But I did grow up in a sports-loving, NFL-following, loyal-to-our-team-no-matter-what family. My parents moved from California to upstate, rural Washington in 1971. They were LA-based hippies looking for a simpler life, shangra-la and something to believe in. My dreamer dad, a Creighton University scholarship winner, so smart he could have done anything, left college before graduating; my social, exuberant, loving mom met him while a 19-year-old student at UCLA. She would have followed him to the ends of the earth. They believed in love, in adventure, and they found that (plus more) in a rain-soaked, ultra-green, quiet corner of Washington - as far away from the dirty streets of Venice Beach as you could imagine.
They discovered Christianity, had a few kids, started their own business pressing flowers in stained glass. From our one-street-light, farming town 90 minutes northeast of Seattle, dad would drive the VW van into the heart of the city, the Pike Place Market, to set up the booth and sell our crafts. He would buy huge plates of glass from a warehouse in South Seattle, take it home to cut it. We grew the flowers in the backyard…dried them in a dank shop behind the too-small house...mom ( then eventually a few employees, and me as I grew older) made the arrangements, then dad would solder the pieces together while watching TV, hanging out on the back patio, whistling a tune.
The Stillaguamish River ran clear and cold in our backyard. Dad, content as he could be, spent his simple days playing piano, tickling kids, creating a space rich with freedom, friends and love instead of money.
They had 9 kids in all. Nine musical, fun, creative kids clamoring for attention and a piece of the puzzle. We were homeschooled for a few years, until the din became too much and we begged to go to school. We found a close community of friends with similar beliefs, and life was full.
Dad coached my sister in basketball, my brothers in football, basketball and baseball. My brothers grew up loving sports, playing basketball on our soggy little court during the fall and summer, throwing passes in our big , rain-soaked backyard all through the football season. They inherited a fierce competitiveness from our dad. We caught as many games as we could with the limited reception our poor TV could find.
My older brother Aaron and I were always creative kids, writing stories in furious bouts of inspiration in the messy big back kid room. For a few years we created football players cards - making up the names, the stats, the little bios, drawing photos of players. We were terrible artists, but they were damn thorough replicas of the real thing. I understood the game from listening to Aaron explain the rules, which he knew like the back of his hand. We created whole divisions and would line up the player cards by position on each team, then group them by division, while Aaron acted as the sports commentator to our imaginary league.
During the 80s, being a Seahawks fan truly meant the agony of defeat with a few shining moment of glory. Dad would shout at Jim Zorn, Dave Kreig, Steve Largent. We loyally caught every Sunday afternoon game after church, no matter how terrible the outcome. Aaron would ball his fists in his jeans pockets , shoulders up by his ears, and little Jeremy would blink back tears as the Hawks lost spectacularly, game after game. They would then run to the backyard in the 5:00 twilight to throw dejected, sometimes angry passes back and forth, working through their emotions.
Dad had terrible vision with an un-fixable astigmatism, and he would sit there on the couch, pushing his right eyeball with his finger to focus his vision, one long leg over a knee, his foot bopping up and down as his expressive face followed the plays. He would mutter to the coach, jump up and yell at a bad ref call, clap exuberantly at a good play. I didn't usually watch every minute of every game, but I always sat there with them for a few quarters until I couldn't stand it.
We saw a few games in the dreary ol' Kingdome, up high in the nosebleed section. Every childhood visit to Seattle is etched in my memory, for they meant special time with dad away from the happy chaos of home. In college, the Sonics had a few shining years of excellence, and I would call home to shriek about them to dad, watch games with Aaron in his off-campus apartment and scream till we were hoarse.
Dad contracted leukemia my junior year in college. It came on suddenly and aggressively, leaving everything and everyone in its wake shell-shocked. He died 18 months later, after a brief but blessed 9 months in remission. The cancer came back again with a vegenance, on my 22nd birthday, May 1996. I graduated college in June and he breathed his last at home, in the bed he loved, on an achingly beautiful August day. He was 49.
Losing my dad has defined my adult life. In many ways, he was the best of all of us. He would light up a room the second he walked in. Having been a seeker his whole life, his contentment when he found the Truth solidified and never wavered. You could see and feel the intelligence and humor in his blue eyes.
Kids, dogs, friends gravitated towards the force field of his sparkling personality and pure character. He brought out the best in people, believed in them, cheered for them, without judging harshly, for his had been a life full of lessons, blessings and triumphs. He never wavered from his belief system. His happiness came from a deep spot within him, based on his unshakable faith in God and the joy he felt in his life.
Fast forward to last year, me as the adult navigating through kids, work, life. We hired an employee originally from Seattle - a die-hard Seahawks fan. I had heard some chatter about their new-found dominance, about the team rising to glory and the growing tide of 12th man fervor in Seattle. Our city always loved its teams, through rain, sleet, gray skies and sunshine, and apparently now was the time to repay that loyalty .
So I paid attention. My employee would gush about past Sunday wins on the Hawks's march towards domination. She wore jerseys to work, would smack talk with Cardinals fan patients. I started to follow more closely my Washington friends' blue-and-green FB posts. I looked up "12th man," smiled as I read about the fan base that now had its own moniker. Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Kam Chancellor. Champions, Superbowl bound, texts with Aaron, who was relishing it all back in our home city.
I watched the Superbowl wearing a Lynch jersey, as Brendan graciously made me blue and green cocktails. It was the first game I had watched in I don't really know how many years.
I thought of my dad the whole game, play after play of domination. How he would have screamed along besides me, down shots of Fireball for every great play, followed my idiotic new tradition of doing either pushups or pullups for each Seattle score, and another type of exercise for the opposing team's touchdowns or field goals. He would have wrestled with Audrey, who fell into Seahawk fervor with me as I knew she would. The boys could care less, but Audrey is in - bringing her cheerleader, enthusiastic personality with her . She yelled at the TV with me, asked about the rules as I explained them to her, followed by stories of grandpa Tom, her uncles, my childhood.
She wants a part of it all, wants to share in the fun with mom. Last week we went on the Seahawks fan website and picked out a t-shirt and hat for her - she wanted a "little glass like you have" (a 12th-man shotglass), but we compromised for a tumbler. "I want to be like you, mom!"
Which means, of course, in my metaphor-driven mind, that she is channeling my dad. He would get the biggest kick out of my little ultimate fan. He lives on through the Seahawks, which is why I am bringing so much emotion into the conclusion of this season. For a fan who started rooting for a team back in childhood, football becomes much more than just a game. It reminds me of my formative years, my favorite city - Pike Place Market, fireplaces in brewery tasting rooms, dad's favorite restaurant in Chinatown, college, meeting Brendan, small communities in the middle of a big city, hazy Mt Rainier, dive bars, fireworks over Lake Union with Jimi Hendrix playing on the radio.
And dad. Always my dad, who would I'm sure be one of the blue and green face-painted super fans mugging for the cameras at home games in a Hawks-crazy city.
I'll raise a few (probably more than a few) glasses to you Tom, during tomorrow's championship game against the Packers. And smile, maybe sniffle, through the whole thing, remembering you and what you taught me about football and life. GO HAWKS!