In their history, the Seahawks have hosted only three playoff games, making the Rams' visit Saturday a rare opportunity for fans and businesses

By ANGELO BRUSCAS
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

At the corner of Occidental and King Street, Mick McHugh is busy stocking up on beef and beer for the expected early-morning rush Saturday at his flagship restaurant, F.X. McRory's.

Down the street, Lane James already is stocked up on NFC West Champions apparel at his souvenir shop, Seattle Sport.


Joshua Trujillo / P-I
Zaki Abdelhamid and his fiancee, Devin Kearns, hunt for the perfect Seahawks shirt yesterday. Businesses around Qwest Field are excited about the possible windfall from the team's playoff game Saturday against the Rams.
In the middle of it all, Seahawks Chief Executive Tod Leiweke is taking stock of the professional football franchise's most festive week in five years as Seattle prepares to host only its fourth NFL playoff game since coming into the league in 1976. The NFC West champion Seahawks play the St. Louis Rams at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the first playoff game at Qwest Field.

"The excitement here is getting it right this week, filling up the stadium, creating a great environment for our fans, but also for our players," Leiweke said. "It's been a ride, a bit of a roller-coaster ride. There are these ups and these downs. It's been exhilarating, and Saturday is payback for all the fans who have been with us, not just this year, but for a long, long time, showing incredible loyalty and support."

The playoff buzz is tempered by the threat the game will be blacked out locally. The Seahawks yesterday received an extension from the NFL to sell the remaining 3,500 tickets by 1:30 p.m. today. The team has sold 62,500 tickets since Sunday but must either sell the remaining tickets or have a sellout guaranteed by a sponsor for the game to be televised in the greater Seattle area. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster outlets and the Qwest Field box office, by calling 206-622-4295, or online at www.seahawks.com.

That threat isn't enough to dampen the spirits of local business owners and sports fans, who have waited a long time to experience NFL playoff fever in their hometown.

"I'm sure we'll sell it all because this is the first time the Seahawks have been NFC West champions," James said of his special order of new playoff merchandise.

"On Saturday, we will do fourfold what we would do on a normal Saturday," McHugh said of business at McRory's, just north of Qwest Field. "And it's a lot of new fans, it's a lot of younger fans. Remember in 1995, when the Mariners showed us what playoffs were like, a lot of people here got that feeling for what it was like to be in the big time. Now, I don't think a lot of the fans even remember the last time we had an NFL playoff game."

The first playoff game in Seahawks history was Dec. 24, 1983, in the Kingdome, when the Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos 31-7. A year later, the Seahawks beat the Los Angeles Raiders, 13-7, also in the Kingdome. Fifteen years would pass before the Seahawks played another playoff game in Seattle. It came in the first season of the Mike Holmgren era, 1999, when the Hawks lost to the Miami Dolphins 20-17 in the Kingdome.



"I don't mean to sound corny here, but we are so happy for our fans," Leiweke said. "They have been so great, and more than anything, we are so happy to be able to deliver this game for them. We want Saturday to be a great day for them."

Leiweke notes the immediate economic impact of a playoff game is not so much on the team itself, but on the surrounding community and fan base because the NFL sets ticket prices and shares revenues. But it does have a residual effect on the overall customer base for years to come.

"The kind of organization we are building here is really focused on our fans and our customers, so we really don't have accountants doing cartwheels in the hall or anything like that," Leiweke said.

For James, the difference in a home playoff game vs. an away game is worth thousands of dollars. On Sunday, he and his family were watching the final regular season game, hoping the Seahawks would pull it out so he could guarantee a lucrative week ahead.

"I told my wife, 'If they win, it means you might get that new kitchen you've been wanting,' " said James, who now does most of his main business via the Internet since surviving the demolition of the Kingdome and all the stadium construction in the area over the past six or seven years.

On First Avenue, Tina Bueche, owner of the Synapse 206 apparel store, plans to be closed Saturday because she had already made arrangements for an out-of-town trip. While she acknowledges some of her neighbors who run art galleries and other neighborhood shops might complain about parking problems in the district, Bueche also secretly wishes she could change plans and be open to attract some of the potential business from Seahawks and Rams fans.

"It's usually pretty placid down here on a Saturday afternoon, especially on a Saturday afternoon in January," said Bueche, a longtime Pioneer Square business owner. "It's normally one of our slowest times for business, but I definitely see some business from Seahawks games when I'm open. It should be a boost to business."

McHugh likes the idea of a Saturday playoff game, noting it will give fans all the more time and reason to celebrate postgame.

"They'll be able to enjoy themselves, hopefully, a lot longer on Saturday night than they could on a Sunday night when they've got to go to work the next day," he said. "Not only are the players expected to pick it up a notch for the playoffs, but I think that's expected of the fans as well."

But Bueche expects most of the activity to start early and end quickly after the game is over.

"For football games, people tend to straggle in, but when they leave, they leave," she said.

The Seahawks plan to have most members of their Ring of Honor on hand to raise the 12th Man flag before the game in a special tribute to the fans, whose playoff experiences have been few and far between.

For fans like Patti "Mama Blue" Hammond, the first Seahawks fan inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, the playoff game at home has been an expense she's gladly willing to pay -- even if it means using her Social Security checks to help defray the cost of six tickets at $48 each. What's more, she plans to follow the team across the country if it keeps advancing all the way to the Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.

"It's been 28 years, and they've only had three other games here, so I can't wait," said the fan whose famed blue headwear has undergone a few color touch-ups and technological improvements over the years. "After Saturday, I'm packing for Jacksonville. I'll be on the first plane out of here if they go any farther."


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P-I reporter Angelo Bruscas can be reached at 206-448-8010 or angelobruscas@seattlepi.com