Whenever a franchise enjoys major success for the first time, their fans invariably get branded with the dreaded "bandwagon" label. Others around the country – typically those who support teams that don't make recurrent playoff appearances – notice that suddenly, these "bandwagon" fans are not only more present at games and on social media, they're louder and (admittedly) more obnoxious than ever before…mostly because they finally have something to shout about.
Over the last four years, outside of Patriots Nation – who everyone hates – no group has been accused of jumping on the wagon with as much fervor or frequency as the Seattle Seahawks' fanbase, also known as "The 12th Man." I should know, because I'm a part of that group.
I've seen and felt the hatred people have for my team and our fans, and I fucking love it. Hatred is a million times better than pity, which was the primary the emotional response this franchise elicited before Pete Carroll crashed the pros for good in 2010. That's if they even felt anything at all; it's not a stretch to say most football fans were apathetic about the Seahawks, thanks to the team's geographic isolation and the fact we were usually not good enough to get noticed.
My first memories of rooting for the Seahawks came during the Dennis Erickson era, a time of middling mediocrity in the mid-Nineties when nobody would accuse you of being a bandwagon fan. As a teenager I was drawn in by the natural inclination to support my local teams, but also amazed by the incredible open-field stylings of Joey Galloway and a Pro Bowl invitation for our 41-year-old quarterback Warren Moon.
That was about all you could look forward to from a team that finished at or around .500 so often you'd think they were coached by Jeff Fisher, but it could have been much worse. My father – who was a season ticket holder during their original season in 1976 – has told me about the lowest points, like how he once witnessed a co-worker pin two free Seahawks tickets to the office bulletin board at the beginning of the day. By 5 p.m., not only had no one claimed them, someone else had tacked two more tickets on top of them.
But their worst and their most mediocre seasons went away in 1999, when Mike Holmgren decided to leave a Super Bowl team for a franchise that had been to the playoffs only four times in 23 years. By making the postseason for five straight seasons beginning in 2003, Holmgren set the stage for Carroll's subsequent success, because it wasn't until Mike took us to the Super Bowl in 2005 that fans in Seattle could finally start to believe that championships were possible.
That was certainly not something that locals could do after decades spent rooting for the Seahawks, Mariners and Sonics, who hung their only championship banner a few years before I was born and then ghosted Seattle shortly after Super Bowl XL. Holmgren allowed people around these parts to believe that greatness was achievable, and then Carroll turned that belief into a reality (the less said about Jim Mora Jr.'s one year at the helm, the better).
So much so that even after seeing this year's team struggle early, finish 10-6 and get dominated for a half by the Carolina Panthers – a season after their heartbreaking, last-second loss in Super Bowl XLIX – fans still believe that next year, the Seahawks are going to get back to the Super Bowl. And they're going to win it.
When he was hired in 2010, Carroll inherited a team that had gone 5-11 a year earlier and, along with general manager John Schneider, excommunicated every player who wouldn't belong in "The Church of Pete," which was most of them. But it wasn't like there were a lot of people agreeing with what this crazy guy was doing. After all, he'd already been fired by NFL teams twice before.
"Why are we adding Marshawn Lynch when he's all but busted out of Buffalo?"
"Who is Earl Thomas and why didn't we draft local boy Taylor Mays?"
"Did we seriously just waste a third-round pick on a 5-foot-10 quarterback when we just signed Matt Flynn?!?"
Except that by the end of the 2012 season, everybody had to agree that the fans were wrong and Carroll was right. Extremely right. So right that you even began to wonder if jet fuel really could melt steel beams.
In his first press conference as head coach, Carroll noted that he wanted to do it in Seattle "better than it's ever been done before." Well, how is this for better: Over the last four seasons, the Seahawks have outscored their opponents by 639 points (most in the NFL), finished first in scoring defense for four straight seasons (first time that's been done in the Super Bowl era), rushed for the most yards (outrunning the next closest team by more than 1,000 yards), thrown the fewest interceptions, allowed the fewest passing yards and touchdowns, allowed the second-fewest rushing yards and fewest rushing touchdowns, won the third-most regular season games and the most playoff games. All while playing in a division with the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.
Yeah, that's a pretty decent track record.
So when people say that Seattle has "bandwagon fans," I say, "Hell yes, we do." Why wouldn't people pay attention to something that's been this spectacular? When Carl Denham delivers King Kong to your city, are you going to ignore it? But instead of a giant ape, it's a roster that includes an elite quarterback, an outspoken and electrifying cornerback, a highlight machine at running back, a free safety that burns hotter than 140 fire emojis and a coach who might be a bigger fan of the Seahawks than any of us.
Yes, there are plenty of questions to address in the offseason. The Seahawks must prepare for a world without Marshawn Lynch, and focus instead on an offense that centers on Russell Wilson. Does that mean re-signing left tackle Russell Okung and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse? Will Jimmy Graham ever be the same after tearing his patellar tendon? Did Doug Baldwin really just lead the NFL in touchdown catches or was that a dream?
I have faith that we'll find the answers. History has yet to show me otherwise. So go ahead and call me a bandwagon fan if you want; at least I know my wagon's headed to the playoffs next season. Can you say that for your cart?