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Seattle's '12th Man' Comes Through Crystal Clear, and Really Loud

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Seattle fans take inordinate pride in the number 12, as in 12 th Man. Fans yesterday received bright green 12 winter hats, which nicely supplemented the 12 baseball caps, 12 football helmets and 12 firefighter helmets in the crowd. Large multi-colored 12 s flashed in the Qwest Field concourse, where vendors were selling 12 sodas -- "The 12 th Can" -- and 12 jerseys, not far from the "Spirit of 12" wall. Seattle Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer raised the 12 flag before kickoff, a 12 flag was placed atop the Space Needle and some industrious office workers arranged the lights in the windows of a downtown skyscraper into the number 12.

The other number passing through many lips this week was 68, the number of false starts visitors have committed at this stadium since 2005, tops in the NFL. That number has been featured on the team's Web site and was quoted reverently by fans in the parking lot yesterday. One group keeps a running tally of false starts behind one end zone.

So when Washington Redskins fullback Mike Sellers had the audacity last week to suggest the stadium's fans were assisted by artificial noise -- charges denied by Seahawks officials -- outrage was cheaper by the dozen.

"Washington's Mike Sellers might have made a big mistake when he questioned the clamor at Qwest," blared a Seattle Times headline. "Mike Sellers Can You Hear Us!" fans asked via homemade T-shirts. "100% Natural Noise" read one sign inside the stadium. "Hawks Don't Cry About the Noise" read another. "Hey Sellers Meet the 12th Man" read a third. Radio stations played the clip of Sellers's comments, and natives were convinced that he had made a grievous error.

"It's the dumbest thing anyone could have done," Hayes Mundell said. "Sixty-seven thousand just turned into 120,000; that's exactly what he just did," Nick McKenty said.

"We heard what Sellers said, and this is what I've got to say about that," said Jim Lussier, dressed in a monkey costume and brandishing a "LOUDER!!!" banner.

But when Seahawks fans gathered above the Redskins' tunnel two hours before kickoff, they weren't offering thanks for what one had called "a late Christmas present" from Sellers. Instead, they were screaming through mini-megaphones: at Washington's equipment managers, ballboys, assistant coaches, public relations staffers and especially at players.

The topic of their insults varied; Chris Wilson was told he skipped like Hannah Montana, Daniel Snyder was told he presided over "the Wal-Mart of the NFL," Jason Campbell was derided for his injury, Shaun Suisham for his position and Stephon Heyer for his hair. But the most frequent comments involved crowd noise.

"Should I pipe my voice in there?" fans yelled at Redskins players wearing headphones. "Can you hear me, can you hear me?" they yelled. "Pipe this, baby," they yelled, "Pipe my voice buddy."

Sellers came in and out of the tunnel repeatedly, and he seemed to relish the attention, raising his arms and asking for more noise. "Pipe this Sellers," they screamed at him, "pipe this!!!!" At one point, the fullback turned his face up toward his antagonists and smiled.

"I can't hear you," he said, shrugging apologetically, "I can't hear you."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company