Stanford alumnus Richard Sherman is about as good with words as he is at covering wide receivers.
The Seattle Seahawks cornerback thought for a couple of seconds Tuesday, searching for the ideal term to describe how the decibel level at CenturyLink Field affects opponents.
“Unnerving,” Sherman replied.
“If you’ve never been here, never played here, people can tell you how loud and disruptive it is, but until you get to a crucial part of the game,” you don’t know.
“You can’t hear, you can’t communicate, and you still have to play at a high level. There’s no way to feel it but to experience it.”
The Panthers last played in Seattle in December of 2010, so most of the roster lacks firsthand knowledge of the ear-rattling noise they’re about to face. So turn to a former Panther to dispute Sherman’s description …
And you fail.
“It is a jungle,” former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme told the Observer’s Scott Fowler. “To go play in that? Whew. I mean just to call a play …
“To explain to people how loud it is on the field, you just can’t.”
This is partially about passion and tradition. Ask any sports fan in the Pacific Northwest about “The 12s” and they instantly know what you mean. There’s a sense the Seahawks’ 12th-man effect (hardly an original concept) is as full-voiced as any in the NFL.
But this is about more than loud fans. It’s a diabolical feat of engineering built into the stadium’s design.
Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, owns the Seahawks and the NBA Portland Trail Blazers. The Seahawks were replacing the Kingdome with an open-air stadium. When Allen met with the architectural firm AECOM, he reminisced how raucous the college crowds were at University of Washington football games in his youth.
AECOM responded with what you’d best describe as the “bake-the-sound” design.
Domes are generally louder venues than open-air stadiums because sound escapes upward. CenturyLink is different from most open-air NFL stadiums in that it’s built on a narrow plot. Hence, the seats go straight up in a steep line that brings fans (and their vocal cords) closer to the field.
Then there’s the semi-roof. As a nod to Seattle’s often-rainy weather, 70 percent of the seats at CenturyLink are covered. That doesn’t just keep the raindrops out; it keeps the sound in.
Additionally, the upper seats at CenturyLink are aluminum stands, which not coincidentally are great for kicking to create even more noise when the opposing quarterback is trying to change a play.
The architects describe this concept as “reflective” – the noise travels up, then travels back down to the field. It has resulted in the Guinness world record for stadium noise – a measured 137.6 decibels for a Monday night game against the New Orleans Saints.
This is all a very technical way of saying it’s a major headache for opponents. Seahawks defensive end Demarcus Dobbs was amused Wednesday when told the Panthers practiced inside Bank of America Stadium this week, trying to simulate the noise at CenturyLink.
Simulate all you want. You will never duplicate, Dobbs said.
“As much as you want to prepare for it, you can never really prepare for it,” Dobbs said. “How do you prepare not to hear anything? It can’t be duplicated.”
The noise effect is intended to throw off the opposing team’s offense. It gets so loud sometimes that it can be disruptive to the Seahawks’ defense as well.
“I used to say, ‘Dang, does it have to be this loud all the time?’ We need to communicate a little bit, too, on the defensive side,” Sherman said.
“Then, after a while, you see the impact and effect it has on other teams, and you say, ‘I guess it’s doing more good than harm, so we’ll take it.’ ”