The blue-and-white 12th Man flag was flying on top of the Space Needle again on Friday.
The talk in tap rooms and boardrooms, on the streets and in the neighborhoods these past couple of weeks has been about the amazing transformation of the Seahawks.
The city has been drunk with unexpected joy.
Just last month it seemed as if only the true die-hards were paying attention. Now everybody is paying attention to the Seahawks.
A month ago, Marshawn Lynch was just another running back, now he’s better known than Seattle’s Mayor Whatshisname. Lynch, in fact, is the new Junior, the new Glove, the newest, most exciting player in town.
Team colors are being worn into movie theaters and churches. Spontaneous friendships have been struck over the excitement generated by the Hawks.
This team of largely anonymous players, this roster that has been culled and waived and reconstructed so many times since last April, somehow came together during a seven-day stretch this month that turned disappointment into disbelief.
And the city has responded without a shred of cynicism.
For the football fans in this town, it no longer matters that the Hawks were 6-9 following their day-after-Christmas humbling by Tampa Bay. It doesn’t matter that this team still has to win the Super Bowl to finish with a winning record.
All that matters now is that the football season still is alive in Seattle. The only game that matters is Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game against the Chicago Bears.
The hundreds of thousands of local sports fans, who have been waiting for far too long for something remarkable to pull them out of their doldrums, have another Sunday to anticipate.
Seven days in January have changed the way Seattle looks at the Seahawks. Seven days have changed the way the Seahawks look at themselves.
The doubt that was apparent in the locker room in Tampa has been replaced by belief. The aphorisms from coach Pete Carroll suddenly make sense. Success feels familiar again in Seattle.
And now this late in the game, this Seahawks season is feeling very similar to the great surprise of 1995, when the Mariners won the American League West.
The Mariners looked hopelessly out of that season. They trailed the California Angels by as many as 13 games. Baseball wasn’t important to Seattle and that Mariners season was beginning to look like most of the others.
Only the most serious fan knew who Luis Sojo was, just as only the most serious Seahawks fans knew Brandon Stokely. Catcher Dan Wilson was as anonymous as defensive tackle Colin Cole. Pitcher Tim Belcher was as unfamiliar to most Seattle fans as tight end Cameron Morrah.
The Mariners were just another Seattle team muddling through another uninspired season.
And then they caught fire and they captured Seattle’s imagination. They had a September that led into an October that people still reminisce about. All these years later, the players on that team still are beloved.
The Mariners had the same kind of OMG moments, the Hawks are having. Ken Griffey Jr.’s home run against the Yankees was like Matt Hasselbeck’s touchdown throw to Mike Williams.
Randy Johnson’s last strike in the playoff win over the Angels was like Charlie Whitehurst’s first strike to Ruvell Martin in the NFC West championship win over St. Louis.
And “The Double” was like “The Run.” Edgar Martinez’s series-winning hit against the Yankees had the same seismic effect on the city as Lynch’s run against New Orleans.
The Mariners, who finished 79-66 in the shortened regular season, finished two wins away from the World Series. The Seahawks, who finished this regular season 7-9, are two wins away from the Super Bowl.
This town that never has hosted a World Series game or celebrated a Super Bowl victory is hopeful again.
Sports don’t change the world. They don’t rescue the economy. They don’t make sense out of tragedies. Sports don’t give us answers to our most vexing questions.
But they can give us respite from our world-weariness. They can give us these weeks, these games, these moments. They can bring us together in a way that politics and religion can’t.
All fans know how heartbreaking the games can become. Seattle has had more than its share of agony and defeat.
But then the unexpected happens. Hasselbeck is resurrected. Lynch explodes. Lofa Tatupu and Lawyer Milloy amp up their fury. Seattle comes alive like 1995.
And sports seem magical again.