Doug Baldwin's Seahawks career included an NFC Championship Game touchdown that helped send the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, spectacular catches that brought fans to their feet, and accolades that included Pro Bowl selections and being named the team's Man of the Year.
Yet for all of the memorable moments Baldwin had during his playing career, nothing could quite prepare him for the moment when, in Seattle's 2021 home opener, he raised the 12 Flag prior to kickoff.
"It was a powerful moment to stand up there and to see the entire stadium from that angle, realizing just how much energy and attention is on that field," Baldwin said. "From in the bowl, it's kind of hard to really understand the scope of it. As a player, I'm so focused on what's happening between those lines, but when I was up there seeing it from that angle, I realized how unique and how special of a place that is, how special of a moment a game is, how it brings people together. It was really special. I was on the edge of it looking down on the field and just reflecting, like 'Damn, I used to be on that field.' All the memories I had with my teammates, my coaches—my younger brother was sitting right next to me, and thinking of the times he came to the stadium to watch me and support me."
Baldwin was reflecting on his experience raising the 12 Flag because this week marks the 20th anniversary of the Seahawks starting that unique pregame tradition at what was then known as Seahawks Stadium.
For a home game on October 12, 2003, the Seahawks invited 12 of the team's original season ticket holders to raise the flag. The next week, it was Seahawks Legend Cortez Kennedy, who would later be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and later that season Legends like Curt Warner and Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent took their turns building tradition that would see everyone from former players to Seattle athletes from other sports to actors to musicians to military service men and women to heroic first responders and others all raise the flag to get the crowd fired up just before kickoff.
"It's a beautiful celebration for the individual who gets to do it, especially if it's a former player," Baldwin said. "It's a recognition of all of the effort, all of the work, all of the support, all of the love, everything, all culminating in that one moment to raise the flag, and it means a lot to the history and the culture of the organization. To be able to be celebrated in that moment, and to be able to share that with the fanbase that was so important to all of us during our tenure with the Seahawks, it was a very special moment."
Matt Hasselbeck was in his third season with the Seahawks in 2003 when Tod Leiweke, then the team's new CEO, explained to players the vision behind this new tradition that would further connect the team to the fans. And it didn't take long for players on that 2003 team to understand the significance of that moment.
"We had a tremendous amount of respect for it," Hasselbeck said. "Then the people they got to do it, it was impressive, it was cool. In general, it was impressive people who warranted a standing ovation of some sort. Then the music that was played before kickoff, I remember I would get choked up for that moment. I could definitely tell that it mattered to the fans."
Twenty years' worth of 12 Flag raising ceremonies have done nothing to diminish the power of that moment, even for those who have witnessed it for all of those 20 seasons.
"The tradition of raising the 12 Flag is something I look forward to every week," said Steve Raible, who has been the voice of the Seahawks since 2004 and been part of the broadcast since 1982, the year after his playing career with the team ended. "It's just an amazing way to bring all the fans to that moment. They're ready for the game, but this is something where we stop and look up to the south end zone and watch. For me, it's just an amazing moment."
For Largent, who felt the impact of Seahawks fans from early in his career to the day he retired, being a part of that 12 Flag tradition in its first year only added to his appreciation for the unique connection the Seahawks have with their fans.
"It's very cool," Largent said. "I like the idea and the premise behind it in that they are honoring their fans. So many times, teams don't do that, and fans feel underappreciated. The Seahawks have forever held their fans in high regard, and love the fact that they've been supportive, win, lose or draw. So to celebrate the fans in Seattle is really well deserved."
And even though the 12 Flag ceremony is first and foremost about getting the fans riled up before kickoff, the people on the field getting ready for the game are also into it.
"I try to get a peek every week," said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. "I want to tap into that just like the fans do. It's historic and classy, and it's so built in now, it feels like it's just a part of it. We look forward to it—it's special, and it's nice to have a real familiar connection with the fans, and really it goes all the way back to ownership, so it's a real cool tradition."
Said Hall of Fame tackle Walter Jones, "I just loved to see how fans reacted to whoever it was that week."
Baldwin too looked forward to seeing who was raising the flag in a given week and how the fans would respond.
"I was very aware of it going on before the game," he said. "There are very distinct moments where I just remember looking up, seeing who was raising the flag… It's very emotional. It's motivational, very powerful. The sound that's with it, the music, it's a very significant moment, and right before the kickoff. It's pretty dope, it's pretty special."
"I look out and I'm like, 'Oh my God.'"
In addition to the numerous Seahawks Legends who have raised the flag, and the Seattle sports icons ranging from Sue Bird to Ken Griffey Jr. to Ichiro, there has also been plenty of star power involved in the form of musicians and actors with local ties. Musicians like Pearl Jam's Mike McCready, Seattle rap legend Sir Mix-A-Lot and Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan have all played in front of huge, adoring fans; and actors like Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Rainn Wilson, Joel McHale have been in movies or TV shows seen by millions, but raising the 12 Flag is still a unique moment even for those used to fame and adoration.
"I remember not being told much," said Sir Mix-A-Lot. "There was no warning, there was no, 'It's going to be windy, it's going to be loud, it's going to be awkward, it's going to be funny, it might not work, you might fall down,' nothing. No warnings. Just two people walking us up there, and we get up there and I look out and I'm like, 'Oh my God.' But as that 12 flag went up, I couldn't help but get goosebumps. I can't really describe it, but wow, to hear the crowd from up there, it was something."
Morgan, who grew up in the Seattle area and attended Lake Washington High School before going on to Hollywood fame, grew up going to games at the Kingdome and is as diehard of a Seahawks fan you'll find anywhere, as his twitter feed demonstrates on Sunday, an unhinged level of fandom that delights his 5-year-old daughter.
"I've just gotten more obnoxious," he said. "The better we've gotten, the more I live and die by them. That's kind of how it's worked. I'm not exactly a rated PG guy during a game. Even on twitter I go nuts, imagine me yelling at my television set. My daughter, who's 5, she loves when daddy goes nuts, she giggles her ass off."
In 2018, Morgan took his son, Gus, who was eight at the time with him on a trip to Seattle to raise the 12 Flag prior to an eventual blowout victory over the 49ers.
"I remember everything, I remember every second of those couple of days," Morgan said, describing his visit to the team's Saturday walkthrough and how kind players were to his son. "I remember we walked out there, and the crowd just went apesh--, as they do. It was extraordinary. There are a couple moments in my life—my children being born, getting married, I was at the Super Bowl that we won, and raising the flag, and I can't tell the family what the order those are in.
"It was awesome. It was insane. I'll never forget it. Being up there, all those eyes looking up at you, seeing the team down there, and waving that towel, getting the crowd fired up, it was the thrill of a lifetime for me. Being the Seahawks fan that I am, I couldn't ask for anything more, except for the Super Bowl win, which was just as awesome. It was just an amazing, amazing experience. It's been a long time since I've lived in Seattle, so to be able to go back and experience that with (Gus), that moment, being up there, there's nothing like it. For a true Seahawks fan, there's nothing like it. I still get fired up thinking about it."
And even those used to the gameday experience at Lumen Field, the moment can be overwhelming. Hasselbeck, for example, said he had to calm himself down for fear he might pass out.
"It was kind of hyped," he said. "You can almost lose your mind—you're up there, it's very high, it's very windy, you're screaming and going nuts. It's a cool experience."
Hasselbeck's second 12 Flag raising came in 2021 when he was required to wear a mask due to COVID-19 restrictions.
"I could barely breath as it was, and I was like, 'I'm going to pass out up here. That would be so embarrassing if I fainted.'" Hasselbeck said. "It was like, 'OK, calm down buddy, calm down.' You hear that song, it's almost like a Pavlov's dog experience for me, I hear that, and I instantly go back to—it's like when I hear 'Bittersweet Symphony, you instantly go back to a time. You hear that noise and that song, and it just takes you back, and there's a great sense of pride in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. It's really cool and really special."
The 12 Flag raising can also provide heartfelt moments, as was the case when Walter Jones raised the flag with Largent and Courtney Kennedy the daughter of the late Cortez Kennedy less than six months after his death.
"For her to be a part of it, it was pretty amazing," said Jones, who in 2014 raised the 12 Flag with Largent and Cortez Kennedy. "That was a special one."
While 12 Flag raisers have often been well-known athletes and celebrities, the team has also used that ceremony as a way to honor actual heroes, ranging from people like George Hickman, a Tuskegee airman and World War II veteran, to doctors, nurses and other medical professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic, to Oso mudslide first responders.
"The Relationship With This Team, It's Ours."
The Seahawks and their fans have had a unique connection, even by NFL standards, dating back to the early days of the franchise in the 1970s, and continuing on today at Lumen Field. From the number 12 being retired in 1984 to honor fans, to the NFL actually trying to legislate the extreme crowd noise out of games at the Kingdome, to fans creating seismic activity on Marshawn Lynch's famous "Beast Quake" run, to 20 years' worth of 12 Flag raising ceremonies, few teams in sports are as connected to their fans like the Seahawks.
"The history is there with the Kingdome—literally the NFL had to make rules for the crowd being too loud at the Kingdome," Hasselbeck said. "Then the Kingdome went away and we were without a home for a while, playing at Husky Stadium, then we were back at Seahawks Stadium, and we were trying to build something back. There was history there we were trying to tap into, but it was also a fresh start. It was a collaborative effort, the players took a lot of pride in it, the fans took a lot of pride in it. It felt organic."
Seattle's remote location, relative to the rest of the league—Hasselbeck once jokingly referred to Seattle as "South Alaska" to describe what others thought of this region—is also something that strengthens the fan base.
"The Pacific Northwest is a special place, and the relationship with that team, it's ours,' Morgan said. "There's really a sense of ownership. I liken it to probably how fans in Green Bay feel about their team. Seattle is still kind of out in the boonies for most people. They think of the Pacific Northwest as the woods, basically. I think we take complete ownership of our team; we live and die with them. I haven't lived in Seattle for 35, 40 years, and still on Sundays, I live and die with this team."
Said Sir Mix-A-Lot, "Seattle is a great sports town, and most people outside of here don't know it. We've had some classic moments."
"Of Course, This Is Perfect"
There have been plenty of memorable 12 Flag raisers over the years, but for anyone who was at the NFC Championship Game following the 2005 season, nothing can top the time Paul Allen, the team owner who less than a decade earlier had saved the franchise from relocating to Southern California, surprised the crowd by raising the flag, setting the tone for victory over Carolina that would send the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl appearance in team history.
"Paul was the biggest one," said Raible. "To this day, and I said on the broadcast, it's the biggest and loudest and most sustained applause and cheer that I have heard. For everybody to recognize that moment, knowing what he did, saving the team, putting that stadium there, putting that team there, and then having the continued success that we've had. That was a wonderful moment."
Hasselbeck recalls wondering in that moment who could possibly be worth of raising the 12 Flag prior to an NFC Championship Game, the realizing as Allen did it that there was only one worthy choice all along.
"The one Paul Allen did, that resonated with me a lot," Hasselbeck said. "I remember when I first came to Seattle, I was hearing about 'Save our Seahawks,' and people were educating me on the history of the franchise and how they almost went to L.A., and how Paul Allen stepped in and a group of people worked tirelessly to make sure the Seahawks didn't leave Seattle.
"It was a cool moment, because Paul was never one who wanted the credit, never was really in the spotlight. And it was like, 'Who the heck are we going to get for the NFC championship?' There was no one big enough. Then all of a sudden it's Paul Allen right before kickoff, and it was like, 'Of course, this is perfect.' The crowd reaction—it felt like the crowd was aware in that moment of what might have never been. That to me was the most memorable. I'm getting goosebumps now just thinking about it. That was so special."
As we celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the 12 Flag Raisings check out some of the photos from past and present 12 Flag Raisers.