No matter the outcome of the Seattle Seahawks’ NFC wild-card playoff game against New Orleans today at Qwest Field, the Seahawks will be represented in competition at Super Bowl XLV.
Only thing is, instead of being on the field at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, it might be in the parking lot.
A group of South Sound tailgaters – members go by the moniker Hawk One – is one of five teams from across the country that won a spot in the Tailgating National Championships the week of the Super Bowl in Dallas.
“We’re excited, we’re pumped,” said Gary Buchanan, a 50-year-old Lake Tapps resident who goes by “Rev” on game days because he leads fellow tailgaters in a “prayer to the football gods.”
“We want to do the Seahawks proud and show everyone what Seattle tailgating is all about.”
Buchanan has been a Seahawks fan since the first season in 1976 when his grandfather “scraped together the money” to purchase two season passes at $75 apiece. Back then, Seattle’s tailgating scene was basically nonexistent.
“Early on, there was no tailgating at the Kingdome,” he said. “A few of us brought sandwiches and hung out around our cars before the game.”
Sandwiches don’t cut it anymore. Walk the side streets west of Qwest Field and Safeco Field, near the viaduct and down First Avenue South on game days and you’ll encounter thousands of tailgaters. All around, folks toss footballs and play other tailgating-related games, which may or may not involve pingpong balls being tossed into cups of beer. Some fans take a simple approach, setting up portable grills and coolers full of beverages. Others raise their tailgate game to include full-size grills, gourmet food and canopies to stay dry in the sometimes-soggy Northwest football season.
Then, there’s Hawk One.
Even a rival fan would turn Seahawks blue and neon green with envy at the sight of this 1978 Holiday Rambler RV turned tailgate Taj Mahal. The inside is a tribute to the Seahawks’ early years. Three original seats from the Kingdome are in the back. A replica of the Ring of Honor circles the cabin of the 33-foot RV, with autographs of every inductee on the walls.
There are also tailgate creature comforts, such as margarita machines, a well-stocked bar and a working toilet. A 42-inch flat screen television with DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket service shows live football games, and a smaller TV plays videos of old Seattle games. The Seahawks’ new logo and color scheme adorn the outside.
“Honestly, it’s exceeded everything that I thought it would be,” said Tony Wetzel, one of Hawk One’s three owners, along with Brian Miller and Buchanan, who all live in Lake Tapps.
The three men met about 15 years ago when their daughters played on the same youth girls basketball team. They discovered they shared a common bond – a love of the Seahawks – and have been tailgating before games ever since.
In February 2009 they purchased a beat-up RV in Snohomish County with a vision of turning it into a tailgater’s dream machine. It wasn’t easy. The RV needed a massive overhaul.
“It barely ran, and it needed to be gutted,” said Carmela Buchanan, Gary’s wife.
For seven months, the RV sat at Miller’s fabrication shop, Custom Machine and Pattern in Enumclaw, where the insides were torn out and completely rebuilt.
“We didn’t kill each other,” said Wetzel, a tool designer at Boeing, “but we had our moments.”
Hundreds of hours of labor and thousands of dollars later, Hawk One was unveiled during the 2009 preseason.
“People love it,” Gary Buchanan said. “Sometimes there’s a line down the block of people who want to get a tour of it.”
On game days, Hawk One arrives early in the morning at its spot near the intersection of Utah Avenue and Holgate Street – a couple of blocks north of Starbucks headquarters – that tailgaters have renamed Hawk Alley. Because tailgating space in the area is limited, friend-of-Hawk One Steve Kannas spends the night in a camper and reserves its place. By 6 a.m. the grill is hot, as Wetzel prepares chorizo burritos to get the party started.
The menu exceeds that of a traditional tailgate too. The group serves breakfast sandwiches, Korean tacos, beer-battered shrimp and smoked salmon. For Thanksgiving they gobbled up jalapeño fried turkeys. That’s in addition to the roughly 50 pounds of bratwurst and other meat products provided to Hawk One by a sponsor.
Carmela Buchanan estimates that there are about 60 “regulars” who attend Hawk One tailgates, but sometimes hundreds show up for the party.
“The pregame is part of the whole experience,” Gary Buchanan said. “We talk football, raise a 12th Man flag and have fun. Then we all go to the game.”
Hawk One earned its spot in the national competition when it won a regional championship Dec. 19 at Qwest Field. Judged in four categories – cooking, team trivia, spirit and tailgate games skills – Hawk One blew away its competition and won a trip to the Super Bowl.
“No one could touch us in spirit,” Wetzel said.
About 20 tailgaters will make the trip to Dallas to compete in the national championship. The RV will arrive at the Super Bowl on the back of a lowboy flatbed trailer, making the 4,000-mile round-trip trek at a cost of about $10,000.
“We want to make sure it gets there without any mechanical issues,” Buchanan said.
The Seahawks chipped in $1,000 to help defray travel costs and outfitted the tailgaters with team gear to wear during the competition. Buchanan said the team told him that if they returned with the championship they’d be in consideration to raise the 12th Man flag at a game.
Buchanan and his Hawk One counterparts would quickly trade a national tailgating trophy to see their Seahawks return to the Super Bowl.
“Our biological clocks are ticking,” he said. “We’re 50 years old. We need a Super Bowl.”