Walk to CenturyLink Field, and if you take the route I did you pass more art galleries and coffee shops than you will on your way to any other stadium in the U.S., and perhaps the world. You also pass two giant peanut looking things near the ticket windows. The peanuts are there on purpose. One is granite and the other is cast bronze.
When you reach the stadium where the Seattle Seahawks play, there’s nothing about it that will entice you to pull out your cell phone and take pictures for the folks back home. That doesn’t happen until Sunday.
The coming together of team and fans is remarkable. The fans are the 12th man, and everybody knows it. Look through the store window at CenturyLink and you see more jerseys bearing No. 12 than No. 3, which is the number Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson wears. Banners outside the stadium proclaim “Thank you 12s” and “We are 12.” In other news, the peanut looking sculptures are 12 feet high.
Although the stadium is open air, canopies cover about 70 percent of the seats and make it difficult for noise to escape. Fans hear the noise they generate and happily generate more. They feed off each other and players feed off them.
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In 2013, fans set a Guiness World Record for the highest peak decibel level generated at a stadium, hitting 136.6.
The Georgia Dome wasn’t as loud even when the Atlanta Falcons pumped in fake noise.
“We definitely have the loudest fans in the league,” says Dan Morgan, Seattle’s director of pro personnel.
Morgan played middle linebacker for the Panthers from 2001-07. In 2004, Carolina’s only foray to the Super Bowl, he was credited with 18 tackles, 11 solo. Panthers coaches had him with more than 20. He consistently played hard and well, and to suggest that he was Luke Kuechly first is no exaggeration. His career was cut short by injuries.
I ask Morgan what makes the game experience in Seattle different. He says it’s the relationship between the team and its fans.
“We retired the No. 12,” Morgan says. “The owner and players appreciate fans. They’re always there for us, and they really crank it out.”
The Panthers prepared for Seattle’s wall of sound by filling the air above the practice field with music. Coach Ron Rivera adding evil DJ to his resume.
“All week we made it as annoying as possible,” says Carolina receiver Jerricho Cotchery, talking about the constant blast of noise at practice. “They did a great job.”
Carolina center Ryan Kalil says the “noise thing is legitmate. It gets loud in there. But I think once you start rolling it’s like playing anywhere else. That team feeds off of it, and our job is to have a lot of momentum early on and shut it down.”
Kalil says the loudest stadium in which he has played is the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the former home of the Minnesota Vikings.
Cotchery says all road games are difficult.
“Teams know how to deal with noise,” Cotchery says.
The noise, he says, is not what makes the Seahawks so tough in Seattle.
“Oh, they play really well at home,” Cotchery says. “Their comfort level is strong, stronger than other teams.”
Confidence is believing. The Seahawks believe they will win at home because they are accustomed to winning at home.
Russell Wilson is accustomed to it. He joined Seattle and the NFL in 2012, and his record at CenturyLink is 24-2. No quarterback in NFL history has started at home as strongly.
As crazy loud as the fans are, they’re not crazed. My sons joined me in Seattle for a Carolina game five years ago and the older one wore his No. 89 Steve Smith jersey. At no point did a territorial mob fling scones at him. Maybe Seattle fans get it. Or maybe, because they cruised to a 17-point victory, they had nothng to be angry about.
Morgan doesn’t exaggerate when he talks about the noise. It is loud. And it doesn’t fit Seattle’s image. Walk downtown early Thursday afternoon and you can count on one hand the number of men who wear suits. Seattle is laid back, and it lacks a dress code.
Nobody will lay back Sunday. Seattle needs this game. The Seahawks are 2-3 and trail NFC West leader Arizona by two games. Marshawn Lynch, their power running back, will return. Safety Kam Chancellor has returned. Bobby Wagner, their fine middle linebacker who is struggling with a sore pectoral muscle, might be back.
The Panthers contend with a different kind of urgency. They urgently want to remain undefeated, and the Seahawks have knocked them around. Seattle has beat them five straight. The Seahawks also have done something no other team has. They’ve twice ended Carolina’s postseason. Seattle beat the Panthers by 20 in 2006 and by 14 in 2014.
Players will tell you there’s nothing special about the Seattle game. They said the same thing in 2009 when they played Arizona, which had pounded them by 20 in the playoffs the previous season. Just another game, they all said. This time Carolina won by 13. And in the locker room they celebrated with uncommon zeal. This was not just another game, and they acknowledged it.
Oddsmakers have made the Panthers a 7-point underdog; the margin on Saturday was tied for the league’s third largest.
But if there’s a statistic that should encourage Panthers fans, it’s this: Wilson has been sacked a league-high 22 times. St. Louis and Detroit sacked him six times apiece. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who has played one fewer game than Wilson, has been sacked only seven times all season.
Seattle doesn’t want to fall to 2-4, and Carolina doesn’t want to fall again to the Seahawks.
This is one of the most interesting games the Panthers have played in five seasons under Rivera.
If they win here, they’re entitled to believe they can win anywhere. After this week, it will be 11 against 11 again.