Before he was ordained SeaPope, before Kenny Easley became his favorite Seattle Seahawk, and long before his team finally won the Super Bowl, Gary Buchanan used to tailgate out of the trunk of a brown 1957 Chevy.
The Lake Tapps resident was in the Kingdome parking lot for the first game in 1976, he was there when the Seahawks became a playoff team in the 1980s, and he was there when they tested their fans’ resolve for most of the ’90s.
And like his favorite team, Buchanan has come a long way.
When the Seahawks begin defense of their Super Bowl title Thursday night (Sept. 4) against the Green Bay Packers, Buchanan and three other lifelong fans will be there in what could be the NFL’s ultimate tailgating machine.
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It’s two stories tall and covers 22 parking stalls. It has a stage, a satellite dish, multiple TVs, a fireman’s pole, goal posts, a slide-out smoker for barbequing, a state-of-the-art sound system, an LED clock that counts down to kickoff, a replica Lombardi Trophy and a variety of adult beverages.
The blue, converted 1984 Dennis Dominator double-decker bus is known as The Beast, a name borrowed from President Obama’s armored limo and not from Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks’ Beast Mode running back.
“I’m like a kid at Christmas,” said Ben Seher as he watched the finishing touches go on the bus last week in Enumclaw. The Gig Harbor resident spearheaded the project.
The owners declined to share The Beast’s price tag.
“How can you put a price on passion?” Buchanan asked.
The Beast dream was hatched the way passionate fans devise so many wild ideas.
A group in Hawk Alley, a designated tailgating area on Seattle’s Utah Street, was tuning up for a Seahawks game when somebody tossed out the crazy of idea of converting a double-decker bus into a party mobile.
It’s one of those ideas everybody agrees would be cool, then laughs about because it’s also unrealistic.
But Seher, who spent the last three years tailgating with his fifth-wheel trailer, didn’t see it that way.
“I said, ‘Dude, I’m stealing your idea,’ ” Seher said. "I’m doing that."
And he did. But, like the Seahawks, reaching his ultimate goal required first overcoming the San Francisco Curse.
Other longtime tailgaters Buchanan, Vic Payment and Brian Miller, all from Lake Tapps, were excited to join in on Seher’s bus project.
Buchanan even gave away Hawk One, an RV that was a Hawk Alley fixture, and the men plunked down $20,000 to buy a retired double-decker bus used for tours in San Francisco.
"We probably should have known better than to buy it from San Francisco," Buchanan said.
They hoped to have the bus home and converted in time for the Seahawks victory parade. But those plans quickly crumbled.
The veteran driver hired to bring the bus home had never driven a vehicle with a steering wheel on the right side. He took out a guard rail leaving the parking lot, Buchanan said.
Then on Interstate 5 in Eugene, the transmission failed, stranding the bus on the side of the road. But even as the tow truck arrived, the bad luck continued.
A car allegedly cut off a logging truck, causing it to roll on its side and spill its load. There were no fatalities, but the logs damaged the bus and the tow truck. The insurance company declared the bus totaled and the dream was on hold.
It was hard for Seher and his partners to be too upset, however. They had to catch flights to New York, where they watched the Seahawks crush Denver, 43-8, for their first championship.
Perhaps the San Francisco curse was actually a blessing.
The original Beast wasn’t nearly as grandiose as the rolling 12th Man cave that will be parked on Utah Street this season.
“The original plan was not like this,” Seher said. “I just had this tiny little vision of hanging out on the top deck, sitting around here in chairs, and that was about it.”
Then they acquired the second bus, this time from San Diego, and took it to Stage Plan Inc. in Enumclaw, where the conversion was to take place. That’s where Stage Plan president Ron Alexander suggested a few ideas.
"He took our ideas and put steroids on them," Seher said.
They decided to add a stage, a removable 12th Man canopy for the top deck, an awning over the stage with supports modeled after CenturyLink Field architecture, Seahawks logos that light up at night, and a set of goal posts that can be set up behind the bus.
Seahawks flags fly atop the goal posts, which doubles as a fireman’s pole for those looking for the express route down from the upper deck.
The lower deck has a fully stocked bar with beer on tap and light-up LED shelves for the bottles.
It also offers a Seahawks history lesson.
A section of seats from the Kingdome lines the back of the bus in front of a photo of the interior of the team’s original stadium. The idea, Seher says, is that fans can sit in the seats and pose for pictures that will look as if they are in the dome.
Working your way toward the front of the bus is a walk through history.
The Ring of Honor lines the roof, an autographed Steve Largent jersey and old helmets will be displayed, and in the front of the bus is a trophy case with a replica Lombardi Trophy and room for more.
It’s all too much to be contained in one tailgating machine, even a double-decker bus, so they have a support vehicle towing a trailer, also wrapped in Seahawks colors and “The Beast” logo.
Even the trailer is tricked out. It has a slide out smoker for barbequing ribs and a DJ stand on the roof where the owners’ friend, Josh Warren, can spin records.
ALL 12S WELCOME
To experience The Beast, all you have to do is visit Hawk Alley on game day, or even the night before.
“And everyone is welcome,” Seher said.
They don’t charge for drinks or food. Their motivation is to stoke Seahawk passion.
“In the alley you have diehard fans,” Buchanan said. "These are people who were on their knees crying right after the Super Bowl. These are the people we want to be with."
And these are the people who want to be with them.
Buchanan is well known among these fans as the SeaPope. He hears confessions and performs conversions of opposing fans. He’s officiated at two weddings (and four others as a regular minister) and he delivers sermons on game days.
The Beast has a perch for him on the upper deck, behind the bus, a place where he can look out over his congregation, which often is 1,000 strong.
The owners plan to work with the Seahawks to have The Beast available for team functions. And they hope to use it to for charitable work with causes that are close to them, such as autism and Seattle Children’s Hospital.
The beast might be their dream, but they say it’s for all Seahawks fans.
But if you visit, there’s one rule everybody must follow: No red.
The San Francisco 49ers’ primary color is not welcome at a Beast tailgate party.
Which, of course, begs the question, what about the customary red cups that are staples at tailgate parties?
Well, they’ve thought of that too.
All red cups must be thrown away and replaced by cups handed out at the long counter on The Beast’s left side. The cups are blue and marked with the Beast logo.
“We’re just passionate about the Seahawks,” Buchanan said. “This (The Beast) just takes it to another level.”