Tough times, terrible teams combine to challenge local fans’ devotion

Seattle Post Intelligencer – Jim Moore – THE GREAT PHILOSOPHER Rick Neuheisel once said: “Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.”

But if you live here, the times are tough and the teams are terrible. If you see an end in sight, let us know.

It could be worse — if the Sonics were still in town, they would be 6-33, and everyone would be griping about them, too.

Someone forgot to tell one shop owner at Bellevue Square the team moved to Oklahoma City — at this particular store, according to my well-placed source, they were selling 2009 Sonics calendars over the holidays. Wonder if they had Pilots calendars, too.

Dr. John F. Murray, a sports and clinical psychologist based in Miami, feels for us. When there’s a recession and a city’s teams are bad, it’s a “double whammy,” Murray said.

Typically a source of civic pride, the Seahawks picked the wrong year to go 4-12.

“It softens the blow when a team goes to the playoffs,” Murray said.

If they’re struggling to find work or pay bills, fans need their teams more than ever.

“They’re going to need to build their self-esteem through the reflected glory,” Murray said. “If you’re a fan, you’re going to become more of a fan. You’re going to engage in even more fantasy.”

His perception appears to be the reality based on a sampling of Seahawks fans at the team’s final home game Dec. 21. I stopped by two pregame tailgates.

The random survey yielded responses from five fans, two of whom also supplied a Coors Light and a Jell-O shot, which were gratefully received by the questioner.

Asked if it ever reached a point where he’d cut back on attending Seahawks games because of financial constraints, Sean Lee of Redmond said: “Absolutely not. It’s one of the things that’s very important to me. If I have to cut corners, this won’t become one of them.”

Lee, who on this day was dressed up as Santa, said he’ll remain a fan and will continue to buy his 16-game Mariners ticket package as well.

Felix Tiano of West Seattle said he’s been relatively unaffected by the economic downturn. The Seahawks still are his team, too.

“It’s an escape from the daily drudgery,” Tiano said. “It’s something to cheer for.”

When asked if he’d ever quit going to games, Lester Stepper of West Seattle said: “Hell no. I’ve been coming to games since the Kingdome opened. This is our thing. We live or die with our team no matter what.”

Stepper is such a big fan that he has his own 12th Man flag that has been autographed by every person who has raised the 12th Man flag at Qwest Field.

A hairdresser at London House in Burien, Stepper said beauty salons usually weather recessions, but this downturn is different.

“The beauty industry is one of the last industries to slow down, and it’s slowed down,” he said.

Stepper estimates that his costs are more than $200 per game — $40 to $50 to park, $60 to $70 for tailgate food, $20 to $25 for concessions and $75 for his ticket in section 312.

“You spend a lot of money, but you know what? We love our team,” Stepper said.

Cindy White of Mountlake Terrace said she and her husband love to tailgate but admits that they will probably cut back on attending Seahawks games if necessary.

Sports bars feel the impact, too, but John Howie, who owns SPORT restaurant in the Fisher Plaza building, said there’s a bigger factor.

“What’s really hurt us — the Mariners sucked, the Sonics are gone, and Husky football has been horrible,” Howie said. “The economic climate hasn’t hurt as much. People still want to go out and eat. But would we prefer for the economy to turn around and the Sonics to be here? You bet we would.”

I told Howie that I was headed to his bar to interview fans for this story. He jokingly said: “I hope you find some.”

At 4:30 Wednesday afternoon, I didn’t. SPORT had a big lunch crowd, but there wasn’t a single customer when I arrived. Waitress Jennifer Zink said, “It’s a slow time of day, slow time of year.”

But fans are resilient. They’ll return to SPORT to watch big games and head to Safeco and Qwest fields for their Mariners and Seahawks fixes.

“Obviously people are stressed right now,” Murray said. “The excitement of the game provides a needed break from the woes of everyday (life). Sports provides that function to society. It’s something that’s removed from reality, yet extremely real. The grand illusion of the spectacle of a Sunday afternoon … the thrill of that is a welcome relief.”