Last December, when I clad myself in red and gold and forged into the rain to cheer on my San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink field, I found myself immersed in a curious contradiction: This was Seattle, the city whose voters had just that year led the charge in giving Washington gays and lesbians the right to marry; on the screen pumping up the crowd was Macklemore, who scored an unlike hit by rapping about marriage equality; and all around me, in stereo, I was being called a faggot.
A friend of mine who works at the Filson Outlet on Fourth Avenue had a similar experience when he stepped out back with a coworker for a smoke break as Hawks fans streamed past the outlet toward the stadium. Because both he and his coworker were male, they were met with a barrage of insinuations that it wasn’t just each others Camels they were smoking.
We had it easy. Fans in the wrong jersey were known to get decked. I could endure a little hate language.
None of this was new. Football, everyone knows, is not a bastion of liberalism. Homophobic and violent behavior was written off as South King and Pierce counties purging their citizens into Seattle for a few hours, exposing an otherwise cloistered-in-political-correctness Seattleites to a baser human element.
But then something changed. At that rainy game last year, a few Hawks fans went after a little girl in 49ers gear. A letter to the editor was written. Seattle was scandalized. Action was promised, and came in the form of an undisclosed number of Seattle Police officers roving CenturyLink field Sunday night sporting 49ers gear, pieces of bait with a badge ready to bust 12th men who got too aggressive, not just physically but verbally too.
As I took in the scene Sunday night -- this time in neutral, muted browns -- it seemed to be having an strong effect.
“They think I’m a cop,” D.J. Williams, decked out in a Niners jersey and standing on Occidental Avenue, said Sunday. “I tell them, ‘Try me.’ I ain’t no cop. I don’t even like cops.”
But far from trying him, Hawks fans in various states of intoxication seemed to line up to Williams to prove how much good will they had toward their rival.
“I hate the Niners, but I love them in Tecmo Super Bowl!” one man sputtered to Williams, refering to the old Nintendo game.
“I love the Niners in Tecmo Super Bowl!”
“I can’t understand that word you’re saying before Super Bowl.”
It was behavior I saw time and time again on Sunday: Seahawks fans going out of their way to be nice toward Niners fans. A city known for it’s strict compliance with pedestrian traffic laws, Seattle would be damned if it got labeled as poor sports.
“I love you, and I love your family,” one Hawks fan, arm draped over an adversary, said with true, if liquor-fueled, pathos.
“It’s all about the NFC West, man! We all got to be proud!”
It wasn’t all pretty. Though I couldn’t totally understand him, one man may have told a Niners fan the Hawks were going to “ride your butts.” One group of young guys made, I think, an anal rape joke in very broken Spanish to a Hispanic fan.
But as one woman wearing a Colin Kaepernick jersey put it, “This ain’t nothing compared to Oakland.”
The cop factor certainly loomed large. One man, Greg Bruce, was giving out free donuts to 49ers fans. Red jerseys that still had their crease were looked on with suspicion.
Just as the first rolls of thunder sounded in downtown Seattle, I joined up with Matt from Portland, a 27-year-old 49er fan who had apparently been drinking the entire charter-bus ride up from Oregon.
“What do you think about the undercover cops?” I asked him.
“Maybe I’m a cop.”
“But you’re drunk.”
“I know. It’s the perfect cover.”
“Honestly, I don’t think there are any cops. I think it’s just a ploy. A genius fucking ploy.”
About then, a passing Seahawks fan made a masturbatory motion toward Matt.
“Oh! Did you just jizz in my face? Real original. Go Niners.”
But mostly, people just ignored him. We parted ways. The weather grew worse.
As I walked away from the stadium, I passed two men, hand-in-hand, headed toward Sluggers.