The thundering of the crowds… the racing heartbeats… the camaraderie as you chant the name of your favorite player in unison… the tears of grown men when the ball falls to the earth… the deafening applause for victory.
Well, I grew up with none of that.
In Singapore, we don’t really have national sport. My country was just too small to even be divided up by cities. I’d feel envious when my friends from around the world would tell me about “their” soccer, baseball and cricket teams. I’d politely listen, but I couldn’t really identify. I could barely understand why people would waste hours to watch a ball be tossed around.
As I moved around the world, I would observe sports fervor as you would folk dancing: you didn’t quite understand it, but dabbling occasionally wouldn’t hurt. In London, I cheered with my friends as Chelsea beat Tottenham in soccer, but I actually didn’t care who won.
Then, six months ago, I found myself in Seattle. Within a few months of being in my new home, it was football season.
At first, I was nervous — would I be alienated in conversations as people discussed touchdowns and penalties? Seattleites, like their weather, were known to be mild people. But as the Seahawks advanced towards the Playoffs, I soon began to witness those familiar facial expressions of impassioned sports fans that I’d so envied growing up.
It’s just impossible to ignore Seattleites’ enthusiasm for football. Office colleagues would talk about it, friends would wear football jerseys. And of course, that enthusiasm rubbed off on me.
Truth be told, I can’t think of a better way to learn about Seattle than by rooting for the Seahawks. The “12th Man” signs are impossible to miss, the excitement as the Hawks gear up for the Super Bowl is palpable.
It turns out that for a lot of foreigners, building bonds around football is one way of integrating into a new country and city.
Paras, my husband, moved from India to America nearly a decade ago. We used to live in Atlanta, where he was an Atlanta Falcons supporter. But since moving here, he says it’s impossible not to be swept away by the Seahawks frenzy.
“If you want to connect with locals, it’s a good idea to find what people in your city are passionate about,” he says with the studied air of an anthropologist. “Many Seattleites love the Seahawks, and since they’re having a great season, football is the way to go.”
Growing up without a true sports culture, my eyes glaze over when I hear the words “endzone” and “field goal,” but meeting new Seattleites at sports bar and cheering on players comes naturally to me.
While Paras watches every move the players make, I prefer to connect with locals over beer and spicy (boneless) wings. I figure the accompaniments: getting friends and strangers together, high-fives, boos, beers, wings and fist bumps, are just as important as the game itself.
The Seahawks have brought more than just Seattleites together. Other non-Americans like us just can’t ignore the fever.
Mohammad Fakhereddine, a software developer from Lebanon who’s been in Seattle for about a year now likens following football in America to rallying around his favorite basketball team back home.
“By supporting the Seahawks, I feel like I’m supporting my city and we all come together to watch the games,” he says.
The best thing about being in Seattle is that football fever (like the city) is all-inclusive. It’s great to meet Seattleites with varying degrees of football fanaticism. While some won’t take their eyes of the screen for a second, many are happy to patiently explain the rules to you over a pint (or a few).
A guide to American football for newbies.
For all the different places I’ve lived, I’ve never seen people from so many cultures, religions, classes and diverse walks of life coming together over a shared passion for sport.
For a newcomer like me, it’s a great way for non-Seattleites to feel part of the city. Just don’t ever reveal a secret love for the Broncos, even by mistake.