THIS ONE GOES TO 12: The audibly formidable Seattle Seahawks fan base, known as “the 12s,” gets involved in the action in a big way, to the point of distracting opponents’ play calls. (Courtesy team)
NFL fans ring the decibel, especially at Lumen Field
On Sept. 24, during the third week of the NFL regular season, Seattle Seahawks fans, known as “The 12s,” contributed to eight false starts by the Carolina Panthers and a subsequent Seahawks win.
Seattle defeated the Panthers 37-27 with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll giving the hometown fans an assist for the win.
“One of the most obvious things that happened today was feeling the 12s; what a great impact they had on this game,” Carroll said. “These guys had eight false starts in this game and that’s not us (as a team). We had nothing to do with that. They can’t get coordinated because of the noise. That was a thrill for our young guys who hadn’t heard it like that and they understand why we talk so much about the fans.”
Sometimes, the deafening roar from the crowd can be counterproductive.
On the same day as the Carolina-Seattle game, noise from the hometown crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium prevented Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins from hearing the play call from the sidelines in the game’s final seconds. The result was Cousins calling his own play, an incomplete pass which broke down at the goal line as time expired in a 28-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
In Seattle, it’s a different story. Carolina’s eight false starts were the most for any NFL team since 2011, when the Chicago Bears had nine against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. The record for false starts in a game at Lumen Field is 11 by the New York Giants in 2005.
Lumen Field, designed by the old Ellerbe Becket and which opened in 2002, provides an additional home field advantage. Sound levels at the stadium are affected by the compact design, an angled metal roof canopy and the concrete seating bowl that amplify sound and reflect it back onto the field.
The din isn’t constant at Lumen Field. At a building also designed for soccer, crowd noise is choreographed to have the biggest impact on the performance of the visiting team at key moments in the game.
Tyler Cofer, director of event presentation and entertainment for the Seahawks, calls the plays.
“There are 11 athletes on the field competing at any time and if we can add the fan base as the 12th, that is really big for us,” Cofer said. “Seattle does it the best, setting decibel records along the way for the NFL.”
The team recorded a Guinness World Record for crowd noise at a game in 2013 with a decibel level of 137.6, roughly equivalent to a jet taking off.
Lumen Field quakes are not limited to the Seahawks.
In July, Taylor Swift fans caused seismic activity two nights in a row during the Seattle stop of” The Eras Tour,” which registered an equivalent of a 2.3 magnitude earthquake. Lumen Field capacity is 68,740 for NFL games and during an Aug. 26 concert appearance by Ed Sheeran set a reported concert attendance record of 77,286.
It’s Cofer’s job to galvanize all that energy and enthusiasm.
“It’s very important that we cultivate an environment that allows the fans to be loud, be themselves and create that noise,” Cofer explained. “They can induce a false start; they can create a delay of game and back up the visiting team five yards in those instances. In a game of inches, that’s huge.”
According to Cofer, fan engagement is intrinsic to the 12s unlike other NFL markets where fans need more coaxing through the typical videoboard messages.
“Here we are coming into it from a producers’ standpoint,” Cofer explained. “Our fans, they want to be loud, they are looking for opportunities. It’s our job to help provide that.”
An example would be leaving enough room on the back end of a television time out before play resumes to flash huge “Get Loud” graphics or during the game, between plays or going into a third down with appeals to “Make Noise.” In addition to visual cues, Cofer is calling audibles.
“Our PA announcer is going to emphasize, ‘It’s Thirrrrrrrd Dowwwwn’ and draw it out,” Cofer explained. “Our fans feed off that and rally along in that same battle cry.”
On game day, Cofer is the show caller and producer, working with the public address announcer on when to make those key calls and working with the video director in the control room to flash the right graphics.
“They know, from a game flow perspective, when those moments are coming,” said Cofer, a 15-year veteran of the NHL and NBA who joined the team in August in large part due to the enthusiastic Seattle fan base.
The tradition of the 12 Flag Raising began Oct. 12, 2003, when 12 original season ticket holders hoisted the flag prior to kickoff. The practice is one of the team’s most popular pregame traditions.
The identity of the 12 Flag raiser is kept under wraps until kickoff. On Sept. 24, Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith was selected to raise the flag prior to the game against the Panthers. Previous flag raisers include actors Rainn Wilson and Chris Pratt and Joel McHale and musician Dave Matthews, in addition to dozens of former Seahawks players and other notable athletes.
The Seahawks established a standard that is hard to duplicate. “Other teams have tried to replicate it, but what we do differently than some others is the consistency of it,” Cofer explained. “You might get loud moments at different games in different venues, but the consistent noise level that’s here in Seattle – you know from start to finish it’s going to be loud and they are going to be behind the team.”
“I’m a fan of the crowd. People have passion on a certain number of plays that actually matter,” offered Jerry Slind, of Seattle. “We are up to speed on what’s happening in the game. Not just drinking beer and yelling like a bunch of hooligans.”
“For players on the line where it is hard to hear it’s more of a psychological thing,” said David Menathy of Everett, Washington. “If they’re not paying attention to the snap count, they are going to jump off early. Most opposing teams are going to jump because it is so loud.”
“It was loud and it was great,” said Rebecca Folkman of Kirkland, Washington. “I was screaming right along with everybody else.” Her advice for people visiting the stadium for the first time: “Wear ear plugs.”
A native of Wilmington, North Carolina, Chris Kepner was wearing one of the few Panthers jerseys in the stadium. “It is wild,” Kepner said of the sound level. “I would say it is next level — an unreal experience. The stadium is made for that type of noise.”
Cofer said the reputation of the 12s is something fans want to live up to and strive to maintain: “You can tell when the crowd is in it,” he said. “It’s our job to lean into that and continue to provide those opportunities for them to be loud and make an impact. There are decibel levels, but when you feel it emotionally, that’s a whole other level.”