MUNICH — All week long, Munich has been bursting with Seahawks-infused energy.
Oh, to be fair there was also a quite-evident Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ presence on the streets, but no doubt the preponderance of affection and affinity was tilting toward the Pacific Northwest. The sight of a few hundred German fans snaking around the block Saturday for a meet-and-greet with Noah Fant and Marquise Goodwin at a shoe store told that story eloquently.
But after days of parties, rallies, and general frivolity, the European fans who had whipped themselves into a frenzy of anticipation over Seattle’s appearance in the first NFL game on German soil — many of them bedecked in every manner of Seahawks gear — had to wonder what had happened to their beloved team. Was it stuck in customs?
For one half, the Seahawks laid an egg (or das ei). They allowed the worst-rushing team in the NFL by several measurements to run roughshod over them. Tom Brady was his old precise and commanding self, while Geno Smith could not get the Seahawks’ offense humming (and then made a fatal mistake late in the third quarter that pretty much ensured Seattle’s 21-16 defeat at Allianz Arena, despite a too-little, too-late comeback in the second half).
The atmosphere was everything that had been hoped for, and more. Brady, who has been around the block (and the world), said it was unparalleled in his vast experience.
“It was one of the great football experiences I’ve ever had, so that says a lot for 23 years in the league, and for a regular-season game,” he said. “I’ve played at Wembley twice. I played in Estadio Azteca in Mexico, which was another amazing experience, and this is as good as it gets. I think the fan turnout was incredible. It felt very electric from the time we took the field.”
Indeed, the crowd roared from virtually the beginning to the end of the game, even when the action dragged. Playing in the vaunted soccer stadium that houses Bundesliga power FC Bayern Munich, every nuance of American football seemed to entrance them. That started, not surprisingly, with the kicking game — especially the high, booming punts of Michael Dickson and Jake Camarda, two of the league’s best.
“There was screaming a lot for the punts more than offensive plays,” observed Seattle’s DK Metcalf. “But yeah, it was a fun environment.”
Smith said he particularly enjoyed the soccer chants. Another notable moment that had players from both teams buzzing occurred when the stadium PA played John Denver’s “Country Roads” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” and the sellout crowd of 69,811 (the NFL claims it could have sold 3 million tickets) sang along with robust enthusiasm, as if it was the world’s largest karaoke event.
Country roads, take me home to the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mamma, take me home, country roads
“Pretty epic,” said Brady.
Seahawks practice-squad linebacker Aaron Donkor, who grew up Germany, said his teammates were particularly taken aback by the singalongs that reverberated through the stadium.
“It was a great atmosphere for the reason that they didn’t expect maybe the German fans to know some West Virginia song,” Donkor said. “They didn’t expect them knowing the lyrics that well. It was cool just experiencing something new, and for me and for my teammates, it’s an experience we are going to grow from.”
Added Seahawks coach Pete Carroll: “I’ve never been in a stadium where a crowd was so much in unison and connected like they were. We’ve been in loud stadiums, and really louder maybe even, but never where everybody — how do they do that? I don’t know how they sing exactly the same like that, but it was really a spectacle.”
The Seahawks, however, waited far too long to give their legion of fans something to cheer for — and the vast contingent of Seahawks fans were just itching to cut loose. As Carroll said afterward, “This feels like a real opportunity missed. … We allowed them to do things they hadn’t done.”
By halftime, the Seahawks were trailing 14-0 as the Bucs stunned them with a running prowess they weren’t expecting. And after an interception by Tariq Woolen on a funky (read: ill-advised) trick play — running back Leonard Fournette was trying to throw a pass to Brady, which didn’t work out nearly as well as it sounded — Smith made the miscue that ultimately thwarted their comeback effort. After the Seahawks drove to the 9 with a chance to cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 14-10, Smith fumbled on a scramble turned strip-sack turned Bucs’ recovery.
“That can never happen,” Smith said. “Guy made a great play as I was going down, but if I don’t turn it over in the red zone, I think it’s a different game.”
Smith led two impressive scoring drives in the fourth quarter to pull Seattle to five points down, but after the last one with 3:58 left, the Seahawks never got a chance for a miracle when Tampa Bay ran out the clock.
“They finished running the ball in the fourth quarter, which kills me,” Carroll said.
What has to be most frustrating to the Seahawks is that they took every precaution to ensure that they would not be undermined by the trans-Atlantic travel and nine-hour time difference. Carroll stressed all week for his players to embrace the trip rather than view it as a nuisance. Yet they were the team that looked lethargic and off-kilter in the first half, while the Bucs, who flew out a day later, were sharp. The Seahawks, however, didn’t blame the loss on their body clocks being out of whack or any other aspect of the arduous travel.
“You’ve got to come out here and play the damn game, and I don’t care if it was in Germany, in China, or in America,” said safety Ryan Neal. “We’re here to play football. I mean, at the end of the day, we just didn’t show up when we needed to.”
That might have dented the spirits of those Seahawks fans for whom this was their one chance to watch them play — but only temporarily. Carroll came away in awe of how intense and connected (the word he used again) they were for the entire three hours — and beyond. Fans were encouraged to stay for a postgame show because of the expected crunch on the train schedule, and most appeared to have done just that.
“This is an unforgettable occurrence,” Carroll said. “I was respecting the fact they must have done this a lot, because they’re really good at it.”
Before, that sort of coordinated rooting was most likely reserved for the version of football most of the world follows. But it’s been very clear this week that football American style has a bright and boisterous future in Germany — even if the Seahawks didn’t provide the ending that so many hoped for.