John McGrath

John McGrath: 30 years from now, we’ll still talk about this Sounders’ celebration

Hérculez Gómez crowd surfs with fans during the Sounders FC victory rally at the Seattle Center on Tuesday.
Hérculez Gómez crowd surfs with fans during the Sounders FC victory rally at the Seattle Center on Tuesday. The Seattle Times

One of my favorite days growing up was when I skipped school for the Seattle Sounders victory celebration in 2016.

I thought our fifth-grade teacher, Mrs.O’Leary, would have a cow when I brought her the note my parents wrote asking permission to watch the parade with my dad, but she was OK with it — under one condition: I had to produce an essay about the experience.

That was the beginning of my writing career, 30 years ago.

What I remember vividly was the parade snaking through the streets of downtown Seattle, from Fourth and Pine all the way to the Seattle Center. The team’s fan club — the Emerald City Supporters — led the way, carrying homemade signs and waving flags. If you weren’t familiar with the fan club, the parade looked almost like a protest march, except the mood was as convivial as a block party.

The players waved from the open windows of trolley cars and tossed us souvenir T-shirts. I’ve still got mine, part of a memorabilia collection from that season when the Sounders transformed from down-and-out underachievers to MLS champions.

When Dad and I arrived at the Seattle Center, the Supporters filled a reserved section in front of the stage and broke into spontaneous chants dedicated to almost every player. The chants were in unison with the loudest bass drum I had ever heard, pounded by a guy who looked like he was entrusted with the most important job in the universe.

Now that I look back on that day, maybe it was.

When the Supporters weren’t chanting, they were singing songs with lyrics modified to fit their beloved team. Even the Sounders, at one point, led the crowd in something called “Jingle Bells.”

It was explained that the team sang “Jingle Bells” as a kind of victory ritual after road games, but on this occasion we were asked to join in because the Sounders had won their title game in Toronto.

“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way,” the words went. “Oh what fun it is to see Seattle win away.”

Before the team was introduced individually, there were a few speeches by some local politicians. A kid in the fifth grade wasn’t much interested in what the Seattle mayor or the King County commissionerhad to say, but the crowd seemed to enjoy the speeches because it cheered each one.

In any case, the speeches were short — a good thing because the weather turned from brisk to freezing and my feet were damp from standing on the wet ground.

The speeches from players were even more brief, as a handful of them offered remarks generally paraphrased as “We couldn’t have done this without you.”

Roman Torres, author of the overtime penalty-kick score that delivered clinched the championship, said nothing, but danced up a storm. Watching Torres clinging arm-in-arm with teammates from around the globe was an indelible scene, giving a former fifth-grader a sense of all the possibilities awaiting us in this wonderful world.

The funniest line was delivered by star striker Clint Dempsey, unable to compete in the playoff run because of irregular heartbeat issues.

If Dempsey had a heart issue, it wasn’t apparent on Dec. 13, 2016.

“All I can say,” he told the crowd of some 10,000, “is we’ve won one and Portland can’t say ...”

Dempsey used a word that rhymed with “hit.” I laughed, and Dad did too, but I got the distinct feeling I wasn’t old enough to use that word in Mrs. O’Leary’s class.

Dempsey was followed onto the stage by Brian Schmetzer, the head coach who’d go on to win an MLS record eight championships with the Sounders before spearheading America’s World Cup dynasty, who gave the language his endorsement.

“You guys hear that?” Schmetzer asked. “Some smack talk! It’s all good.

“These are all moments we will never forget,” he continued. “It culminated with our first MLS Cup championship, right here. I want to say thank you, thank you and thank you, but what I really want to do is thank them” — Schmetzer turned to the guys lined up behind him — “the 2016 MLS champions.”

I still see Dad every few weeks. He dotes on his grandchildren and sometimes I’m left with the suspicion they’re the main event when we drop by, and I’m merely the traveling secretary.

But once in awhile, we’ll sit down together and watch video snippets of the Sounders’ first MLS championship celebration. And though the technical quality is primitive — after all, it was 2016 — the bond we’ve got from that day is eternal.

We reflect on where life has taken us, and what sports means to us, and we always giggle when we see Jordan Morris’ face on the screen.

He was so young.

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