The Twelfth Man in Indiana

Darryl Campbell expresses his undying affection for the Seattle Seahawks, a love that’s as passionate as it is tantalizing.

Let’s play identity politics for a second. I’m a 24-year-old, half-Asian graduate student in the liberal arts. I have strong opinions about literature, architecture, and food, whereas I avoid ESPN and cable news religiously. My car’s radio presets include the local NPR and classical stations in addition to the usual Top 40 and ’80s/’90s options. In my closet, there are many more skinny ties than conventionally sized ones, as many sport coats as pairs of shorts, and only one baseball cap.

In other words, I’m probably as far removed from the Patton-Oswalt-in-Big-Fan stereotype as you can get. So it doesn’t necessarily follow that I’d care about sports, let alone feel entitled to any particular brand of fanaticism.

I am, however, a die-hard Seattle Seahawks fan.

Since I moved away from the Pacific Northwest eight years ago, the Seahawks have been a rare constant in my life, and the only one of my long-distance relationships — I’m not ashamed to call it one — to survive. Of course, I’ve never been to a game in the Kingdome or Qwest Field. Instead, I’ve had to endure the mediocre seasons, perennial first-round playoff defeats, and all-too-brief flashes of brilliance second-hand. Because no station east of the Rockies usually broadcasts Seahawks games in their entirety (and I can’t afford premium cable packages on a teacher’s salary), my Sundays are not a constant three-hour roller coaster ride, but the football equivalent of a drop tower: long periods of information blackout followed by the fifteen seconds of taped highlights or score updates every half-hour or so. Only if I’m lucky will I get to watch the last few minutes of a game, which, according to my biased recall, more often than not seemed to involve the Rams scoring a last-minute touchdown and almost always ended with a shot of Mike Holmgren scowling beneath his walrus mustache.

Obviously, the Hawks’ lone Super Bowl appearance was at once the highlight and lowlight of this whole ordeal. Seattle, the plucky small-market team that hadn’t won a playoff game in two decades, seemed on the verge of writing their own metaphorical fairy tale. They had a miraculously good offense (viz., Seneca Wallace’s over-the-shoulder catch against Carolina), and a defense whose secondary, for the first time in living memory, couldn’t be called “questionable” — and Mike Holmgren had done all this even though his own job was in jeopardy. I was still in college at the time, so my convictions — sports-related and otherwise — were unshakably secure. Even though in the week before the game I saw exactly one person in a Shaun Alexander jersey (and this on a campus of nearly 20,000 people), and even though it became clear that, according to Fox anyway, Super Bowl XL would be “The Jerome Bettis Story,” I was still confident; of course we’d win.

And then, over the next five hours, in a crowded dorm room surrounded by friends and acquaintances who were at best indifferent and at worst hostile, I watched the Steelers — and the Super Bowl XL officiating crew — run the Seahawks into the ground. So much for the fairy tale.

It’s four years later, and things are about the same. The Seahawks are recovering after an unusually bad season, a disappointing end to the Holmgren era. Instead of being in the middle of Boston — where sports are taken so seriously that you fear for your well-being if you aren’t at least familiar with the yearly goings-on of the Red Sox and the Patriots — I’m now on the border between Bears and Colts territory, not quite halfway between Chicago and Indianapolis. Once again, there are no Seahawks jerseys to be seen around here.

Still, I’ve learned to take a quiet kind of pride in my unusual taste in football teams. I like that moment of understanding, of shared suffering, joy, and hope, and an almost-but-not-quite embarrassed commitment to a perennially underrated team, that happens when I discover another Seahawks fan. It’s rare, but it occasionally happens — even out here, where sometimes I’m not sure everyone’s even heard of the city of Seattle, let alone its football team. And I like being slightly unconventional: a little bit too uptight to be a typical sports fan, a little bit too invested in a popular diversion to be properly hipster — to say nothing of the baseball cap, which, as you probably guessed, has the Seahawks logo on it.

Darryl Campbell is the managing editor at The Bygone Bureau. He once got called an "elitist young author" by John Stossel, which he considers one of his top-ten lifetime accomplishments so far. Others include writing for The Christian Science Monitor and the Chronicle of Higher Education, paying off his car loan a year early, and getting a Twitter account. Send him an email.