persevere."
Quotes like that happen only in cities where teams have won four previous Super Bowls.
A similar quote probably could be had in Denver, whose Broncos have played in six Super Bowls, winning two. But we hate the Broncos and therefore couldn't stomach the idea of interviewing one of their smug fans for this story.
Onward to Carolina. Today's Seahawks opponent, the Panthers, earned a trip to the Super Bowl two years ago, losing a thriller to the New England Patriots. Tommy Tomlinson, a local columnist for the Charlotte Observer newspaper, said the Panthers' success on the field has helped unite a growing city that features a disparate population with a lot of transplants.
The Panthers' Super Bowl appearance — and the hype that accompanied it — also boosted Charlotte's self-image.
"The phrase that gets tossed around a lot here is 'world-class city,' " Tomlinson said. "Charlotte likes to think it is one, but there's always doubt over whether others think we are. When the Panthers made the Super Bowl, it made us relax about that a little bit. We don't care quite so much now what others think about us."
Does Seattle need that same kind of validation from the outside? We're hardly, ahem, Charlotte, North Carolina.
"Seattle already has been exposed as a good place to live, with good people and good food," said Terry Lefton, editor-at-large of SportsBusiness Journal. "There's just that one problem that it drips a lot."
Yet when it came to setting a record for consecutive days of rain, we fell short. And that basically describes our own identity complex.
We've been teased like this before. The Mariners tantalized us three times, the cruelest in 2001 with a record-tying 116-win season only to fall shy of the World Series.
The Seattle Sonics have advanced to the NBA Finals three times — the last time in 1996. (They lost.) History books maintain that the Sonics actually won the title back in 1979, so therefore it must be true. The Sonics' sister team, the Storm, won the WNBA title in 2004. Good for them!
Over the years, 30 to be exact, the Seahawks have broken our hearts fewer times because, well, they rarely got ours beating. The Seahawks have been this close to the Super Bowl only once before, playing the Raiders in Los Angeles for the conference championship in 1983. The Seahawks owned this town back then, and Zaffino of Scoreboard Pub remembers it well.
"We had people coming into the bar with pillows to lay on the floor four or five hours before game time," he said.
The Seahawks were huge underdogs that day, and the final score — Los Angeles 30, Seattle 14 — showed why.
Today, though, the Seahawks are playing at home. And they're favored to win.
This time, maybe it will turn out Super.
Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or email@example.com
Information in this article, originally published January 22, was corrected January 23. A previous version of this story contained an error. The Denver Broncos have played in six Super Bowls, not five as reported in a story about Seattle dreaming about the Seahawks making the Super Bowl for the first time.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company