The Brightest Winter in Seattle

To say that Seattle sports fans are on cloud nine right now would be a massive understatement.  Classically dreary through the winter months, the 2016 version of Seattle’s got 99 clouds but the sports scene ain’t one.

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Seattle’s winter can feel a little dark, but an impressive 32-7-6 combined record by the Sounders since July, Washington Huskies Football, and Seahawks has Seattle fans beaming.

For many who would call themselves a big sports fan, it can sometimes feel like the week-to-week grind of our ‘real lives’ is only a vehicle to get to the weekend and the next event.  Those morsels of sports in midweek are Godsends that propel us through to the next chance to high-five strangers, hug friends, and yell at, well, anything.

For those of us Seattleites that are fans of anything that could remotely be called ‘football,’ this winter is quickly becoming completely unparalleled in terms of excitement and pure glee.  The Seahawks have been a fantastic reason to crawl out of bed on Sundays for quite a few years now, but this is something quite different.  

Footballs of various shapes with a chance for glory

The Washington Huskies continue their resurgence to national relevancy under third-year head coach Chris Petersen, and as Pac 12 champs will get the opportunity to face Alabama in the College Football Playoff Semifinal on New Year’s Eve in the Peach Bowl.  Meanwhile, the Seattle Sounders are on the verge of completing the most ridiculous of turnarounds from a mid-season that found them coachless and listless, and will now face Toronto FC for that elusive MLS Cup on December 10th.  Of course the Seahawks also seem to be an obvious lock for the playoffs again.  For three of the weekends in December, I will have traveled far from home to watch my teams compete for National Championships and Cup Trophies.  

The convergence of these storylines is potentially the most bewildering aspect.  It can prove difficult to keep oneself grounded when your team is in the midst of an historic run to a championship or a record-setting season.  Enough winning will eventually be taken for granted, and even small turns to the mediocre can feel dooming.  All of this is amplified by a factor of two or three in Seattle this winter, and I find that I must constantly remind myself how incredibly lucky we are to be experiencing greatness with two teams at once, and on this scale.  

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I almost couldn’t contain my giddy laughter when asking my boss for yet another long-weekend off work, and gladly I didn’t need to use Brad Evans’ letter excusing supporters from work this time around.  Realizing that this may truly be a once-in-a-decade occurrence makes it just a little easier to stomach the depletion of frequent flier miles and perks that have been building.  But the experiences themselves are truly unmatched and worth every hardship and penny.

The Dawgs

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The ‘Raindawg’ made the trek to Santa Clara.  A 1978 bread truck in its former life, it can now carry up to 10 passengers and tailgate like a champion.

Last weekend, two good friends and I drove our 38 year old bread-truck-turned-tailgate-extravaganza, dubbed the Raindawg, to Santa Clara, CA for the Pac 12 Championship Football game between Washington and Colorado.  It was grueling, in part, to drive the old standard vehicle through the mountain passes of southern Oregon and northern California in the wee hours of the morning.  We had doubts about how many fans would make the trek to actually tailgate, and wondered if our efforts would be rewarded.  As it turns out, we should not have questioned UW fans’ thirst for greatness for a moment.

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Husky fans couldn’t wait to start tailgating, so they didn’t.  Generators hummed and footballs flew through the streets.

Before the tailgating lot even opened at Levi’s stadium, there were 20-30 cars brimming with purple and gold lined up in the streets, wondering why the party hadn’t started yet.  Within minutes we were answering questions about where we usually tailgate at UW, how the heck we drove the truck down there, and where in the lot we’d be parking in Santa Clara.  When we were finally allowed to pulled in, the cars around us swarmed where we parked and graciously headed to the store to stock up on more supplies.  Everyone was so pumped that we brought the entire tailgate setup – 55 inch TV running satellite and replays of UW’s great days in the early 90s, 28 foot flagpole, full propane grill, booming speakers, party lights, cornhole, the works – that they eagerly asked what they could do to help set up, and even ended up donating a good amount towards our gas and supplies cost.  

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Much of the crew that tailgated with the Raindawg prior to the Pac-12 Championship game in Santa Clara, California.

Husky fans basked in the sun for an afternoon, exchanging stories of games and seasons past, of our tailgate crews back on Montlake in Seattle, and dared to dream about what the next month could hold in store for us.  Amazing connections were made that could easily last decades, and old friends spent the day reminiscing as well.  There were multiple moments where my friend Andrew and I, co-owners of the Raindawg, reveled in the experience and made sure to take stock of everything happening around us.  

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Husky fans around the Raindawg and getting ready for gameday.

Of course rooting on the team and seeing friends is great, but we truly felt that we were part of building the great community of UW fans for that day.  We were able to enhance everyone’s experience, which in turn makes it more likely that fans will continue to make trips like that in the future.  In turn, this is good for the program as a whole, as the bowl selection committee takes fanbase travel into consideration while assigning the postseason opportunities.  Of course, we also just love taking some time to show off the oft-ridiculous extent of our fandom.  The game itself turned out to be a blowout; the Huskies emerged as conference champions, and we returned to the lot to dance until security shut us down.

The Rave Green

Early on Thursday morning, I’ll be flying to Toronto to see the Seattle Sounders face Toronto FC for the MLS Cup.  The Sounders have a storied franchise, and have had success in their years in MLS thus far with four US Open Cup trophies and a Supporters’ Shield.  But the prize that is most valued in traditional American fashion is the one given out to the team that survives the playoffs and wins the MLS Cup.  The Sounders have never been particularly well-built to survive the altered style that so often takes place in the MLS playoffs, but more importantly the tactics of former Coach Sigi Schmid were frequently questioned by fans in previous two-leg playoff series.  That said, Sigi is still well-respected for his time and overall success in Seattle and with his previous clubs as well; he does, after all, have 2 MLS Cups, 3 Supporters’ Shields, and 5 US Open Cup trophies.

Alas, Sigi is jobless and Seattle’s own Brian Schmetzer has taken the helm masterfully thus far.  The Sounders rose from the ashes of ninth place in the Western Conference (6-12-2), and ten points out of the playoff picture, to finish 8-2-4 with the reinforcements of Nicolas Lodeiro and Roman Torres, and the change at coach.  Since then, they’ve not done much more than win three playoff series somewhat convincingly to reach their furthest point in the franchise.

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The Sounders season began way back in March, with a momentous trip to Mexico City.  That trip reinvigorated my passion for not only the Sounders as a team, but for the supporters’ culture and the people behind the largest supporters’ group here in Seattle, the Emerald City Supporters.  My girlfriend Julia and I felt welcomed and had an incredible time south of the border supporting the Sounders in the Concacaf Champions League to open the season.  It seems only fitting that Julia will be flying from New York to meet me north of the border for the final game of the season, to hopefully repeat the picture below and enjoy amazing new experiences.

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Rumors of epic prefuncs are already swirling, and the Sounders faithful are champing at the bit to celebrate the ultimate championship – and our re-entry into the Champions League.  The game will be frigid but the talent will be impressive on the field, with three US National Team stars facing off against each other – Jordan Morris for Seattle and Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore for Toronto.  

While the community aspect of supporting the Huskies is driven through being an alumni of the school and the weekly tailgating setup, the community of the Sounders truly feels like it includes the supporters and the team as one.  After winning the Western Conference Championship against Colorado, a couple hundred supporters went to meet the chartered flight at a local airfield.  The team brought the trophy right over to the supporters and started off the singing and dancing.  

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The Western Conference Championship trophy in Seattle

A similar scene played out after the Sounders won their first US Open Cup in their inaugural season of 2009.  That fact that the players are still just as willing to hang out in a parking lot and talk soccer with supporters seven seasons later is pretty remarkable, considering the popularity of the sport in Seattle.  Players graciously waited for fans to get all the autographs and selfies they wanted, and newly minted Head Coach Brian Schmetzer dealt out hugs left and right between taking interview questions from the gathered media.  

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Meeting players and coaches of your favorite team is always a kick, but the Sounders players’ humility and friendliness never ceases to amaze me.  Cristian Roldan (above, right) offered us a handshake and introduced himself as simply Cristian.  Brian Schmetzer (above, middle) responded to my congratulations by saying “Congratulations to ALL of us, this is for all of us.”

Looking Forward

After this weekend in Toronto, I will have traveled over 6000 miles in two weekends to watch two championship games for the Huskies and the Sounders.  I already have my flights to and from Atlanta for the Peach Bowl – a smash-and-grab 22 hour whirlwind that I hope will see us usher in a Husky upset over Alabama as well as the new year.  

On the surface, and certainly to onlookers who aren’t bit by either the travel or sports bug, this will certainly all seem crazy.  But a couple of weeks ago at the Sounders annual business meeting between the Front Office and the season ticket members, majority owner Adrian Hanauer outlined the club’s priorities.  One of them was creating moments for supporters.  #ThisMoment has been the rallying cry for MLS throughout the playoffs.

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Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer addresses the season ticket members at the annual Sounders Alliance Council Business Meeting

In life, even more so than in sports, it is necessary to take stock of what is going well and what can be improved.  But when things are going well, it’s equally important to live those moments fully and appreciate them.  This month, and this bright winter for Seattle sports, I think it’s critical to not just live the moments put out in front of us, but to seize them and create them as well.

I can close my eyes and see the dozens of Husky Fans at our tailgate in the warm California sun as they danced, laughed, and connected with each other.  It was a special moment, created by a pretty complicated convergence of factors and just enough crazy fandom.  

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As kickoff neared, the cheers got louder and the smiles wider.

I know that the travelling Emerald City and general Sounders supporters will share many ups and downs on our trip to Toronto, but regardless of the outcome, I’m sure we’ll celebrate a Sounders team getting further than ever before and look forward to more great things to come.  And though I will be away from loved ones and friends on New Year’s Eve, I know that Dawg fans will swarm Atlanta and turn it into an amazing experience, win or lose.   

I might not be able to finally relax until mid-January (just in time for the Hawks’ playoff run), but for years to come I’ll be able to look back on this early winter of sports in Seattle and take solace in the fact that I took nothing for granted.  This year has the potential to be a stepping stone to sustained greatness even if the Huskies and Sounders lose their next game, but it also has the capacity to be the stuff of legends now.  It just takes three more combined wins for Seattle.  I can’t wait to be there.

-Tom

tg.JPGhas Midwest roots but grew up in the Pacific Northwest during some of the best years for the Sonics, Mariners, and Washington Huskies. Always the hometown fan, now you can find him avidly supporting the Seattle Sounders FC (and following them wherever they may go), or driving his converted purple and gold kegerator-laden bread truck, striving for the ultimate tailgate tradition on the shores of Lake Washington for Husky Football. Tom is intrigued by the human experience of being a fan, the social bonds in sports fandom, the importance of sports in our cultural traditions and exchange, and those sports often considered ‘fringe’.
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2 thoughts on “The Brightest Winter in Seattle

  1. I might not have gotten to go to all of these games but I have and will continue to participate the best I’m able, and reading these great reviews makes it all the more enjoyable, even if only vicariously. Thanks Tom! Remember, we fully expect you, and Julia, to show up on TV in Toronto. Go SOUNDERS! Should loud and proud ECS!  And for that next even, WOOF WOOF WOOF!

    Liked by 1 person

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