As shocking as it was, the Seattle Seahawks' last-minute loss to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl Sunday was probably not even the worst loss in the city's sports history.
Seattle did lose an entire NBA franchise, after all, when the SuperSonics up and moved to Oklahoma City. At least the Seahawks will be playing again next season.
But the grief, anger and bewilderment felt by many Seahawks fans nevertheless show only mild signs of abating, even days later. Many say they're certain the decision to pass from the 1-yard line — instead of handing off to bruising running back Marshawn Lynch — will forever haunt the Northwest the way previous sporting gaffes defined other cities.
"I'll be 90 years old and still thinking about this game," said Norb Caoili, a longtime season-ticket holder from Renton. "The history of sports is defined by moments like this, where heroes rise and save the day, or where teams collapse on the biggest stages. It's always going to be a part of the fabric of Seattle, and that's tough to swallow."
Caoili, 45, is the force behind Norb-Cam, a YouTube channel that features videos of himself — wearing a green wig, Seahawks headband, and blue-and-green face paint — reacting to the action during Seahawks games. The videos have been viewed an improbable number of times, making him a prominent voice among Hawks fans.
For him, the way the Seahawks lost is what makes it so tough: Moments earlier, the team seemed on the brink of a miraculous victory, with receiver Jermaine Kearse making an inconceivable, bobbling, falling catch despite great coverage from Patriots rookie Malcolm Butler. It was a gift from the football gods, "divine intervention" that signaled a certain Seahawks victory, he said.
Lynch's subsequent run, bringing the ball to the 1 with the clock ticking down, only fortified that impression.
Caoili's video from the Super Bowl — tickets $2,700 apiece, airfare and lodging $1,400 — shows him chanting a mantra for Lynch to get the ball: "Give it to him again, give it to him again, give it to him again."
The decision to pass, then, becomes not just "the worst play call I've seen in the history of football," as Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith described it, but an affront to the gods, a sort of cardinal sin punished by instant karma: Butler's goal-line interception, and New England's fourth championship of the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.
It was an epic failure, akin to the ground ball through Bill Buckner's legs that helped sink the 1986 Red Sox or the "wide right" field goal attempt in 1991 that proved to be the first of four consecutive Super Bowl losses for the Buffalo Bills.
"Emotionally, it would have been better to lose 43-8," Caoili said, referring to the score by which the Seahawks beat Denver in last year's Super Bowl. "There's nothing worse than having it in your hand and losing it all."
Caoili and other fans said that even if the loss sticks with the team, and the region, a few more Super Bowl championships could take the edge off. Odds-makers have Seattle 5-to-1 favorites to win it all next year. In the Seattle suburb of Renton, where the Seahawks are headquartered, fans left balloons and signs for the team in a memorial thanking them for a great season. "We still believe," said one.
Vu Le, a 33-year-old Vietnamese immigrant who runs a Seattle nonprofit, knew nothing about professional sports when he started cheering for the Seahawks during the team's Super Bowl run last year. On his blog, he tried to draw lessons from the loss for the nonprofit world, spelling out what he called Seattle's "stages of grief": "Denial, Righteous Anger, Hot Yoga, Organic Juice Cleanse, Bargaining at a Farmer's Market, Composting, Existential Despair, Biking to Happy Hour, and Acceptance of Marijuana."
Le said Tuesday he doesn't regret getting on the Seahawks bandwagon.
"When you care about something, you risk getting your heart just squished," he said. "But when they win, like last year, it was amazing."
Kris Brannon, a local superfan best known as "Sonics Guy," has been wearing his green-and-gold and his impressive afro to events around the Northwest in the years since the team became the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008. He put the Super Bowl loss in perspective.
"I wish the Sonics had a chance to lose a championship," he said.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson had his own way of putting the loss in perspective. Less than 48 hours afterward, he was visiting patients at Seattle Children's Hospital.
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