NEW YORK — More than 20,000 fans lined the streets and beat the windows, some of them chasing the Seattle Seahawks’ buses down on the roads near the practice facility, a few groups lining overpasses and others following them on Interstate 405 on their way to the Seattle airport.
On some stretches, the buses crept through to avoid celebrating fans, and when onlookers smacked the bus, players smacked it back.
“They never cease to surprise me,” safety Earl Thomas said of his team’s supporters, “because even if we lose — it could be 4 in the morning when we get back, and they’re still like little kids out there, going crazy, shaking the bus like we just won.”
Seattle has been, in the sports universe, one of America’s unfortunate places. For decades, it has been a city of losses, watching other teams win championships and listening to other cities’ residents spend offseasons bragging. Just the possibility of quarterback Russell Wilson or cornerback Richard Sherman lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the Super Bowl was enough to bring thousands to sidewalks and streets last Sunday, the crowd following the team all the way to the airport.
“Probably one of the coolest sports moments that I’ve been a part of,” Seahawks center Max Unger said.
The team landed in New Jersey a week before it will play the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl for a chance at Seattle’s first major professional sports title since the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979. The Sonics, of course, left the city in 2008 for Oklahoma City. Now the Thunder is a mainstay in the NBA playoffs, led by Kevin Durant, one of the league’s most popular and talented players.
In cities like Seattle, the years pass slowly, and the dread sets in early. A bad week or, heaven forbid, a poor month means the season is surely lost; wait till next year — again.
Next year came in Seattle in 2010, when Coach Pete Carroll left the University of Southern California — and a coming scandal that included stripped victories and lost scholarships — and joined the Seahawks. The team had reached the playoffs in 2007, but the following two seasons were, predictably, awful; Seattle went 4-12 and 5-11 during the two seasons before Carroll’s arrival.
At the time, it was easy to say that Carroll simply wanted a safety net. Reggie Bush, the Heisman Trophy winner, would be found to have accepted illegal benefits, and he would eventually become the only Heisman winner to return his trophy. Carroll left other coaches to answer questions, and at the time it was seen that an appropriate punishment was banishment to Seattle.
The Seahawks went 7-9 in Carroll’s first season, reaching the playoffs anyway (and winning a game), and a season later they again went 7-9. But last year, one city known for its bad luck uncovered a charm, drafting Wilson in the third round and watching as he became a star.
The team went 11-5 in 2012 and won their first-round playoff game vs. the Washington Redskins. This past regular season, the Seahawks went 13-3. Wilson made an argument for being the best quarterback from the 2012 draft: so far more successful than his heralded draft classmates, No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck of the Colts and No. 2 pick Robert Griffin III of the Redskins.
Carroll assembled an outstanding defense, and running back Marshawn Lynch is among the NFL’s most underrated players. In the NFC championship game, Sherman tipped a pass from San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, leading to an interception and a win that seemed so unlikely in years past.
The Seahawks were so good in 2013 that it became difficult to remember how bad they once were. The thousands lining the streets on Sunday made it clear, though, that they could never forget.
“The city’s on fire,” defensive end Cliff Avril said. “The city definitely appreciates it and it definitely gave us a glimpse of how they feel.