A 12th Man flag flew over the Village Grove mobile home park during last year’s Super Bowl, and it will fly again Sunday.
A big-screen TV has been installed in the clubhouse to watch the Super Bowl 49 matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots. The water noodles for morning aqua aerobics are blue and green. And Seahawks attire and fans are commonplace.
In 1975 a group of men from Tacoma purchased a Mesa orange grove and converted it into a mobile home park that quickly became a migratory destination for Northwest snowbirds. Today, it has 136 units adorned with cactuses, orange and palm trees, and rock beds.
“We have a lot of people from the (South Sound) area living here,” said Carol Mathewson, who along with her husband, Mike, split time between Tacoma and Mesa. “And a lot of us are Seahawks fans.”
It’s been 12 years since the Arizona Department of Tourism studied the economic impact of snowbirds, but they’re certain the region that’s hosting Super Bowl 49 is home to legions of “snowhawks.”
“We get a lot of people from the Northwest and places like Chicago,” said Marjorie Magnussen, a representative of the department. “And they all seem to come for the same reason, the weather.”
It rained Thursday and Friday in Phoenix, but there’s a reason this is called the Valley of the Sun. Phoenix, located in the Sonoran Desert, usually gets less than 15 inches of rain each year.
That’s what brought the Mathewson’s south. They visited friends at Village Grove and enjoyed the warm weather so much they purchased their own lot 4 1/2 years ago.
“The first time we came down we just loved it because there is a lot of hiking, golfing and sunshine,” Mike Mathewson said.
They live in Tacoma in the summer then drive to Mesa when the weather starts to get cooler and wetter in October. They fly home for the holidays, then return to Arizona through April. “We love both worlds,” Carol Mathewson said.
They joke that they try to time it right so they never see rain. “It’s the dream,” Mike Mathewson said. “It’s just awesome.”
However, the pursuit of the endless summer has one major drawback: Snowbirds might migrate south for the winter, but Seahawks don’t.
The Mathewsons and the estimated 25 Seahawks fans who live in the Village Grove get together for games and order a special television programing package so they never have to miss the action.
As for the 12th Man community and the fervor they’re missing, well, they’ve created their own.
Bobbi Fors, a 95-year-old who moved to Arizona from Puyallup, lives across the street from the community’s shuffleboard courts and sometimes flies the 12th Man flag. Although the flag pole is usually reserved for the American flag and a POW flag. Her son, Gary Fors, was a fighter pilot who was shot down in 1967 during the Vietnam War and never found.
Bill and Sue Schnell of Olympia split time between Olympia and the desert and say flying the Seahawks flag at Fors’ home is a bonding experience for Village Grove. “We’re a tight-knit community,” Sue Schnell said.
But, there are plenty of Arizona Cardinals fans in and around the community. The Cardinals are division rivals of the Seahawks and at one point this season had a three-game-lead in the NFC West and had the best record in the NFL.
But as injuries undid Arizona’s season and the Seahawks reeled them in, the Phoenix area became a tough place to be a 12th woman or man.
“They weren’t real happy around here,” said Mike Mathewson, who has a Seahawks logo on his car. “I feel sorry for them because last year, I think it was 10 games (Arizona) won, and they didn’t make the playoffs.
“We like Arizona too, but we like the Seahawks more.”
Gayle Kitchel lived in Shelton and then Puyallup before moving to Arizona. She affixed a Seahawks logo to the back of her scooter so she can show her team pride while motoring around Village Grove.
And she’s excited her favorite team is in the Super Bowl again because she missed most of the action last year. Kitchel was in the hospital with pneumonia and tried to watch Super Bowl 48 on TV.
“I only saw the kickoff and then I was drugged and I went to sleep,” Kitchel said.
She woke up a a day and a half later and learned her nearly four-decade dream had come true. The Seahawks were Super Bowl champs.
Still in the hospital, she watched a replay of the game in the middle of the night. “I cheered by myself,” she said.
Pete and Margaret Cameron of Lummi Island have been Seahawks fans since 1976 and have fond memories of lefty quarterback Jim Zorn throwing passes to Steve Largent. And memories of the early days of fans doing the wave in the Kingdome.
“(One of my favorite memories) was sitting in the very top row in Seattle and all of a sudden they did a wave and I thought I was going to tumble,” Margaret Cameron said of the game in the Kingdome. “Doing the wave up there, at that height was really something.”
Back then they wouldn’t have believed there would be days like these when the Seahawks were kings of the NFL.
“It’s been really exciting,” Margaret Cameron said.
She says the most challenging part of the snowbird lifestyle is planning the trips. The Camerons typically drive between Washington and Arizona. “(Trying to) avoid bad weather and bad roads,” she said.
Dan and Janet West, longtime Seahawks fans who lived in Des Moines for 40 years, found a solution for that minor inconvenience. They bought a home in the Phoenix area and now live their year-round.
They were visiting friends in Arizona when they became smitten by the warm weather.
First they looked for a mobile home community like Village Grove. “Then we realized a condo was just a little more and a house was just a little more than that,” said Dan West, who has a collection of more than 60,000 Seahawks football cards.
West said he’d prefer to live in the Northwest, but his wife got to cast the deciding vote. “We traded nine months of bad weather each year for three months of bad weather when it gets really hot,” he said.
“It’s pretty nice,” he said and he’s had no trouble keeping up with his favorite team. He’s excited to have the Seahawks in his new backyard for the Super Bowl, but he’ll watch the championship game the same way he’s watched almost every other game.
“We’re here, the team’s here, the Super Bowl is here,” West said, “but I can’t afford $3,000 for a ticket.”