A neon sign hanging in Veterans of Foreign Wars Narrows Bridge Post 10018 reads “Home of the Happy Veteran.”
Those happy Tacoma veterans reached a new level of euphoria Sunday night after their beloved Seattle Seahawks secured a spot in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The crowd of about 30 fans at the post on North Baltimore Street never doubted their team would pull out the win.
And what a win it was.
“Game over!” they screamed as the final seconds of the exciting fourth quarter expired. “New Jersey, here we come!”
Leading up to the 23-17 NFC Championship victory over the rival San Francisco 49ers, a wave of blue and green washed over South Sound.
Check stands at the Fred Meyer at the corner of South 19th and Stevens streets were decked out in Hawks colors. Grocery clerks rang up last-minute Seahawks apparel and party refreshments for customers prepping for the big game.
More than an hour before kickoff, traffic was clear, and what cars were left on the roads were flying their 12th Man flags.
At the VFW post, a core group of fans showed up early to watch the Denver Broncos — now the Seahawks’ Super Bowl opponent on Feb. 2 — seal the deal against the New England Patriots in the AFC title game.
Gradually, more and more fans filed through the door, some yelling “Go Hawks!” before ordering a Beast Mode Skittles Martini.
That’s when the yelling started, and it never stopped.
Kerry Parish, who has watched every game at the VFW post for the past two seasons, said the noise is routine.
“This is a big game,” she said before kickoff, “so I can’t bring my screaming down.”
Venoye Wise agreed, saying she gets a little worked up during games.
“I really try to behave,” she said.
At game time, the crowd was loud, confident and unwavering.
Cheers roared for anything: Shots of fans at CenturyLink Field on the big-screen TV, first downs, field goals, even the offense running onto the field.
But the loudest shouts came on the big plays, including a 51-yard catch by wide receiver Doug Baldwin in the second quarter and running back Marshawn Lynch’s tying touchdown run in the third quarter. And, of course, the fourth-quarter touchdown by wide receiver Jermaine Kearse — a Lakes High and University of Washington alum — that pulled the Seahawks ahead for good.
Out of superstition in the sluggish first quarter, the crowd started passing around blue-and-green face paint to those who weren’t already wearing it, for that extra push.
Some spectators even attempted to tag the face of Tacoma resident Blaine Newton, 11, the lone Niners fan watching the game who was covered head-to-toe in red and gold. Newton’s aunt, VFW post manager Marleen Hobson, said they always banter since she is a huge Hawks fan.
The fans’ spirits weren’t dampened when the Seahawks remained scoreless early in the game.
The chants continued:
“Get the Whiners!”
“Push ’em back, push ’em back, WAY back!”
With a 10-3 score at halftime, were they nervous?
“We’re gonna talk to them in the locker room. They always listen to us,” Mary Rodriguez joked. “I’m very confident.”
Stacey Hobson, who jumps back and forth from his man cave down the street to the post, emphatically agreed.
“Are we worried?” he yelled as he stormed through the doors at halftime. “No!” the crowd responded.
Whatever Rodriguez and the other fans said to the team in their imaginary locker room worked.
The Seattle defense forced three fourth-quarter turnovers and quarterback Russell Wilson connected with Kearse for a 35-yard touchdown pass to give the Seahawks their first, and conclusive, lead of the night.
The confidence didn’t keep the crowd from sweating at the end of the game. With less than a minute left and the ball in the hands of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, confidence briefly shifted to cautious optimism.
But the cheers remained steady, and the caution quickly dissipated with linebacker Malcolm Smith’s interception after a tip by cornerback Richard Sherman. Game over.
The crowd jumped up and down, screamed and some nearly cried as they hugged one another and immediately started planning the potluck for Feb. 2.
Outside the VFW post, cheers could be heard from houses all around North Baltimore Street.
On the other side of the city along South 19th Street, men ran down the sidewalk waving a giant Seahawks flag.
As the team celebrated its NFC title on TV in front of a thunderous 12th Man, everyone at the VFW post finally got to declare what they knew was true all season long: “We’re going to the Super Bowl!”