I know we’re not talking about the JFK assassination here. Or the last episode of Seinfeld. Or the first time a bouncer didn’t card you. But if you were in Seattle on Sunday, January 19, 2014, one moment ranks up there with the big historical events you’ll always recall in crisp detail.
Remember when Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman tipped the ball during the last second of the NFC Championship game, deflecting 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s pass to Michael Crabtree and sending Seattle to the Super Bowl. Remember how no one—no matter where you were—remained seated. If you were at home, you Tom Cruised your poor couch. If you were out, you fist-pumped… no, you hugged strangers at the bar. Remember how you cried (c’mon, you cried).
Then remember what happened next.
Interviewed immediately after the play, Sherman excitedly told Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews, “I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get.” National reaction was angry and swift, including thinly and not-so-thinly disguised racist rants on social media, radio, and TV. The implication? To Sherman but also, by extension, the famously rowdy 12th Man: Just do your job and keep quiet.
Thing is, Seattle has always done quiet. Across its history, in fact, few cities have done quiet more.
The Duwamish tribe must have heard it for centuries. The dead silence of the place, where sounds evaporate across the water or disappear into the tree-filled hills. The Denny Party heard it in 1851 as they rowed up to the beach of what they would soon christen New York Alki. Henry Yesler must have heard it in those moments before he sent logs noisily skidding down his eponymous road to the banks of Elliott Bay. But then the people were quiet too. Tossed by the Pacific or worn down by the plains and mountains as they slogged west, by the time they reached this nascent city at the edge of nowhere they were out of words.
Even later, in the era of jet engines and a hundred Boeing test flights wheeling overhead, a quiet always cleaved the sounds apart. Yes, there came Hendrix and grunge—blankets of lush sound that envelop you in nearly the same way as the stillness of a Hoh Rain Forest grove—but Seattleites always returned to a chilling reticence known as the Seattle Freeze (“nice to meet you, now let us never speak again”).
The 12th Man has been different. It has turned a town of introverts into a rabid chorus, granting CenturyLink Field world’s loudest crowd status.
When Richard Sherman tipped that ball out of Crabtree’s reach, he became an instant 12th Man hero. When he spoke his mind while sharing in the city’s collective, earsplitting bliss—and then got bashed by the outside world for it—he became a Seattle icon.
Now the new season begins. And eight months after Sherman’s glorious spiel, after the Super Bowl win, after 700,000 fans flooded the city for the victory parade, the message to the rest of the country is clear.
If you thought that was loud, wait till you hear this.