They did it politely, but one by one, the Seattle Seahawks’ players shot down my premise.
Trying to overthink the obvious, as if analyzing the design subtleties of a sledge hammer, I asked whether the massive competitive advantage the team enjoys at CenturyLink Field was about more than just the devoted fan support.
After all, other teams have loud fans; there always have been inhospitable hordes around the NFL, fiercely hurling invectives or batteries.
But since the start of the 2012 season, the Seahawks are 22-2 at home (92 percent) while going 14-12 on the road (54 percent).
Fans alone can’t possibly be worth a 38 percent boost in victories, can they? There have to be some practical matters involved. More practice time at home? No jet lag? Better halftime orange slices? Favorite mochas?
I asked quarterback Russell Wilson if he could point to any practical advantages at CenturyLink — disregarding the fans. Even while he tried, he couldn’t arrive at a disconnect from the fans.
“Obviously, the noise is the most important thing and that’s what the fans bring,” he said.
True enough, and the Seahawks faithful have brought it consistently, with 106 consecutive sellouts. The Sunday 2015 home opener against the Chicago Bears will be 107.
The noise factor has been especially obvious in recent seasons, particularly in the upper decks and end zones, where welders and baristas and painted-face grannies with blue bangles create such a Decibel Hell that their sonic collusion sometimes feels like it can cause the goal posts to quiver.
Safety Earl Thomas, who occasionally takes a surprising turn into metaphysical territory, described the transcendental qualities of CenturyLink fan noise. “It puts you in this unseen state,” he said. “It enhances your performance and you feed off them.”
As impressive as the win total seems, the measure of dominance is even more so. In a league where the most common margin of victory is 3 points, the Seahawks have averaged 28.7 points a game at CenturyLink since the start of the 2012 season, while opponents average 14.2.
The more-than-double scoring advantage is absurd.
The road is hard for all NFL teams, but especially so for the Seahawks. From their remote northwestern encampment, they annually have one of the most demanding flight schedules.
And although nearly everyone says the Seahawks’ practice week is almost identical whether at home or on the road, Thomas pointed to another demand arising during road weeks. “You’re on the plane and then you have these long meetings you don’t want to be a part of because you really (already) understand the game plan,” Thomas said. “So it’s kind of a nagging process, but you have to do it. It’s definitely a smoother process at home.”
Could it be a matter of confidence? How could players not be convinced they’ll win at home since that’s almost all they’ve ever known?
“Honestly, the mentality doesn’t change,” tackle Russell Okung said. “We want to go out there and turn everything into a fight and a battle, and there’s no better place to play than here. But that’s no different.”
Receiver Doug Baldwin pointed to the comfort of familiar surroundings, having friends and family at the games, and a predictable routine. But it’s the “fans cheering for you that’s obviously a morale booster for you and something you use to energize you through the game,” Baldwin said. “But the thing we have to keep in mind is that it doesn’t matter whether we’re home or away, we have to play to the best of our ability.”
Defensive end Cliff Avril added a similar caveat. “It’s good to be back home, the environment is a blast to play in,” he said. “You get that extra burst of energy.”
“The big thing is you can’t take it for granted and think it’s just going to happen because we’re at home,” Avril said. “You definitely have to go out there and earn it.”
The good thing about starting on the road the first two weeks for the Seahawks (0-2) is that they now have only six trips in the final 15 weeks of the season.
Is that a boost?
“I don’t even process it like that,” Avril said. “I’m looking at Chicago, and I don’t even know who we play next.”
OK, Cliff. The following week’s game is against the Detroit Lions, and it’s on Monday night at CenturyLink, where you’ll enjoy a home-field advantage created by one immutable factor.