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Formerly known as Seahawks Stadium and Qwest Field, CenturyLink Field (The Clink) is truly a unique stadium. Opened for the 2002 season and the Seahawks' return to the NFC West, the modern facility boasts first-class amenities and spectacular views.
There are ample tailgate options and local bars and restaurants to provide pre-game entertainment, covered later. The Clink opens two hours before kickoff, but many fans visit the event center known as Touchdown City that is attached to the south end of the stadium. It opens three hours prior to kickoff and shows the early games on four video walls.
Admission to Touchdown City is free and there is an interior entrance to the stadium. There are a variety of entertainment options for adults and children (games, vendor booths, football skill tests, and free face painting). Former players are on hand for autograph sessions and the Sea Gals have appearances as well; they are typically there from 11:30 to noon for a meet and greet and a performance with Blue Thunder. The event center offers a pre-game all-you-can-eat buffet, along with $5 beer specials.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The first thing to remember when visiting concession stands at The Clink is the options aren't cheap, but what NFL park offers that feature? Frugal fans can bring in sealed bottles of water and their own food. Most of us will bite the bullet and the $5 hot dogs or slices of pizza, chased by a $6 to $10 adult beverage.
Beverages: The stadium did change from Jones Soda back to Coca Cola products, sold in bottles. They also offer cans of Red Bull. Beer offerings are quite varied, including popular selections from Miller, Anheuser-Busch and Coors. For fans wanting to experience Seattle Micro-Brews, selections from the Pyramid Pub (Sections 315, 330) are offered. This is also a popular pre-game landing spot, as their restaurant is a block to the southwest of the stadium. They are perhaps best-known for their Hefeweizen, but their IPA and Curve Ball ale are quite popular.
Fans sitting in the club level have several locations offering premium spirits (and dining options). For the rest of us, there are several "alcohol gardens" with mixed drink options peppered around the stadium. They do fill up, so don't show up five minutes into halftime and expect to walk right in. Beer stations are never out of sight, and the bottled selections include beer and a few fruit-flavored malt beverages.
Cold weather will lead other fans to the gourmet coffee stands for the hot beverage options for which Seattle is famous.
Food: The Clink makes up for high-prices by offering great variety. The preferred option may be a bit of a trek from your seats, but what better way to get a feel for the stadium?
The Clink offers options from a Seattle landmark at the Ivar's Seafood stands (Sections 133, 208, 311). They are famous for their clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Their fish and chips are also popular, and very good. If adding a beverage, make sure to have $20 or a credit card handy, though.
Top Pot donuts have also become synonymous with the Seahawks, thanks in large part to a Golden Tate early-morning craving. I still contend this was a staged event, as a partnership with these two companies was announced shortly after Tate walked through an open back door to help himself to a few fresh maple bars. Top Pot is located in the Event Center and on all levels of the stadium.
Fans wanting a little different flair may want to make their way to Rocha Thai & Asian Kitchen (Sect. 105). Don't wait until the 4th Quarter if you want their Pad Thai ($8), though. Their fried rice ($8) is filling, but a bit shy on protein. They also offer a good selection of Thai entrees ($12).
Fans willing to suffer the looks of desire and disdain, not to mention the breath implications, have to visit Kidd Valley (Sect. 311, 111, 147) and try the garlic fries. This selection is becoming one of the featured items at Mariner and Seahawk games. Oh"¦their hamburgers are pretty darn good, too.
Traditional stadium fare isn't hard to find at The Clink. Hot dog and brat options are available from Vienna Beef and Johnsonville. Seattle Dogs can be found in Sect. 124, 135, 149, and 324. Pie in the Sky Pizza (Sect. 107, 122, 137, 307, 33) offers a quick-fix to game-day munchies, as do the beef jerky options from Oberto (Sect. 300, 344). If a sweet-tooth needs to be satisfied, Viva el Dolce is located in Sect. 339; ice cream is also available at several concession stands. Fans that want to get a bit nutty will find Blue Diamond Almonds and "Wonderful Pistachios" on all levels of The Clink.
The atmosphere at the stadium is best described as electric, largely due to a dedicated fan base. It is hard to think of the Seattle Seahawks without the 12th Man coming to mind, particularly when pondering home games. They take pride in making noise and disrupting opposing offenses. Following a 2005 game vs. the New York Giants, head coach Mike Holmgren gave a game ball to the crowd. They continually harassed Eli Manning and his cadence, forcing 11 false starts.
CenturyLink Field holds 67,000 fans for regular-season contests, but has had over 68,000 fans attend playoff games. The seating capacity could be expanded to over 75,000 if the NFL opted to grant the stadium a Super Bowl.
Pre-game festivities are designed to get the crowd loud and proud. One of the much-anticipated events before the game is finding out who will have the honor of raising the 12th Man Flag. This is often a local celebrity or former player, but the most amazing moment was watching Paul Allen hoist the blue banner prior to the 2006 NFC Championship Game. The pride and excitement of the billionaire owner was shared by the entire fan-base.
The team is led onto the field, amidst fireworks and loud music, by its living mascot, Taima. I've had the occasion to meet the auger hawk and its owner, Dave Knutson, who are fellow Spokanites. I'm not sure if I was more surprised by the incredibly calm disposition of the bird or the amazing softness of its feathers. Knutson says he has to be calm. "When he's flying out of the tunnel there's pyrotechnics going 300 feet. He has to handle a lot."
Not to be outdone by nature's version, the animated mascot known as Blitz helps bring the crowd to life. Whether dropping from the sky as part of a paratrooper exhibition or roaming the stands encouraging fans, he is definitely a crowd pleaser.
The drum line, Blue Thunder, adds rhythm throughout the game. They call themselves the "heartbeat of the fans." Started in 2004, they incorporate rock beats and animation with their drum corps style. They are certainly a fan-favorite as they perform under the shadow of the 12th Man Flag. And yes, there is normally a shadow. Despite Seattle being known for its precipitation, rain hardly ever falls on gameday in Seattle. There have been close to 100 Seahawks games at The Clink and its former names, but precipitation at less than 10% of them.
Clear days at The Clink also reveal one of the stadiums best attributes. The views are amazing. Looking north, fans are treated to the Seattle skyline (this could be disrupted in the near future, as a 25-story residential and commercial complex is being built on half of the north parking lot). To the south is Mt. Rainier, with Mt. Si and the Cascade Mountains to the east. West of the stadium lies Puget Sound; fans making a trip to The Clink should be sure to take advantage of these photo opportunities.
Halftime shows at The Clink are hit and miss. They feature Pee-Wee football players, local high school marching bands and cheer squads, performances by the Sea Gals, and once a season the Jr. Sea Gals also perform. They have also attempted to blend in some local culture, including well-received performances from Seattle bands. However, what appeared to be a hastily produced performance to plug a local production of "Hair" was welcomed with a well-deserved chorus of "boos" in 2010.
The Clink is located in the area known as the SODO District (South of Downtown). It is adjacent to Pioneer Square, known for its active nightlife, art galleries and antique shops. Fans spending the night in Seattle can visit a variety of nightlife spots (a single admission gains entrance to most of the clubs that feature live bands and DJs). There is a mix of pop music (Last Supper Club), Jazz (The Orleans), blues and rock. Music fans wanting a different experience might enjoy Seattle's best dueling piano bar, 88 Keys (separate $10 cover charge on weekends).
Fans visit several local watering holes to watch the early games and meet up with friends and their fellow 12th Man. My favorite is the King Street Grill, located across from the entrance to the North Lot. Tiki Bobs is adjacent and tends to cater to a younger crowd, while the high-end F.X. McRory's is a block west on King Street. They offer one of the best selections of premium spirits in the nation and attracted the attention of LeRoy Neiman. A Seahawk fan could have tried a different bourbon prior to each Seahawk home game in the new stadium and still have several more years before he got through their current list. The aforementioned Pyramid Brewery is also popular, and the Hawks Nest Bar and Grill also has a dedicated following.
Fans looking for pre- or post-game food will find the International District to the northeast of The Clink. There is a wide variety of Asian foods available.
With my apologies, some of this section was covered under the atmosphere section. But when it comes to CenturyLink Field, the two are closely intertwined. In fact, the New York Giants didn't buy into the atmosphere, accusing the Seahawks of piping in crowd noise following their aforementioned 2005 meltdown.
By and large, Seahawks fans are accommodating to fans wearing the wrong color on game day. There are some exceptions, but it isn't uncommon to see visitors to Seattle be accepted into tailgate parties. They are shown some gracious Seattle hospitality, along with some friendly ribbing and banter. So long as opposing fans are respectful of the Seahawks and the fan base, they can generally expect the same in return. However, I would advise them to not buy tickets in the "Hawks Nest" (Sect. 147-150). The metal bleachers are known for being loud and proud and not the most accommodating to opposing fans.
The Clink keeps a running tally of false start penalties on opposing teams since the start of the 2005 season. The Seattle crowd leads the rest of the NFL, with the Metrodome coming in second. The lead was substantial during the Seahawks' playoff years, but the gap has narrowed with several lopsided losses in 2008-10.
The proudest moment of the franchise had to be winning the 2005 NFC Championship Game, securing their first Super Bowl appearance. For the fan base, though, I'd argue the crown jewel was a different playoff game, the 2011 appearance vs. New Orleans Saints. The Seahawks were a double-digit underdog and rode the energy of the crowd to a stunning upset. Following Marshawn Lynch's now-historic 67-yard touchdown, the crowd erupted to a decibel level that likely hadn't been seen in the state since the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. The noise and fervor of the fans actually registered a small earthquake on a nearby seismograph.
As if the noise isn't enough, all sorts of colorful characters can be found roaming in and around The Clink. A certain painted and wigged-out group can be found sporting full uniforms (most are sans helmets) in the front row of the south end zone. Â Mr. and Mrs. Seahawk, Painted Hawk, Kiltman and Cannon Ball make up part of the Seahawks' fan representation in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While their goal is to be supportive fans and ambassadors of Seahawks football, not notoriety, they are still happy to pose for pictures and share the 12th Man love.
The other notable aspect of Seahawks fans is the continued use of a jersey that has been retired by the franchise. The Seahawks retired No. 12 in honor of their fans, who customize them with their last name, nickname, or simply "FAN" on the back. If you happen to see one with "D Hawk" on the back be sure to stop and let me know what you thought of this review"¦or feel free to reach out to me via Facebook or Twitter if you have any additional questions.
I've been to stadiums that offer better access and parking (University of Phoenix Stadium). I've also experienced worse (driving to Soldier Field). The City of Seattle is doing their best to dissuade drivers from using their cars, be it daily commuters or fans going to the game. The mayor attempted to pass a new parking ordinance that would have activated parking meters on game days, making it almost impossible for fans to use street parking (the meters have a two-hour time limit). This would have also taken away the primary tailgating areas under the viaduct.
The best advice for fans that are not familiar with the area is to arrive early or opt for mass transit. The Seahawks work to offer alternative transit options; most area Metro Park and Ride lots have busses that service the stadium. This includes standard routes as well as special stadium shuttles that drop fans within a few blocks of the north entrance. Rail transit is also available on the light rail and "The Sounder." Fans that would like to take advantage of these options can get schedules and pricing at Seahawks.com.
A vocal group of Seahawks fans (spearheaded in part by "Kiltman") rallied to demonstrate the dire impact this change would have on the game-day experience. I offered the city a perspective on the impact, and threat, it would have on fans travelling in from out of town.
Traffic does back up on I-5 and I-90 as they filter into downtown. Fans arriving after 11:00 can expect delays, and parking lots do fill up. Garages adjacent to the stadium start at $35 (the garage next to the King Street train station and several more on Jackson). The CenturyLink parking garage and North Lot are $40, as are a few smaller lots just west of the stadium.
The International District (northeast) has lots as cheap as $10 if street parking is full, but expect a 10-15 minute walk. Starting during the middle of the 2011 season, the King County Metro employee parking garage will also open up for fans to park in; this garage is located two blocks east of Safeco Field. Fans that don't mind the exercise can also find additional street parking and gravel lots to the south of The Clink.
The ROI for an NFL game is certainly a relative term. When compared to an afternoon at the movies, one should certainly be prepared to spend a fair amount more. However, the face value of tickets to a home Seahawk game is about 15% less than the average NFL seat. The cheap seats start at $51, with Club Seats ranging from $100 to $300.
But as most NFL fans know, the face-value of tickets is irrelevant for teams that sell out every game. 2011 may be an ideal time to take in a Seahawk game, as the secondary market is offering seats at or even below face value. The team, despite making the playoffs in 2010, has struggled in recent seasons and had a rough start to the 2011 season. Ticket brokers own a decent percentage of the tickets and demand is soft. Tickets can currently be found for as little as $30 ahead of the game. Fans that are willing to take a gamble have done even better shortly before kickoff.
A family of four can expect to spend about $400 for a day's worth of entertainment. This includes four decent seats at $50, $25 for parking, $75 for food and a few adult beverages at the game, $50 for souvenirs for the kids, and $50 for pregame food and beverages. However, frugal patrons can hold out for $30 tickets and pack their own tailgate supplies, snacks and bottled water. Leaving early in the morning will allow them to find street-parking, and the day can be complete for around $150. That compares fairly well to the $100 they would spend to go to a movie, or about exactly what they'd spend on a movie and dinner out.
TAILGATING: I recently read an article ranking Seahawk tailgating as the worst in the NFL. It is obvious the author has never been to Seattle for a Seahawks game. The article stated there was no RV space or tailgating in the stadium lot, despite showing a picture of that very event. While the RV and tailgating space in the North Stadium Parking Lot might get squeezed by the planned 2011/12 development, there will still be ample space remaining for those buying a season pass in the North Lot. There are also several large parking lots in the area that offer tailgating options.
However, dedicated tailgaters know the secret to having a great tailgating event in Seattle. Get to SODO early and park under the "viaduct" between the stadium and the waterfront. The walk can be just a few blocks up to a mile or more, depending on how soon one arrives. Die-hard fans start showing up earlier than they normally arrive to work, but the space afforded there is an attractive option. Instead of paying the $15 - $40 one can pay at neighborhood lots, this and other street parking is free.
One important note: Tailgating is technically banned in Seattle City limits. While not enforced, peace officers will crack down on anyone that is out of hand. They will also cite fans for open containers, so pack your blue Solo cups (not red, particularly if the Cardinals or 49ers are in town) for your adult beverages.
TOURISM: Seattle offers a great variety of options for a weekend getaway. With a little effort, a three or four-star downtown hotel room can usually be booked for around $100 on a weekend night. They are a long walk, cheap taxi or free bus ride from the stadium (there are plans to eliminate the "Ride Free" option in downtown Seattle, so fans may need to have 10 or 12 bits handy soon).
Weekend entertainment options are plentiful. Woodinville is a short drive away, offering a Saturday afternoon touring the plentiful wineries. While the ambiance of some of the wineries may be lacking (many are located in glorified storage units), the quality of the wine is certainly there. Chateau St. Michelle is a must-stop option in this tour, and will offer all of the splendor and outdoor beauty one would expect of a top-notch winery.
There is hardly a better way to follow an afternoon of wine-tasting than having an amazing meal at the Space Needle. This is a must for anyone new to Seattle. The restaurant level actually rotates, allowing a view of the entire skyline over the course of an hour. While some patrons felt the quality of the food had diminished during the 90's, the food and service today are worthy of the spectacular views.
Other visitors may prefer a day-trip to Mt. Rainier. The drive is reasonable and enjoyable. Once there, outdoor enthusiasts can opt for a day hike. Otherwise, Paradise offers sweeping vistas and a great place for an afternoon picnic. There are also numerous biking options in the greater Seattle area.
Pike Place Market isn't far from the stadium or downtown hotels. A trip there isn't complete without watching the fish mongers throwing the "catch" of the day to be wrapped and sent home. On a dry day I'd also recommend a trip on one of the ferries that leave from the piers nearby. My personal favorite is setting out shortly before dusk, allowing a view of Seattle (complete with the Space Needle, CenturyLink and Safeco Fields, as well as the Cascade and Olympic mountains) during daylight. This is followed by a Northwest sunset and then the lights of the Seattle skyline on the return voyage.
The smell of freshly popped kettle corn is ever-present, as a 53-piece band marches through an alley outside the stadium hours before the game. You stroll by a fan with a lime green Mohawk and a menacing Batman design etched into his navy blue painted face. It is 38 degrees and the first weekend of December, but the man is dressed in a Seahawks jersey and a kilt. He is joined by a cadre of fans sporting a similar look, including one boy who could pass for a fourth grader.
Attending an NFL contest at CenturyLink Field, the eight year old home of the 2005 NFC Champions, provides one of the most unique game day experiences in the league. Panoramic views of the Puget Sound from the west, the Cascade Mountains from the east and the downtown Seattle skyline from the north can be seen from the upper level concourses of the stadium. The stadium contains a Salmon exterior and a 760 foot-long white roof, the equivalent of three Boeing 747's parked end-to-end. Two 260 feet arches hover above the roof to give CenturyLink Field its distinctive shape. Inside, opposing teams are greeted by the "12th man," considered by many to be the most raucous supporters in football.
"We've got the greatest fans in sports," Seahawks coach Jim Mora said. "One thing about Qwest [CenturyLink] is as a football team you really can take advantage of that energy. It's a suffocating experience to come in there and play in front of that crowd. They suck the air out of the place. With our fans what we'd like to do is create an environment where the opposing team doesn't feel safe."
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