Alaskans sick withSeahawks fever

Posted: Friday, February 03, 2006

It doesn't take long to learn that Juneau resident Traci Walker is a proponent of positive thinking. This is a woman who spends most of her winters dressed in Seattle Seahawks fleece, jackets, sweatshirts, commemorative tees and hats. She owns a necklace with the original Seahawks logo, and matching hand-carved gold earrings. She hasn't moved into her new house, but it already has sconce lights, carpet and rug with the team's design.

Guess who she's rooting for this Sunday, when the Seahawks play the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL at Detroit's Ford Field.

"I'm a little bit nuts," she said. "Well, a lot nuts. I'm in my own little world, and I'm happy here."

Yes, with Super Bowl Sunday just two days away, Seahawks and Steelers fans everywhere are hyperventilating. This week, Alaska's geographical connection to the Seahawks has been mixed in with the national media's usual glut of football hyperbole. And according to Seattle fans, it hasn't been overstated.

Marlintini's Lounge owner Ethan Billings is a season-ticket holder and the chapter president of the Juneau-Douglas Sea Hawkers, one of roughly 20 officially sanctioned booster clubs around the nation. The chapter was founded in 1997 and includes more than 30 members. It meets during Seattle games at Marlintini's.

"Even if you're not a Seahawks fan, there's just the territorial proximity," Billings said. "They're the only team around."

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"I think everybody's fired up," he said. "There's lot of people with their Seattle hats and obviously it's all over the news. There are a lot more house parties this weekend, since it's the Seahawks playing."

Of course, an unofficial Steelers group meets at Marlintini's too. The bar has a core Steelers contingent of 15 fans that show up for every game. But sometimes as many as 40 will materialize.

"Steelers fans are amazing," Billings said. "They have tradition, and they will have home-field ownership in Detroit. When I went down two years ago for a (Steelers-Seahawks) game at Qwest (Field), there were 15,000-20,000 Steelers fans."

The Steelers are renowned for having one of the most dedicated fan bases in sports.

Mark Ibias, 36, and his brother, Arnold, 40, have been fans since the 1970s. The co-owners of TBG Office Solutions, they grew up in Juneau and started following the Steelers because of one of their friends, Chuck Gordon.

"There's a whole group of us," Mark said. "Most of us grew up together, and then met other guys from the bar."

Gordon, an Alaska Airlines employee, has followed the Steelers since the mid-1970s. His father grew up in the Pittsburgh area.

"A lot of people have ties to Pittsburgh, have lived there before or have family from there," Gordon said. "It seems like everyone's a friend if you're a Steelers fan. And if you're a fan, you're a Steelers fan forever. You don't switch, even when they're 6-10."

The Ibias brothers and Gordon are among a group of Steelers fans who travel to most Steelers games on the West Coast. They flew down to San Diego this fall, to watch Pittsburgh squeak by San Diego 24-22.

Ironically, the Steelers have lost every time they've played in Seattle with Gordon in attendance. That's two years ago at Qwest Field (then Seahawks Stadium), twice at the Kingdome and once at the University of Washington.

Ibias was also at the last Steelers-Seahawks meeting, a 23-16 Seattle win in the ninth week of the 2003-2004 season.

The core Steelers group will eschew Marlintini's this week in favor of its own Super Bowl party.

"There's going to be too many Seahawks fans there," Ibias said. "So it was like, 'Wait, are we going to go up there and have to listen to that, or are we going to have our own party?'"

"The funny thing is all the Seahawks fans that don't really follow the team," he said. "Now that they're (in the Super Bowl), they're out in full force."

Rych Clime, a 37-year-old state worker in the Department of Corrections, has been following the Seahawks since the mid-1980s. Clime has attended at least one game a year for the last decade. This year, he plans to make his second trip to the Pro Bowl, Feb. 12 in Hawaii. Seven Seahawks were selected to play in that all-star game. Five will start.

"When we played Carolina (Jan. 22 for the NFC Championship) a lot of people came out of the woodwork. I was like, 'We have more fans than I thought,'" Clime said.

Walker is no fair-weather fan. She has her own chair and television reserved for football Sundays at Marlintini's Lounge. Her granddaughter has one jersey, two Seahawks outfits and a playoff shirt, even though she's just 14 months old.

Walker has followed the team since she was 15, and this year she bought season tickets. It was her present to herself for quitting smoking. Kicking the habit saved her money this year.

"You have your real fans that are always there, and you have your phony fans," she said. "I'm a serious Seahawks fan. I could care less about what all the other teams are doing, as long as they're losing."

"This is going to be fun, because I know there's a huge Pittsburgh following in Juneau," Walker said.

Alaska's connections to the Seattle franchise reach to its roots and run statewide.

The Anchorage-based Midnight Sun Sea Hawkers were founded in 1978 (the Seahawks' second season) and may be the lone Sea Hawkers group with its original banner, chapter president Jay Page said. The sign stretches about 60 feet and includes 100 Seahawks autographs, including the fabled quarterback-receiver duo of Jim Zorn and Steve Largent.

The Midnight Suns started the year with 40 to 45 regulars, meeting Sundays at Eddie's Sports Bar on Old Seward Highway. When Seattle hosted the Washington Redskins in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, more than 90 people showed up. Another 20 turned out for the NFC title game against Carolina. Page and his 11-year-old son have tickets for the big game this Sunday.

"The Washington game, you had 95 people screaming," Page said. "It's a lot more enjoyable than sitting in the couch in your boxers."

"Everybody loves a winner," he said. "I can go in a store, and if I'm wearing a Seahawks hat or something, the guy will go off on how great it is and how they're going all the way. In the old days, they just squinted their eyes and looked at me like I was an idiot."

In the early 1980s, the late Bob Rocker, owner of Always Travel, was the president of the chapter. In those days, Seattle's glory run with coach Chuck Knox, quarterback Dave Krieg, running back Curt Warner and wide receiver Steve Largent, the chapter boasted almost 300 members. Rocker and the group chartered an Alaska Airlines jet for each Seahawks home game and arranged a charter bus to and from SeaTac Airport.

The good times began to fade when Ken Behring bought the team from the Nordstrom family in 1988. Seattle fell to 7-9 in 1989 and 1991, and plummeted to 2-14 in 1992. The shockwaves were felt as far as Anchorage, where the Midnight Sun chapter was then meeting at the old Hollywood Rock, across Third Avenue from the Hilton Hotel.

"I remember one morning game I showed up with the banner and there were two people," Page said. "That was the lowest."

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