The biggest concern for the Seattle Seahawks this year might not be the 11 guys lining up against them each play. It might not be the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald, the Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan or the Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott.
No, the biggest concern for the Seahawks might very well be people they’ll never see. Because without fans in the stadium, their home-field advantage goes from the size of a boulder to a pebble.
Saturday, Seattle played an intra-squad game at CenturyLink Field for the first time this preseason. It was an entertaining back-and-forth affair that ended after one half due to defensive end Branden Jackson being knocked unconscious.
But conspicuously missing from the atmosphere were the fans who make the Clink one of the toughest venues in the league for visitors to win in. And don’t think quarterback Russell Wilson didn’t notice.
“I thought we did a really good job coming into the stadium, getting mentally prepared, how we were in the locker room and all of our drills that we do pre-game and everything else. But I will say – there’s nothing like having the best fans in the world in the stadium,” Wilson said. “We tried to definitely match that with the sound to be equal to what we would normally be … but at the same time, I miss the fans.”
Noise is no doubt a factor for foes who come into CenturyLink, but you can’t replicate the energy with piped-in audio. You can’t match the euphoria with a sound system or the intimidation with a speaker.
The film “Spinal Tap” has a famous scene in which the sound was cranked all the way up to an “11.” But Seahawks fans will tell you that even that deafening volume is one short of a 12.
Since Wilson came into the league, the Seahawks are 48-16 at home in the regular season vs. 38-25-1 on the road. They are 5-0 at home in the playoffs during that span and 3-5 away.
Teams having to endure the indefatigable larynxes of the 12s hasn’t been a phenomenon hyped up by the Seahawks or media. It has been a genuine thorn … make that a spear in opponents’ sides.
“I was sitting behind (Seahawks tight end Greg Olsen) on the bus, and we were talking about the memories he’s had coming here – he said it was a nightmare coming here,” Wilson said.
Then the quarterback commented on the first-year players missing out on the die-hards in attendance.
“I couldn’t imagine having my rookie year and not having the excitement of the fans there,” Wilson said. “That would definitely be different.”
True, there have been seasons in which the Seahawks actually played better on the road.
Last year was one of them, when they went 4-4/7-1, as was 2017, when they went 4-4/5-3. Those are exceptions, though, and it’s worth pointing out that three of last year’s home losses came against division champions (the Saints, Ravens and 49ers).
One thing Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is trying to decide is how loud the artificial audio should be. He said he didn’t crank it up to the maximum decibel level Saturday, and noted that once a volume is chosen, the team can’t change it.
You’d think that would be a minor priority for a coach given the complexities of a football team. Around here, though, trying to recreate that home environment is crucial.
Sure, there are other factors that play into teams having home-field advantage: not having traveled, familiar surroundings, etc. But the fans play the biggest role – and they won’t be around.
One common expression you hear in the sports world is “tune out the noise.” Unfortunately for Seahawks opponents coming to CenturyLink Field, that will be all too easy.
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