I’m Sounders ’til I die
I’m Sounders ’til I die
I know I am, I’m sure I am
I’m Sounders ’til I die
My relationship with sports over the last few years is a complicated one. I still love so much about sports, but there are just some things that irk me to the point that at times I want to throw in the towel altogether. It’s not the things that normally seem to bother people about sports, where people get mad about inflated contracts and lopsided spending. Yet, that doesn’t really bother me, something I’d be happy to explain in another post or conversation. What does bother me is the way so many sports fans act as sports fans (my past self included). The behaviors I’m referring to include:
- The asinine habit in which so many sports fans lump their own ego together with their favorite sports team’s performance. Sara roots for Team A, Tommy roots for Team B, and when Team B wins, somehow in Tommy’s mind that makes him superior to Sara. He isn’t on the team, he didn’t play a single minute of professional sports, and yet, somehow, he feels better about himself as a human being when his team wins, and vice versa.
- Fans often attach a moral element to their fandom. That sentence is so fucking ridiculous it seems unreal when I type it, but it is true. People don’t claim to root against the Yankees or the Lakers or the Cowboys because they just prefer other teams, but because those teams are ‘evil.’ Obviously, this is the real world, there are good guys and douche-bags on every single team. Yet, based purely on the uniform, fans think they can accurately determine the moral standing of a given player. Even if the same player switches teams, they experience a drastic metaphysical change when they switch jerseys. Usually people point to things like the Yankees payroll and use that as a reason to claim moral standing… but unless they would abandon their own team if it started spending tons of money, then it isn’t a moral issue at all. It’s just that they are pissed that their team is getting outspent. That’s fair, they should be frustrated, but it isn’t doesn’t make Red Sox or Dodgers or Angels bad human beings. I’ve never understood it. As a Yankees fan my entire life, I always liked guys like Big Papi and Pedro Martinez, and always disliked guys like Roger Clemens, even on the Yankees. No amount of jersey changing is going to convince me that Kevin Youkilis is a good guy. I have a dream, that one day people won’t be judged by the color of their jerseys, but by the content of their character.
Anyway, just a brief primer to explain why my sports fandom is conflicted over the last few years.
Yet, for all the negative bullshit, their is something potentially beautiful about sports. When it is celebrated without us attaching our self-worth to it, it can be a raucous cause for joy and a worthy reason to lament if we can find healthy ways to live and breathe with the teams we love. Sports can be art, but there isn’t space for me to write more about that in this post.
The teams I love the most all have moments attached to them, when I can remember being a part of a community of people celebrating, when I remember how special a moment was, and my heart was won over and I never took it back. I remember sitting on the arm of my mom’s couch hoping the Bills would miss a field goal, and celebrating with all my eight-year-old strength as they did, and the Giants won the first championship of any of my favorite teams within my lifetime. I remember what it meant to the people of New York when the 1994 Rangers won the Stanley Cup, and I also remember watching Mark Messier cry on the ice during a video montage of his time in NY when he returned as a visiting player. I remember when John Starks dunked on Michael Jordan and Horace Grant with the same dunk. I remember watching Derek Jeter hit his first homerun. I remember standing in the living room of the Camp Taconic cook to see the Yankees return from two games down to win the 1996 World Series.I remember my first playoff game at Yankee Stadium, and how electric the atmosphere was, especially when retired Don Mattingly threw out the first pitch. I remember how important the 2001 World Series was to New York City, even though the Yankees lost in the end, those thrilling endings in Yankee Stadium picked a city up off the mat and gave them a reason to cheer again.
Those are just a small sampling of moments that made me fall in love with teams. And now that Seattle is my home, another team has been winning my heart over the last few seasons with moments just like the ones I just mentioned. I’ve gotten to be a part of a passionate, loving group of fans who know their team well and celebrate it with vigor, which is something that most fan-bases can’t claim.
The first game I saw was with my friend Brian, and it was clear immediately that the experience of seeing a Sounders game in Seattle is a special sports experience (and those who know me at all know that I’ve seen a lot of sporting events in a lot of different cities). The fans are knowledgable, passionate, and make for a really great environment for taking in a game.
Here is a small sampling of what the experience is like, this is a portion of how fans celebrate the start of every game:
The feeling of being at Century Link Field for Sounders game adds weight to every moment (also, it doesn’t hurt that I get to go to the games with some of the people I love the most in this world). This extra gravity is good, because I have been able to be a part of some Sounders moments that brought up that special sort of feeling that sports can create, the ones that bring a tear to the eye and widen one’s smile. There have been many moments, but I picked my three favorites, the ones that felt the most special. These moments are the reason I’ve graduated over the last few years from casual but interested fan to ardent supporter, with super-fandom rapidly approaching. Here are my favorite Sounders moments so far:
1. Kasey Keller’s final games with the team
Kasey Keller’s last year with the Sounders just happened to coincide with the first year that I watched with any consistency (I know, I’m a new fan, don’t judge). A supremely likable player, he is a local boy who went on to make a name for himself as the most successful American-born goal-keeper in the history of the sport. Then, he came home to play for the Sounders upon their transition to the MLS. We were at the Clink (Century Link Field) for his final regular season game, and his final home game in the playoffs. It was loud, and emotional, and even though there was no way I could have the personal investment that those fans around me had, the atmosphere was infectious. It was easy to get caught up in the energy.
There was also this moment, in Keller’s final home game, that is the stuff that legends are made of. When people tell their kids about Kasey Keller, they will mention this moment.
2. Steve Zakuani’s Return
Steve Zakuani was a rising star, one of those ‘can’t miss’ talents that everyone was excited to watch. Then, a brutal slide tackle by Colorado Rapids’ Brian Mullan broke Zakuani’s tibia and fibula. The tackle was brutal enough that Mullan was banned for 10 games, which is nearly 1/3 of the regular season in the MLS.
It was an injury that had the potential to end his career, and he missed the next 15 months. But, he worked hard, beat the odds, and he made it back to the pitch for the Sounders. The significance of the moment wasn’t lost on the Sounders faithful. To be there at Century Link for that game will always be one of my all-time favorite sports memories.
Watch the first two minutes of this video to see that moment.
3. The introduction of Obafemi Martins
You would think that #3 would be the Sounders’ first ever playoff win, but it isn’t. That was a wonderful moment, but it wasn’t a time that solidified my sense of connection to the team. This last game was.
Obafemi Martins is a big signing, the sort that doesn’t normally happen for teams in the MLS. For more commentary on why the signing is huge, you should read this. It’s a big deal that the Sounders were able to land him, and it’s an even bigger deal that Oba wanted to come to the Sounders over the other possible destinations. Seattle is quickly becoming a legitimate destination in the international soccer landscape, and the ramifications of that could impact Sounders fans and the rest of the MLS quite a bit over the next few years.
In case there was any question as to how excited Martins was to join the Sounders, here is your proof: Martins finished the paperwork he needed for a work visa and whatnot on Friday, then flew from Spain to Seattle to be present for the game on Saturday with no real expectation of starting with a team he’d never practiced with, only to get back on a plane and fly all the way to Nigeria to join his native country’s World Cup team.
On the way to the match on Saturday, we buzzed about it in the car. He would be suited up, he would be eligible, and while we knew he wouldn’t start, a substitution later in the game would provide the fans the opportunity to properly welcome Martins to Seattle, to assure him he made a good choice in joining the Sounders. The anticipation was palpable, and his appearance electrified the fan base, with his potential on the field being quickly evident.
As they tend to do, NBC was pretty bad at capturing the feeling of the moment, so this video is the best we’ve got.