The 12th Man Community
I spent Sunday at Qwest Field (or as I like to call it: "the House that Windows Built" given it was mostly paid for by Microsoft Founder Paul Allen) for the NFC Championship game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers. Now anyone who knows me knows that I am an insane sports fan, almost to the point of it being unhealthy. But while I enjoy the sports, I enjoy following a specific set of teams. The rise and fall and real-life soap opera absolutely fascinates me. And, well, it's just flat out fun to hitch your wagon to a team. So, when it isn't the Tennessee Titans (my favorite football team) on the field, I usually get a little less out of the game. But I definitely felt like an honorary member of the Seahawk faithful. The city of Seattle hasn't had a championship in over 25 years and they haven't even played for one in ten years. Neither the Seahawks nor the baseball Mariners have been to their respective championships EVER. This was definitely overdue and I love this city enough to know that it deserved it. So if it wasn't going to be the Titans, I'm glad it was the Seahawks.
But what was most fascinating was the home crowd, dubbed the "12th Man". You can talk all you want about their love for the players, but what was really amazing was the love they had for one another. It didn't matter what race, creed, color, or religion you were--all that counted was that you knew that Mike Holmgren is a genius and Lofa Tatupu isn't a strange Hawaii dish. I got more high fives yesterday than in my entire life combined--and I didn't know one person I high-fived! Given my role promoting Microsoft communities, I learned a valuable lesson that day. It struck me that no one knows community better than sports fans. The tens of thousands of people I saw that day eat Seahawks, breathe Seahawks, and live and die Seahawks. In return, they get nothing. You don't get paid to be a Seahawks fan. You don't get famous. When you yell at the stadium, your voice blends in with 50,000 other voices. But these people gladly give up their Sunday afternoons as do the millions more at home in front of their TV sets. Why? They just do, just as I watched my Tennessee Titans lose 12 of 16 games and still kept tuning in. Just as the open source developers write their code that they turn around and give away. Just as the .NET stars answer questions on Forums or share their insights in their blogs without charging for their valuable advice. You believe in a cause and the people associated with it, you stick to it, and it becomes you.
I was not only a witness this weekend, but I was also a part of the phenomenon myself--just not in person. I am one of the few Seattle citizens whose biggest sports highlight didn't happen at Qwest field. In fact it happened in the other Washington 3,000 miles away where my beloved Georgetown Hoyas had one of the most important wins in school history when they knocked off #1 Duke this weekend. As I watched the Duke point guard fumble away the ball as time expired, I began to yell and scream like a seven-year old. An hour later, I was on thephone with a good friend from b-school that loves the Hoyas as much as me as we shared the years of frustration that melted away on that Saturay afternoon. An hour after that, I was trolling the web-sites looking for reactions and opinions. Much like the Seahawk fans, I got nothing for spending my time wasting away the day following the pursuit of a bunch of athletes I will likely never meet in person. And I wouldn't have it any other way...