Pushing a stroller across the floor of the NFL Experience fan festival, Larry Johnson had the look of a football fan who had paid his dues.
His Seahawks jersey wasn’t “college navy” like most of the other Seahawks fans in the Phoenix convention hall. It was royal blue with large white numbers: 80.
The retro jersey was a tribute to his favorite player, Seahawks Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent.
“I’ve been a fan since the beginning, 1976,” said Johnson, who grew up in Oregon before moving to Arizona. “I loved that you never knew what they were going to do. They faked kicks and did all kinds of things. I’ve been a fan ever since.”
His second favorite team, even now: “Whoever is playing the Raiders.”
Diehard or casual, a fan is a fan, of course, but there is one descriptor most fans don’t want to hear: Bandwagon.
Sometimes it’s used to poke fun at fans who only root for the Seahawks during the good times. Sometimes it’s used as an argument by fans asserting they’re more passionate than others. And sometimes it’s just used to get a rise out of a someone.
“That drives me crazy,” said Jason Rose, who grew up in Oak Harbor but now lives in Arizona. “I get that a lot just because the Seahawks are the best team right now and there are a ton of people who’ve jumped on the bandwagon. But I’ve been a fan forever.
“When I hear that, I say, ‘Hey, I probably know your team better than you do.’ ”
Johnson says bandwagon Seahawks fans have a tell.
“It’s easy to tell the bandwagon fans,” he said. “This sounds bad, but they go into the playoffs, or whatever, expecting to win. The old Seahawks fans are like, ‘Yeah, they’ll snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory somehow.’ Because for 30 years, it was a great year then awww, a great year then awww.”
Doug and Melinda MacLean of Bellingham aren’t likely to be accused of being bandwagon fans. They wave a 12th Man flag on a 12-foot pole, Melinda has her finger and toe nails painted in team colors and Doug has a rather provocative shirt proclaiming his thoughts on the controversy surrounding New England playing the AFC Championship Game with under-inflated footballs.
They flew to Phoenix without tickets, hoping to find a way to get into the game. But they understand why people want to be a part of the 12th Man hype.
“Our fans are the greatest fans because we feel so connected to the team,” Melinda MacLean said Wednesday. “We help them, literally, as much as a fan can.”
“And they are always complimenting the fans for our support,” Doug MacLean said. “It unifies the state.”
“If you’re going to fight the Seahawks, you’re going to fight the state of Washington,” Melinda MacLean said.
Brian Kludas’ family owned season tickets in the first season and he says, “The Seahawks do a better job of respecting their fans than most teams. They make a big deal out of it.”
A fan base infused with fair-weather fans has always been a perk for teams who win the championship. TV ratings climb, the waiting list for tickets grow and merchandise flies off the shelf. And while long-time fans might harass the newbies, it’s really in the same vein veteran players harass rookies.
“That’s the coolest thing about sports, the ability to bring a community together,” said Ricky Martin Jr., a Cashmere resident who was wearing a retro Kenny Easley jersey Thursday in Phoenix while his dad wore a Largent jersey.
“Whether you’re a lifelong full-time fan or lived in Seattle a couple years, we have an open-door policy. The more the merrier.”
Johnson agrees, saying newbies are “just as loud.” And there are other perks for having your favorite team be successful.
“Now you can actually find Seahawks stuff to buy here in Arizona,” Johnson said. “It used to be, you could find every team except the Seahawks. That’s good for a long-time fan that doesn’t live in Seattle anymore.”
The diehards say the real test of a fan’s bandwagoness, or lack thereof, won’t be available until this current championship ride is over. When the team is home for the playoffs and rooting for them requires more suffering.
“That’s when you know who the real fans are,” Johnson said. “Real fans are fans through thick and thin.”
But in the meantime, the lifelong fans say, there’s plenty of room on the bandwagon.
Staff photographer Drew Perine contributed to this report.