I picked up last week's Sports Illustrated to catch up on the latest from NFL pundits. Nestled within this issue's mid-season review was good sports journalism still laced with typical big sports hyperbole. After dutifully marching through what was going on here and now in the NFL, the author threw in a little foreshadowing.
It mentioned that after a decent few weeks followed by three losses, the Miami Dolphins would be heading up to Seattle where they would endure playing in “one of the loudest stadiums” in sports. The hint here, as sports fans know, is that playing away from home is one thing. But facing loud and often rowdy fans can either fuel the home team opposition to play better, or it can simply make it difficult to face the competition in a tense atmosphere.
Seattle is a city shaped like a clenched fist. But it doesn’t act like one.
I noticed this when I saw a kiosk on the street bearing a map of the Emerald City, the day before I would get to check out Seattle’s main sports venue, CenturyLink. It is true that this football ground is loud. But the fans deserve the credit more than the venue’s acoustics.
If you’ve ever been there, you know Seattle runs a combination of spring and fall weather all year round, but its rain and cool humidity are matched equally by the city’s laid back personal warmth.
Before my August trip out there it was only from the distant Midwest that had I heard about Seattle's progressive politics, its mind for ecology, and its eye for design. Similarly, we have all come to know Seattle’s sound, which consists of everything from the grunge music of Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains and the bands of the Singles soundtrack, to punk pioneers like The Fastbacks, and guitar god Jimi Hendrix. Seattle’s multi-platinum musical roster also includes Sir-Mix-A-Lot and strangely, Kenny G.
As with any town known for music, there are a lot of cool places to hang. Alongside a night in University Village and several breaks in Ballard for beers and huge burgers at the King’s Hardware, the next day was set for a stop downtown at a Sounders game.
Home cooked meal: The "Seattle Dog" comes split on a toasted roll with cream cheese, sometimes topped with onion or jalapeño.
I’ve been to Major League Soccer games before, and it’s usually –when done right—a bustling crowd in a smaller stadium. The Chicago Fire stands as a tight example of a good MLS crowd. Other MLS cities are still wrestling with large venues and small crowds, the way the Fire once did with Soldier Field. Unfortunately, when small crowds trickle in large venues, the look and feel of the American soccer match atmosphere is less than thrilling, with empty seats fueling rumors among the biased that soccer will never make it in America and that an afternoon with the MLS will be pretty lame. So, on that Saturday I didn’t know what I was in for.
Whether you believe that the Seattle Sounders are just inhabiting the Seattle Seahawks' venue during the NFL offseason, the Sounders game –which today was against local rivals, the Vancouver Whitecaps—was rocking from the moment my two friends and I arrived with our beers and Seattle style dogs. Regardless of the fact that it wasn’t til the end that Seattle scored, winning 2-0 (even Eddie Johnson scored!) I never felt for a moment that the crowd would dissipate. On this beautiful Saturday afternoon in the city center there were a million things to do, but nearly 40,000 people stayed for 90 minutes to cheer while holding their scarves in 72 degree weather.
I had totally forgotten about the fact that when I bought our tickets --an ordeal with TicketMaster’s online system not accepting my very good credit card-- that I had actually gotten a friendly call back from a nice girl at the Sounders’ ticket office to help me.
Being here, we were also within roller derby’s domain. And riding out the buzz of Sierra Nevada and the afternoon’s sport, I decided to co-opt the moment and propose my pals stick it out for a bout where the Rat City Rollergirls were facing off against the Puget Sound Outcasts men's all-star team.
Dugg and Bri were neverbeens – people who have never been to see roller derby— who would get their first taste. As for me, a pretty avid fan of derby who writes for a magazine about the sport, it would be the first time I’d get to see a coed bout. Like that afternoon, we’d find that rink in south Seattle to be cozily packed too, with a fans lining out the door.
People stood shoulder-to-shoulder at Rat City's roller derby bout.
One thing that struck me about Seattle is how much it seems a city of neighborhoods, comfy and enclave-driven. Not that people keep within their own nooks, rather the opposite. Seattle is a pocket full of communities –communities of the arts, music, business and sports -- that grow and interact without stepping on each other’s feet.
Living in Chicago, a major sports town with a set of champion-caliber NHL, NBA and NFL teams, plus two baseball teams, I’m fascinated by the level of interest in the western United States in “the other sports”. Both soccer and roller derby fall into that category.
But I only wish that absent White Sox fans and blurrily buzzed Cubs fans at Wrigley could catch a gust or two of the enthusiastic winds whipping around the Pacific Northwest’s sports mecca.