Madden 12, only the Seahawks are represented by their fans

In the 32-team bracket competition to determine who graces the cover of Madden 12, only the Seahawks are represented by their fans – the uniqueness that is the 12th Man.

To the unique goes the unique.

That’s as good a way as any to explain how the Seahawks’ 12th Man fans ended up representing the team in a bracket-style competition to determine who will grace the cover of Madden NFL 12. In past years, the wildly popular video game from EA Sports has featured a Who’s Who of the league’s elite players – Eddie George, Marshall Faulk, Michael Vick, Ray Lewis, Donovan McNabb, Shaun Alexander, Vince Young, Brett Favre and Drew Brees.

This year, the “winner” will emerge from a March Madness-like contest that includes one representative from each of the 32 NFL teams and will be played out over the next month on ESPN’s SportsNation.

There are, of course, quarterbacks – the Chargers’ Philip Rivers, the top seed on the right-hand bracket; the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, the top seed on the left-hand bracket; as well as the Rams’ Sam Bradford, Broncos’ Tim Tebow, Falcons’ Matt Ryan, Jets’ Mark Sanchez, Buccaneers’ Josh Freeman and Brees and Vick. There also are running backs – the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, Raiders’ Darren McFadden, Jaguars’ Maurice Jones-Drew, Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles, Ravens’ Ray Rice, Titans’ Chris Johnson and Browns’ Peyton Hillis. And they didn’t forget the wide receivers – the Texans’ Andre Johnson, Steelers’ Hines Ward and Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald. There’s even a pocket-sized utility player – the Patriots’ Danny Woodhead.

There are defensive players – 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Redskins end Brian Orakpo, Colts end Dwight Freeney, Bears end Julius Peterson and Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Heck, the offensive line is even represented – Panthers tackle Jordan Gross and Dolphins tackle Jake Long.

But there is only one fan base. What gives?

“The Seahawks have a lot of great players on the team,” said Christopher Erb, vice president of brand marketing for EA Sports. “But with the whole idea about integrating fan voting, Seattle’s just got this huge fan base – this whole 12th Man – and it’s always the loudest stadium.

“So it just made a lot of sense for us to kind of celebrate the idea of the fans, and there was no better city to do that for than Seattle.”

Erb’s take comes with first-hand experience, as well as some admitted bias. He grew up in Federal Way and lived in the area for 25 years before moving to Orlando when he was hired by EA Sports.

“I’m a huge, homer Seahawks fan,” he said. “If I could, I’d just put the 12th Man on there and celebrate the fans. But I can’t just force them on there.”

The partnership with SportsNation this year plays into that fan-interaction aspect of a video game that is all about the fans, and for the fans. After all, Erb compares the phenomenon the Madden cover has become to “The modern-day Wheaties box.”

“Last year, when we were associated with Doritos, was the first time we let consumers vote for the cover,” he said. “It was a really positive program. So we said, ‘All right, how do we do something different and make it really fun?’ ”

Piggyback on March Madness with their own bracket adventure, and take it to the public through ESPN.

“It was just an obvious step for us,” Erb said.

The honor has not been lost on the members of the 12th Man.

“We’re delighted by this,” said Neil Hart, a.k.a. Kilt Man when he’s in “uniform” and in his front-row seat in the south end zone at Qwest Field.

“Obviously, there are a lot of teams with more history and may travel better. But I think when it comes to what the 12th Man is – and the stadium and what the Seahawks have built as an atmosphere – nothing compares to it.”

That was never more apparent than during the Seahawks’ run to the Super Bowl in 2005, especially the way the joint was rockin’ prior to kickoff in the NFC Championship game against the Panthers.

“Joe Buck came on and said, ‘My God, it’s loud,’ ” Hart offered. “That’s how he started the whole telecast: ‘Welcome to Seattle. My God, it’s loud.’ To me, that said it all.”

As Hart views the situation, what the 12th Man has become got a big boost from Fan No. 1.

“Paul Allen might not be the most hands-on owner when it comes to football operations, but you know that he certainly had a lot to do with the stadium,” Hart said. “From all those years of watching football at Husky Stadium, he certainly knew what he wanted the Seattle Seahawk fan to be about and how he wanted them to be upfront and showcased.”

Now, those fans have the chance to become Cover Fans.

Balloting in the first-round matchups continues through Sunday, with the 12th Man going up against an old nemesis – Willis, the 49ers’ Pro Bowl linebacker who returned an interception 86 yards for a touchdown in a 2008 game at Qwest and has averaged 11 tackles in eight career games against the Seahawks.

The victor draws the winner of the matchup between the Steelers’ Ward and Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap in the second round.