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Silent in Seattle: Noisy Seahawks fans absent for opener

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 18, 2020

By Adam Jude Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Nights like this built CenturyLink Field’s reputation as one of the NFL’s loudest and most hostile environments, when 67,000 rabid fans would huddle in tight for a game such as the prime-time showdown between the Seahawks and New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football.

During a Monday night game in 2013, the 12th Man set a then-Guinness world record for crowd noise with a decibel level of 137.6. CenturyLink Field has been a tremendous advantage for the Seahawks since it opened in 2002: They have a 100-45 record at home, including 10-1 in the playoffs.

“This is one of the great spectacles in sport, playing here in front of our fans,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said this week. “Notably the loudest venue that you can find. The excitement level and the energy and the connection with the people of this area has been unique and extraordinary, nothing but a spectacle. That’s not going to happen.”

The realities of playing football during the coronavirus pandemic mean there will be no fans inside CenturyLink Field for the Seahawks’ 2020 home opener, and the NFL has mandated that artificial crowd noise played during the game cannot exceeded 70 decibels. It’ll be a much different experience for everyone Sunday night.

“We’re going to miss our fans for sure,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “They’re the best in the world at what they do.”

Last month the team announced that no fans will be allowed for the Seahawks’ first three games, but team officials this week said they are working closely with state and local health agencies to prepare for the possibility of allowing fans back in the stadium later this season.

There is no clear timeline for that decision, said David Young, the Seahawks’ senior vice president of business operations and the general manager of CenturyLink Field.

“We’re hopeful that conditions are going to improve and that we will be able to host fans,” Young said. “But we’re going to continue to follow the lead of government officials and health officials and when they determined it can be safe.”

Six NFL teams, with approval of local governments, have opened the season allowing some fans in their stadiums – a decision that has alarmed some health experts. Nearly 16,000 fans attended the season’s first game between the Texans and Chiefs in Kansas City, Missouri; one fan who attended that game tested positive for COVID-19, according to reports. Health officials required 10 other fans who came in contact with that person to quarantine.

The overall ramifications of allowing fans into stadiums could take weeks to determine, health officials have said.

Young said safety will be the top priority in determining if and when CenturyLink Field will open for Seahawks fans this season. CenturyLink Field, he said, is one of a handful of NFL stadiums that has been formally accredited as a “gold” facility for its cleanliness by the Global Biorisk Advisory Council. If fans are allowed back in, Young said the team has developed a “touchless experience” for those who do attend.

“We’ve got a great plan,” he said. “We plan for every scenario. So anywhere you’d have a transaction or an interaction between a fan and an employee, that’s a touchless interaction. That’s an interaction that can be socially distanced, from ticketing to parking to security to food and beverage and retail. We’ve mapped out the entire fan experience to ensure that you can remain socially distanced.”

During training camp last month, the Seahawks held three scrimmages inside an empty CenturyLink Field to get a sense of what a game day would be like without fans. From an operations standpoint, Young said the new protocols and procedures for those three events exceeded expectations, and he’s confident the measures will provide a safe and enjoyable experience Sunday for players, and for fans watching from home.

“This idea of no fans, we knew it was a possibility and one none of us wanted, but then your mind goes to, ‘All right, how do you keep bringing fans into it (through the broadcast), bringing the tradition through, and making sure that even in a weird year, there’s some semblance of normalcy?’ ” Seahawks vice president of marketing Jeff Richards said. “There’s something that we all love about this team and about being a part of the Seahawks community, and let’s make sure those things still exist.”

The Seahawks will maintain one of their most celebrated game-day traditions: the raising of the 12th Man flag just before kickoff. There is a twist this season; instead of asking a former player or local celebrity to raise the flag, the team will honor a local “front-line hero” for each home game, as part of the team’s corporate sponsorship with Walmart.

On Sunday night, Dr. Eliot Fagley, head of the Critical Care Unit’s COVID-19 response team at Virginia Mason Medical Center, will be the first to raise the flag this season. Fagley and his family will then be the allowed to stay for the game.

Another new feature that will likely play prominently on the television broadcast: The Seahawks have gathered two jerseys each from more than 200 high school football teams from throughout the state. Those will be displayed on the backs of seats in Sections 108 and 110, behind the visiting team’s sideline.

“It’s going to be a really cool display, both as an expression to the high school football community here in the state of how important they are, but also kind of to the world that the future of football is really an important part of our DNA as an organization,” Richards said.

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