Thirty-one years ago, while living in Los Angeles, California trying to grab a record deal with his band Shadow, Mike McCready made an unpleasant discovery — in his stool of all places — that would go on to impact him for the rest of his life.
"All the sudden I just started to see all this blood and mucus and was in a ton of pain," McCready recalled. "I had no idea what was going on."
McCready, a longtime Seattleite perhaps better known now for his role as Pearl Jam's lead guitarist, initially shrugged off the experience, thinking, "Oh, it's something I ate."
"Then it didn't go away," McCready added. "So I went to the doctor and he was like, 'You have Crohn's disease.' I had no idea what that was."
Crohn's, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract, and ulcerative colitis, a chronic disease of the large intestine, can be quite painful, and as McCready notes, equally as embarrassing to talk about.
"I didn't really come out and start talking about it until about 15 years ago," McCready said. "My wife, actually, was tired of me complaining about the disease, which I was because I was miserable and embarrassed by it and it was painful. She's like, 'Well look, let's look into it and see if there's any sort of organization that can help us, or that we can be a part of or that we can give back to.'"
That conversation with his wife, coupled with an interaction McCready had with Rolf Benirschke, a former Pro Bowl and All-Pro kicker for the San Diego Chargers who was living with ulcerative colitis, inspired him to take action.
"He was very encouraging in terms of just talking about it, he had been through a lot," McCready offered of Benirschke, who underwent surgery to remove his large intestine as a result of his disease. "Rolf Benirschke was kind of a big changing point in my life. When I met him I was like, 'Well look, I have a pretty big platform in terms of our band and everything, maybe I can do some good here, or at least try and do something.'"
From there, McCready began working with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, using the platform he had as a member of Pearl Jam to bring more awareness to the group of inflammatory bowel diseases. His Seattle-based cover band, Flight to Mars, has put on benefit shows the past 15 years, helping raise funds for a co-residential summer camp for kids called Camp Oasis, where children living with Crohn's and colitis can interact with others facing similar challenges.
"That's been the most important thing, is Camp Oasis," McCready said. "Seeing kids hanging out at a camp and just being kids, making fun of it, of their disease, talking to each other and becoming lifelong friends. That's what's made this all worthwhile.
"And then just talking about it, there's always someone that goes, 'Oh yeah, I have a cousin that has it' or 'my uncle has it,'" he added. "Whereas when I was diagnosed in 1986, I didn't know anybody that had it. I think there's a healing in it, in knowing that other people have it, and how they deal with it."
So what's McCready's story have to do with the Seahawks? Well, for the past three years, McCready, a diehard 12, has put on a flag football tournament at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field to raise funds to support the 1.6 million Americans affected by Crohn's and colitis.
This year's event lands on September 16, the day before Seattle's home-opener against the San Francisco 49ers. It's free to attend for spectators, while event-goers and donation-givers will have the opportunity to partake in a seven-on-seven flag football competition, go on a behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium, run the 40-yard dash, kick a field goal and more. McCready himself won't be playing, but the rock star will be on site intermixing with attendees.
"I was involved the first couple years, but I don't want to hurt myself," McCready said with a laugh. "I hurt myself playing tennis a little while ago, and it's like if I hurt myself playing tennis, I better not play football. But I'll be down there hanging out. I'll be down there."
The following afternoon, McCready will be down at CenturyLink Field again. He's scheduled to perform the national anthem on his guitar prior to the Seahawks' kickoff against the 49ers.
"It's kind of hard to quantify and say what that means," McCready said of playing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' on Seattle's home turf. "It's just really huge and it's an important thing and I feel like I want to do the best I can. I've done it at some Mariners games, I've done it before a few times, but there's a lot of pressure and I'm excited and kind of terrified at the same time.
"I feel like I'm from here, this is my town, and I want to represent it and represent the anthem in a way that speaks to me and to everyone. I'm honored that they allowed me to do it — it's not a thing that football teams do — and I think this might be the first time that a guitar player's been able to do that, so it's certainly a huge honor."
On the morning before the Seahawks NFC Divisional playoff game against the Panthers, on a Blue Friday no less, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready raises the 12 Flag atop Seattle's Space Needle.