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The Spirit of 12 has grown beyond expectations
As the Seahawks’ defense took the field for the first play of Sunday afternoon’s game against the San Francisco 49ers, the press box at CenturyLink Field began to vibrate. That only happens when the 12s really get revved up.
This was one of those occasions. And why not? Since the Seahawks became a member of the NFC West in 2002, the 49ers have become the rival the fans and players most enjoy beating. The Seahawks were riding a three-game winning streak and had won six of their previous seven games. They needed this game to remain a game behind the division-leading Cardinals heading into this week’s rematch in Arizona on Sunday night.
The ceremony to retire No. 12 took place during the 1984 regular-season finale against the Denver Broncos at the Kingdome, which was imploded on March 26, 2000, to make way for the team’s state-of-the-art stadium that opened in 2002. The Seahawks lost the game, 31-14, and the AFC West title to the Broncos that day.
And as magnanimous as the gesture of retiring No. 12 was, no one had any idea just how powerful the Spirit of 12 would become.
“I was kind of wondering whether we were going to get away with it, because the league doesn’t like you to retire numbers necessarily,” John Nordstrom, the Seahawks’ managing general partner in 1984, said on the sideline before Sunday’s game.
“The league was OK with us retiring No. 12, but they just said be careful about retiring numbers because you’re going to be sorry later.”
The NFL’s concern with retiring numbers wasn’t directed at the Seahawks, who were just completing their ninth season after entering the league in 1976 as an expansion team. But the Chicago Bears, who have been in existence since 1919 and a member of the NFL since 1920, have retired a league-high 14 numbers. Not No. 14, but 14 jersey numbers – 3 (Bronko Nagurski); 5 (George McAfee); 7 (George Hallas); 28 (Willie Galimore); 34 (Walter Peyton); 40 (Gale Sayers); 41 (Brian Piccolo); 42 (Sid Luckman); 51 (Dick Butkus); 56 (Bill Hewitt); 61 (Bill George); 66 (Clyde “Bulldog” Turner); 77 (Harold “Red” Grange); and 89 (Mike Ditka).
But sorry? Definitely not Nordstrom, and certainly not the Seahawks.
“We’re not sorry,” Nordstrom said with a laugh. “We’re pretty darn happy.”
That’s because a simple gesture to thanks the team’s fans has exploded with the force of that implosion that rendered the Kingdome a plume of dust and a pile of rubble.
Sunday’s game against the 49ers was not only the team’s 102nd consecutive sellout; the gathering of 68,526 was a CenturyLink Field record – bettering the previous mark of 68,454 from the NFC Championship game against the 49ers in January.
The 12s also have out-cheered, if not outnumbered, other teams’ fans in road games the past few seasons in St. Louis, Atlanta and San Diego. They also line the streets near the airport to greet the Seahawks as they leave for and return from road games.
“It’s always great to see some familiar jerseys and faces out there in the stands,” All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said last week. “When we’re playing well, to see them enjoying it and getting the Seahawks chant on the road, it just gives you a different kind of energy.”
But when it comes to 12s, there’s no place like home.
As linebacker and leading tackler K.J. Wright put it, “I’ve been to a lot of stadiums and seen a lot of fan bases, and some places are just absolutely terrible. But every time we come out for pregame (warm-ups), there are already people out there wanting autographs and cheering for us. By the time kickoff comes, the stadium is full. So they just make you excited to play football.
But 30 years ago, it was impossible to even imagine what the team was igniting.
“I never thought the 12s would become what they’ve become. It never occurred to me,” Nordstrom said. “And it has become overwhelming. The 12 thing has been a real plus for our team. I think the guys themselves really embrace the whole fan thing, and it doesn’t get any better than that.”
That was apparent on Sunday, and has been on so many Sundays. Even if it wasn’t that obvious on Dec. 15, 1984, just what the team was starting by retiring No. 12.
“I thought maybe we’ll need that 12 someday,” Nordstrom said. “Now we really need it.” Read