Hawk nest unfriendly for guests

MIKE SANDO The News Tribune

KIRKLAND – The Seattle Seahawks’ home winning streak spans 10 games and parts of three seasons. But the upper-left corner of the NFL universe failed to reappear on the list of truly hostile venues until a year ago, when the St. Louis Rams came to town.

That’s when Seahawks Stadium, since renamed Qwest Field, rocked like never before. The home team pulled out a 24-23 victory on its way to an 8-0 home record in 2003.

The return of the Rams on Sunday triggered memories for all involved.

“That was the start of what I thought was a great home-field advantage for us last year,” Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said Wednesday. “The fact that we could win a close game at the end, against a really good team ... the fans should feel they had a lot to do with it.”

Crowd noise was a factor as the Rams, clinging to a 23-17 lead, tried to run time off the clock.

And when Seattle’s defense produced a needed interception, the offense fed off the crowd on its way to the winning score.

“The crowd helped us win that game,” receiver Darrell Jackson said. “It’s great to have the home crowd behind you going into the last drive to win the game.

“It gives you a little extra momentum, an extra boost, and puts you over the top.”

Rams coach Mike Martz is 0-2 at Seattle’s $430 million stadium.

“The difference in any other stadium is that (in Seattle) it seems they know the game better and they treat you with respect,” Martz said. “And yet they’re very vocal and loud and it’s fun – it’s a great environment.”

For years, Holmgren has asked fans to recreate some of the atmospheric elements that made the Kingdome such a nightmare for visiting teams. He’s getting his wish now that the Seahawks are giving fans a reason to howl.

“We need them to be vocal,” Holmgren said. “I want them to know this is a big game.

“It’s a great stadium, and when it’s full and loud like it was against San Francisco (in Week 3), it’s a tough place to play.

“That’s what you want..”

Holmgren could take the home crowd for granted during a seven-year run coaching in Green Bay. The waiting list for tickets to Lambeau Field ran into the thousands, and Holmgren’s Packers rewarded them by posting a 54-7 home record, counting playoffs.

In Green Bay, as in Seattle, Holmgren needed five seasons to produce his first 8-0 home mark.

“We just didn’t think we were going to lose there,” Holmgren said of the Lambeau dominance. “That’s the way it should be.”

A year ago, Seattle’s home opener against New Orleans was blacked out on local TV because the team fell short of a sellout.

All seven subsequent home games, beginning with that St. Louis matchup in September 2003, have sold enough tickets to avoid a blackout. The game Sunday will mark eight in a row.

Winning is obviously the key.

Beyond the 10-game streak at home, the Seahawks have won 16 of their past 22 games overall, fourth-most in the NFL. They’ve even won six of their past 12 road games during the regular season.

“I think it will be a playoff atmosphere (Sunday),” said Martz, whose Rams have gone 5-5 away from St. Louis since posting a 1-7 road record in 2002. “Whenever we’ve played up there, it’s always been kind of frantic.”

Seattle’s 10-game home streak began with a 30-10 trouncing of the Rams on Dec. 22, 2002. But coaches and players point to the Sept. 21, 2003, game as the start of something special.

That was also the day Seattle running back Shaun Alexander made a dramatic appearance in the second quarter, hours after witnessing the birth of his daughter, Heaven.

“The game was already going on and I could see from the outside coming in how excited everybody was and it’s kind of carried on from there,” Alexander said Wednesday. “Our fans are really great and they really do some great things to launch us into these games.”
(Published 7:16AM, October 7th, 2004)