This past Sunday, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the NFC Championship in Seattle. There are rare and appreciated moments of indescribable surrealism in everyone's life, and witnessing the Seahawks and the Niners vie for a Super Bowl berth was definitely one of them in mine.
There are so many reasons that made this game special: it was a conference championship, an NFL semifinal, if you will (and this year, it was the much better one), it was a game that pitted divisional rivals that completely hate each other, it was Harbaugh vs. Carroll Part Whatever-It-Is-Now, and with spats breaking out on ESPN, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (the Russell Wilson/Colin Kaepernick comparison really lit up the internet last week), and in living rooms all over the country throughout the week, it was arguably the most hyped championship game most of us can remember.
It was a game that featured two young and savvy quarterbacks making incredible plays and committing some costly turnovers that nonetheless made the game even more exciting. Fans were intrigued from the start, a Wilson fumble, to the finish, San Francisco's final drive. Just when it looked like the Niners would escape with a one-point win, we saw Richard Sherman, one of the game's best and most-talked-about corners, come up big on the night's most decisive play, with just seconds on the clock.
It was also the priciest entry for a game that wasn't the Super Bowl, with tickets on the secondary market going for in some cases over ten times face value. Tickets that read $200 were easily being bartered for $1200. The fact that I actually got a seat in such an exclusive event still boggles my mind. Next to sitting on the rail only yards from the finish pole at the Kentucky Derby, actually being in CenturyLink to watch this phenomenally exciting contest has me replaying the experience over and over again in my head.
But, what really made the occasion actually exceed all its hype was its setting.
We already know there is no place in America like Seattle. Hearing the name alone conjures images of Pike Place and the Space Needle, a Starbucks on every corner, wet and gloomy mornings, lush greenery along deep waterways blue and gray, and breathtaking landscapes you can only find in the Pacific Northwest.
CenturyLink field, located in an industrial and tattered yet readily gentrified part of town, is a remarkable facility that perfectly captures the essence of Seattle. The beautiful architecture and bright lights coexist so seamlessly with the city's ethereal haze; it feels like you're in some kind of fantasy world when you step inside. When you add the "12th Man", or what the Seahawk fans in the stadium call themselves, the reason Guinness gives CenturyLink the distinction as Loudest Stadium in the World, you have all the elements of a unique experience hard to find anywhere else.
Perched right under a 13-story vertical scoreboard tower in an area known as the "Hawks Nest", the aluminum bleachers in the North End Zone where no one ever actually sits down, I breathed in some stunning views all game, and I also literally felt the shaking of the place for "Beast Mode", when Marshawn Lynch broke a 40-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 10-10.
The Hawks Nest is like the outfield bleachers at Wrigley -- it's where the party's at, where the ones not dancing during dead balls and not exchanging hugs and high fives after basically any good plays are looked at weird, and where the most fanatic assemble together to climb the most difficult ascent you can find in any stadium.
For me, it was really hard to ask for anything more. Yet of course, I even got a free Macklemore and Ryan Lewis concert at halftime.
With zeroes on the clock and the home team hoisting its trophy, it was fun walking out of the stadium and spilling into celebrations on the sidewalks, in the pubs and restaurants, and even in the middle of the busy streets from the Stadium across to the Public Market up to Capitol Hill and into the UDub campus, and it was even cooler to have residents tell you how awesome it was that you got to be at the game, while they had been sitting in that exact seat in the bar since noon.
Seattle was really the perfect host for this amazing event, a title match that was definitely one for the ages.
And, yeah, I was there.