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12th Man remained central to Seahawks' success

The SportsXchange

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The "12th Man" at Seattle's CenturyLink Field set a Guinness World Record for the loudest outdoor stadium in history during the regular season -- twice.

The "12s" traveled in a pack of thousands for a Week 7 rout of the Cardinals in Arizona, making it difficult for the NFL Network crew to hear during its postgame show by sticking around and celebrating well after the visitors' 34-22 victory.

They flustered New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and taunted San Francisco 49ers signal-caller Colin Kaepernick during home playoff victories.

They traveled in droves to New York City, taking over Times Square and filling bars and restaurants all week leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII. Some arrived on the Alaska Airlines flight painted in Seahawks colors for the big game. Others were on United Airlines flight No. 1212 -- which departed from gate A12 at SeaTac airport.

In airports, in midtown pizza joints and hotel lobbies, chants of "Sea ... HAWKS," spontaneously erupted all week from Seattle Seahawks fans.

Many arrived with "12" shaved into their heads, some with fresh new ink with 12 emblazoned into new tattoos -- and almost all sported 12 flags and banners. Volume 12, a company started by former Seahawks defensive tackle Joe Tafoya to promote -- and capitalize on -- the incredibly passionate fan base, held nightly parties at a Manhattan nightclub and sold out of most of its merchandise by midweek.

There was a rooftop party where hundreds gathered to pre-funk before Sunday's game.

"It's a big deal to take this back home," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said as he clutched the Lombardi Trophy following the Seahawks' 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. "We have such a great following. I can't wait to get back there to (the fans) so we can give them the trophy."

It is a bit campy, this 12th Man phenomenon that took on a life of its own, and it is probably starting to get a bit nauseating to much of the rest of the country -- starting in San Francisco. But the Seattle Seahawks' fan base has had a unique relationship with this team that is impossible to adequately describe unless you have lived in the Pacific Northwest since the team's heartbreaking playoff loss to the Falcons in Atlanta to end the 2012 season.

The zealous fan base entered the 2013 season with extraordinary hype and expectations, and is rightfully laid claim to being a factor in the run to the franchise's first Super Bowl title. The Seahawks posted a 7-1 home record during the regular season and added two two postseason victories at CenturyLink Field, many of the wins propelled by deafening crowd noise.

Fans helped nickname the Legion of Boom, Seattle's star-studded and physical secondary. They celebrate every punishing "Beast Mode" run by Marshawn Lynch. And they quickly fell in love with second-year quarterback Russell Wilson, an understated but steady leader on a team chock full of brash personalities.

Carroll and the players bought into the 12th Man, often crediting the fans during a season that had a magical thread running from start to finish.

"We take this trophy back -- everyone knows we are taking this trophy back to the 12th Man -- an unbelievable spirit," Carroll said.

Conservative estimates had a 3-1 Seahawks-to-Broncos fan ratio inside MetLife Stadium on Sunday. The Super Bowl is typically a fairly sterile environment due to the thousands of fans in attendance on corporate or giveaway tickets, but Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning admitted the Seahawks' fans affected Denver's ability to communicate on the bad snap that led to a safety on the first play of the game.

"It was real loud and we were planning on going to the game with the cadence," Broncos center Louis Vasquez said. "None of us heard the snap count. I thought I did and when I snapped it, I guess Peyton was actually trying to walk up to me at the time, I'm not 100 percent sure."

That first score? Twelve seconds into the game. Wide receiver Percy Harvin's kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half? Took 12 seconds.

You get the gist.

The fans' steam will carry back down to Times Square, where the 12th Man will party deep into the morning hours -- although several remained in MetLife Stadium hours after the rout was in the books. The masses will then return to Seattle, where the city will celebrate with a downtown parade Wednesday. It is the first major sports title for Seattle since the SuperSonics were crowned champions of the NBA 35 years ago.

"I can't wait for the parade," said the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, linebacker Malcolm Smith. "I can't wait for the parade. Twelves, come out and make noise louder. The fans will just do it how we always do it, man."

Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse is a Washington native who starred at the University of Washington, and he is particularly familiar with the role the Seahawks play in the fabric of the Northwest culture.

"The feeling is surreal right now," Kearse said. "It's an amazing feeling, especially being from the state of Washington, to bring this championship back home to Seattle for the fans. It's an amazing feeling."

Team owner Paul Allen rescued the team after former owner Ken Behring announced in 1996 that the franchise would move to Southern California. Behring had moving trucks at the team's headquarters, but he was threatened with fines and lawsuits, and he sold the franchise to Allen in 1997.

Allen built a new stadium, had a direct hand in the construction plans to build the loudest outdoor venue in the NFL -- and 17 years after saving football in Seattle, he has a world champion chock full of marketable young players who took ownership of almost every conversation in Seattle over the past six months.

"It's such an amazing feeling to be able to take the Lombardi Trophy back to Seattle and the people in the Northwest," Allen said. "The 12th Man has supported us in such an amazing way all year."

--Derek Harper has covered the NFL for 17 years and is a Seattle-area resident. In full disclosure, he is also a Seahawks season ticket holder.
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