The Original 12th Man is always there.
He doesn’t need to paint his face, hold a sign or wear anything more elaborate than a Seahawks jacket. The Original 12th Man is Tom Smith III, a 63-year-old accountant who has attended every home game the Seahawks franchise has played — up to and including Saturday’s playoff game against New Orleans.
“I’m just an average guy,” Smith said.
And that’s what makes the Original 12th Man so extraordinary. He is one voice among the league’s loudest outdoor chorus, has 35 years of unwavering attendance and a receipt from the four season tickets he bought back in 1976 at $7 per game.
He shells out $78 per game now for his seats low in the third deck. You need seniority for season tickets in his section. (There are a handful of original season-ticket holders, though no one knows exactly how many.) He arrives early on game days, tickets safely tucked inside his binocular case.
He has never missed a Seahawks game in Seattle. Not one. His faith spans two stadiums, eight coaches and enough mediocre seasons to make Job kick through a stained-glass window. So just try and tell the Original 12th Man that Saturday’s NFC wild-card playoff game at 1:30 p.m. at Qwest Field against the defending Super Bowl champions isn’t exciting. Playoff games are different.
“You can just cut the air with a knife,” said Smith.
He grew up in Centralia, a sports fan who would listen to Seattle Rainiers game by pressing his ear to a transistor radio.
He has had season tickets to the Sonics and to the Huskies as well. But the Seahawks are his great sports love, the constant since way back in 1976, when he was in the Navy.
His man cave in the basement is stuffed with mementos. Everything from parkas to SeaGals posters to the Welch’s sunglasses from the Seahawks’ inaugural season.
The Seahawks are the first team with a losing record (7-9) to win their division, and the largest home underdog ever in the NFL playoffs. Does that make this game any less exciting?
“Not at all,” said Smith, who lives in Shoreline. “None whatsoever.”
Rub your ears because it’s going to be loud; Smith and 67,000 others hollering themselves hoarse every time the Saints attempt to snap the ball.
Need proof of the impact of Seattle’s home crowd? How about 104 false-start penalties called against opponents going back to 2005, the most at any NFL stadium in that time.
The New Orleans Saints won last year’s Super Bowl and beat Seattle by 15 points just seven weeks ago. But the Original 12th Man isn’t conceding anything. The playoffs are a fresh start, a blank slate.
“All this week — ever since we won the NFC West championship — the score has been zero to zero,” Smith said.
The faith of fans like Smith are the reason that home field is such an advantage in the playoffs. He’ll attend the game with John Buls, who he calls his “cohort in crime.” They’ll enjoy a buffet in the End Zone Club beforehand, and prepare for an afternoon that could include rain, perhaps a little snow. The Original 12th Man won’t mind, though. At least not nearly as much as the Saints, who play their home games indoors at the Superdome.
Smith has watched games in snow flurries, windstorms and endured that season in 1980 when the Seahawks went winless at home.
He has attended 275 regular-season games, eight in the playoffs and 35 years of exhibition games. And he’s never missed a game.
Back in December 1984, when his wife, Shawn, was expecting their daughter, everyone asked Smith what he would do if she went into labor during a home game. He still remembers his response.
“I’ve thought long and hard about this,” he said. “And I know I have to do what is right and best.
“And as soon as double zeros come up [on the scoreboard clock], I’m going to go straight to the hospital.”
The punch line needs a postscript. Smith has been married 26 years, and his wife is not only patient with his Seahawks’ devotion but she embraces it.
He never had to choose between family and Seahawks fanaticism. Their daughter, Stacey, was born in December 1984, after Smith and his wife watched on TV the Seahawks lose a playoff game in Miami. When she went into labor that evening, Smith was there.
Just like he will be there on Saturday. He is Seattle’s Original 12th Man, and he has been there from the beginning. No face paint, no signs or costumes. Just the unwavering voice of support in a sea of blue and green.