The Ultimate 12th Man Guide
There's Always Room on the Bandwagon
I'm a fan and you're a fan. Can we stop fighting and hate the 49ers together?
When I go into a sports bar alone—which I often do, because not everyone wants to get day drunk in front of a shouty sports game every weekend for a solid five months—two things will happen: 1) I will text my dad throughout the game because he coached my youth football teams—yes, I’m a girl and I played football. And 2) There will inevitably be at least one dude who feels the need to explain the game to me. “See, the extra point happens after the touchdown. So actually they’re trying to score seven points.” Thanks, guy.
But that’s not a gender-specific phenomenon. For some people the game within the game is finding fake fans and smoking them out. Because as much as we may tell Little Leaguers that sports are about sportsmanship, they’re also really prone to becoming pissing matches. In particular: the separation of real sports fans from bandwagoners. You’re new to football but still want to follow the home team? Bandwagon. You’re from another city? Bandwagon. You’re a female? Bandwagon.
Earlier this year as the Seahawks triumphantly marched toward the Super Bowl, homemade 12 signs began showing up on buildings, on cars, and in restaurants all over town. They were hard to miss. Jerseys and team hoodies became the default winter wardrobe for people of all walks of life. On one Seattle-bound Alaska Airlines flight, my captain declared “Go Hawks!” over the intercom, and everyone on the flight—everyone—answered “Go Hawks!” like parishioners in church. If you looked carefully at the nails of the women in your office, you’d probably see some navy-and-green paint jobs (or as I called them, 12th Manicures). Casual Friday became Blue Friday. To this day my friend’s kid can name most of the Seahawks’ starting lineup—and she’s a toddler.
We went from being a city that, by and large, loved to collectively side eye our perceived-to-be-terrible teams to a city that believed. Then we won. And we had a cute little riot. And yet still, there were the accusations. Bandwagoners! Bandwagoners all around! Because apparently just liking football—or even just liking your city or your team—isn’t enough. You have to prove your fandom: How long have you been cheering for the Hawks? Did you stick with them through the bad seasons? Were you there during the Jerry Rice days? Where were you when Jerramy Stevens got arrested for the zillionth time? As if the longevity of a person’s fandom makes them enjoy sports any more.
There’s not even that much history to one-up each other about. A relatively young team, the Seahawks have only been in the NFL for 38 years. By comparison the Green Bay Packers, one of the oldest teams in the league with one of the most dedicated fan bases, were established 95 years ago. So really, we’re just playing catch-up when it comes to rallying the masses.
Last year the NFL rolled out a new campaign that nearly brought me to tears. And while I am admittedly a person who is prone to excessive crying, it’s rare that I emote during televised broadcasts of sports because: 1) Commercials during televised broadcasts of sports are almost always unmercifully sexist and trite, and 2) diehard fan though I am, even the toughest losses aren’t usually cause for physical displays of intense emotions. (Remember the crushing end of the 2012 season, when Atlanta kicked a field goal with eight seconds to go in the NFC divisional playoff game that ended our march to the Super Bowl? Yeah, that was hard. Still didn’t shed a tear.)
The campaign was called Together, We Make Football, and, by incorporating the stories of the different kinds of fans who watch the sport from living rooms and sports bars and tiny office televisions every week in the fall, it aimed to make American football more inclusive.
Of course, what it was really designed to do was sell NFL-licensed apparel in a range of sizes and shapes, because this is America and football is a $9 billion industry. But this isn’t the time for cynicism. In 2013, the NFL did something that a lot of regular people in America still have a hard time with: It acknowledged that anyone—even pretty little ladies like me—can be a football fan. A real one. Because shouldn’t wanting a winning team be the only requirement for real fandom?
So this season, win or lose, let’s stop quantifying fandom and focus, together, on the real enemy:
Colin Kaepernick and his stupid, stupid face.
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and Internet person and cofounding editor of seattlish.com.
This article appeared in the September 2014 issue of Seattle Met.