May 4, 2015

12 For Life/Columbus Til I Die


This Saturday, the Seattle Sounders will visit Ohio to battle Columbus Crew SC. I'm sure the vast majority of my readers will be rooting for the Rave Green. I'll be at the match, clad in Black and Gold (I know... Steelers colors! Horror!) and pulling for the Crew. Every year, when this match approaches, I get bombarded with variations on a single question: Why aren't you a Sounders supporter? I aim to answer that here, as well as dig a bit into the psychology of how fandom grows, puts down roots, and sometimes even dies. 

I've written extensively about the roots of my Seahawks fandom before. The short version? I grew up in Eastern Washington, which was a hotbed of Twelvedom in the early 80s. I was a weird, bookish, sensitive kid, so when I expressed an interest in something "normal" like football, my family aggressively cultivated it. The magical 1983 season, which included my first trip to a Seahawks game at the Kingdome, hooked me for good. Watching the Hawks became a family activity in my house, and a lifelong attachment was born. 

That attachment survived The Forgotten Years of the 1990s for a complex melange of reasons. Even though the Seahawks veered between being god awful and merely mediocre, they were one of the few positive things I shared with my estranged father. From 1993 to 1999, I was in Bellingham getting my B.A. and then my M.A. at Western. I had such a blast during those years that a pile of Seahawks losses taller than Sehome Hill didn't sting quite as much as it would have otherwise. I also was then, as I am now, a contrarian at heart. As everyone around me donned Ken Griffey Jr. and Shawn Kemp jerseys in the mid-90s, I defiantly strode around campus in my Joey Galloway jersey, feeling like the only Twelve in Bellingham. I threw myself into the campaign to get funding for Seahawks Stadium approved, and when new owner Paul Allen started selling $10 tickets, I snapped up a pair of Season Tickets in the top row of the Kingdome South End Zone for $200 (tickets which I still have today, thanks to parental subsidies... though now they are $50 apiece/$1000 for the pair). 

In 1999 I moved to Columbus for graduate school, and my Seahawks fandom became even more central to my identity. I was the first and only Twelve most Ohioans had ever met, and even though I'd have some awkward moments, I LOVED being an ambassador for the 12 Army in the Wilderness of Central Ohio. It made me feel special, but more importantly, as the years passed and my roots in Columbus deepened, 12ing represented the cultivation and renewal of my connection to my home state of Washington. Every time I would come home and go to a game, and join 66,000 other Twelves in collective hysteria, I felt reborn. After drifting away from shore, it was like the tide created by that massive Blue Wave brought me home. 

But Columbus IS home for me now. I fought that idea for a long time, but since I met my partner and started my transition a few years ago here in the Arch City, I've accepted that barring some crazy unforeseen circumstance, I'm not going to move back to Washington State (though... Damn... I really miss Bellingham). Columbus is actually a pretty spectacular place to live. It's got a high quality of life, a relatively low cost of living, and it's one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the Midwest. As I dug myself a happy little rut in Ohio's Capital, I realized that I needed sports teams to root for. 

The Buckeyes? Umm... No. Not only did I not particularly like college football, but I found the culture surrounding Ohio State Football to be both oppressive and a bit frightening. That left the NHL's Blue Jackets and Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew. I embraced the Jackets first, because I grew up rooting for the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League, and I didn't have an existing NHL allegiance to betray (Nope, I never became a Canucks fan back in the old days). My support for the Crew came later, and only after a long evolution of my feelings about soccer as a sport. 20 years ago, I though soccer was a boring, foreign waste of time (Halfback passes back to center... Center holds it... holds it... HOLDS IT!). 

Gradually, I started paying more attention to the World Cup every four years, and I'd catch the occasional Crew match (usually on Buck-a-Brat nights). In 2011, I went to my first Crew match in years with my partner and we had a rollicking good time. My deepening commitment to Columbus, combined with my rising interest in the world's most popular sport, as well as a shared experience with the woman I loved, ignited and fueled my Crew fandom. The Sounders? Bad timing, guys. Y'all didn't join MLS until 2008- Years after I moved away, but before soccer became my 2nd favorite sport after football. Plus, it irks me to no end when you call 40,000 people in a stadium that holds 67,000 a "sellout." The team I root for that plays in that stadium has sold EVERY seat in the place for EVERY game since September of 2003. Yeah, I respect Sounders supporters- Seattle fans are pretty consistently RABID when given any sort of Championship hopes- But you guys are always forgetting that Columbus is the capital of American soccer. I know a TON of Sounders supporters, so this Saturday's match is a particularly big deal to me. 

My Seahawks fandom is evergreen, but the Crew and Jackets serve two really important needs for me: They scratch my sports-fanaticism itch when the Hawks aren't playing, and they give me something that connects me to my new home without forcing me to root for Ohio State. I've explained how my sports fandom has grown and evolved... But how does it die? And why? 

From 1986 to 2014, I was a huge Boston Red Sox fan. I even wrote a piece about my Sox fandom a few years back for Field Gulls. I was devastated by Bill Buckner's gaffe and Aaron Boone's homer, and elated by hard-won championships in 2004, 2007 and 2013. Today, my allegiance to the Red Sox is on indefinite hiatus. Why? One reason is my waning interest in baseball as a sport. Rooting for the Crew only demands two hours of my time a week. The Seahawks? 3 or 4. A baseball team? 3-4 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. Just thinking about that has become exhausting for me. 

The bigger reason? I find the idea of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a LOT of the same people who celebrated one of the most painful moments of my life NAUSEATING. I just can't stomach stuff like Tom Brady throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park right now... And I'm not sure if or when I'll feel good about rooting for a team from Boston again. I have deep emotional connections to the Pacific Northwest and Central Ohio that fuel my fire for those teams. For Boston teams? None of that for a city I've only visited twice in my life (though Massachusetts' Capital is indeed a lovely place to visit). 

So fandom can die. Could anything kill my Seahawks fandom? If they ever moved away from Seattle, that would do it (Sidebar: If Ken Behring had succeeded in moving the team to L.A. in the mid-90s, I was all set to become a fan of the... Ugh... New England Patriots. I loved Drew Bledsoe, and I was already a Red Sox fan, so it made sense at the time). A long stretch of subpar play couldn't do the trick... What if the Seahawks started employing a gaggle of reprobates? I have to admit I find our drafting of Frank Clark distasteful (I'm not going to run out and buy the jersey of a suspected domestic abuser, that's for sure), but it's not nearly enough to eat away at my bond to the franchise. At the moment, I'm just hoping that John Schneider is right about him, and that he stays out of trouble from this point on. 

What about everyone else? Do you just root for Seattle-area teams (or, all the local teams from where-ever you are)? If you don't, how did you get attached to teams you aren't geographically connected to? Let's hash it out in the comments! 

(Almost forgot... GLORY TO COLUMBUS!)

3 comments:

Eric Flatness said...

For me, it will always be Seattle teams before all else. It would have to be pretty exceptional circumstances for me to ever consider rooting for a non-Seattle team, even if it's in a sport Seattle doesn't have (hockey, basketball.) I respect your decision (though we all know that Columbus hasn't come close to selling all the seats in the house since 2003.)
Looking forward to the match this weekend!

Richard Lester said...

I was raised in Alaska where Seattle teams get alot of love and all my family is from Washington state plus much like you when I lived in Seattle for a few years I was able to get season tickets for $100 a piece and my future wife and I went to every game from 1997-2001. As far as soccer goes I would rather have bamboo spikes driven under my finger nails than sit and watch a soccer game. I have tried to sit and watch 5 minutes straight and I couldn't do it I kept nodding out like I was on heroin. Also can you write an article about the Seahawks uniforms and hopefully we can get some momentum for the old throw backs circa 1983-2002 style god I miss those so much. As always GO HAWKS!!!

Sammy said...

I'm a longtime (since '76) Seahawks fan and almost as longtime (since '84) Padres fan. And I'm a San Diego State grad. When I mix and match sports team clothing (Padres hoodie/Seahawks hat, for instance), a friend of mine refers to it as cross-dressing. :)