Latte-sipping Seattle thinks football

Three enterprising fans of this town's pro football team bought a $5 hot dog during the National Football Conference championship here Jan. 22. They didn't eat the dog, though. They put it up for auction on eBay.

As of Wednesday, other fans of the NFC champion Seahawks had bid up the price of this aging wiener and its crusty bun - to $1,525.00.

That's without mustard.

This is the sort of odd behavior that occurs when a town used to sports teams that rarely win championships suddenly finds itself in the Super Bowl.

"We're so used to losing that I think we're all just dumbfounded," says Barbara Nombalais, an administrator at Seattle University.

Used to losing, indeed. Save for an NBA title by the SuperSonics in 1979, and a WNBA championship for the women's Storm in 2004, Seattle's only other major league championship was the "Believe It Or Not" victory by the Seattle Metropolitans Hockey Club over the Montreal Les Canadians Habitants - in 1917 to win the Stanley Cup.

In preparation for Sunday's Super Bowl spectacle in Detroit, thousands here are spending hundreds of dollars each for pennants, banners, jerseys, hooded sweatshirts, pink-painted baby bottles, cheap women's undergarments, flimsy plastic dishes and junk glassware, all adorned with NFL-approved Seahawks logos.

Tuesday, as another chilly rainsquall swept across Puget Sound to pelt the gray, sodden city, Alex Jacobs emerged from the Seahawks team store wearing a Seahawks jacket and matching knit cap. Earlier, he and his wife spent $100 for a Seahawks welcome mat, Seahawks serving platter, and other official items for a Super Bowl party they plan to host. He then paid $37 for a pennant and magnetic logos to decorate his car.

"It feels, honestly, just like it felt in '95, when the Mariners made the finals in their division," Mr. Jacobs says - and it wasn't meant as a compliment. (Those Mariners beat the New York Yankees in a dramatic Game 5 of the Division Championship, and then were hammered by Cleveland in the American League title series.)

"People here are pretty cynical," says the New York City native. "You have to say the fans are a little bit fair-weather."

Jacobs spoke, with measured disdain, about a recent pre-game tailgate party: "We had one guy, I wouldn't call him fair-weather, but he doesn't tailgate all the time. We were packing up, psyched, and heading for the game. But he was like, 'Okay - we'll see what happens.' "

"It's a different attitude here," says Jacobs, who previously lived in San Diego and Washington, D.C. "I've worked around people here who would say, 'Oh, well. What's the big deal? They'll blow it anyway.' "

Of course, every pro team has its contingent of crazed fans that paint themselves with team colors and shout random obscenities when the home team loses. One Seahawks security officer said that the 50 or so fans expelled during a typical game here is roughly the league average.

Yet many Seattle fans seem less like the working class heroes of the Steelers' gritty fan base and more like Ms. Nombalais and Mardig Sheridan, a freelance management consultant - white-collar workers who represent the rainy city's stereotype.

"I'm just enjoying the ride. I think it's fun for the city," says Mr. Sheridan. "When you read about ... lunatic behavior I feel sad.

"I want them to win," he added. "But there are more important things to life."

"When it comes right down to it ... it's all owned by a billionaire," he says. "You can count on the fact that some of these players are going to go play somewhere else next season."

Such realism could be the sign of a dispassionate latte-sipping intellectual.

It could also be the mark of healthy self-esteem, according to Jonathon Brown, a psychology professor at the University of Washington.

Professor Brown has a term for it - the Basking in Reflected Glory Effect - and it works like this:

"If the Seahawks win, then everyone will say, 'We won.' If the Seahawks lose the high self-esteem people will say, 'They lost,' and low self-esteem people will say, 'We lost.'

If the Seahawks lose, he says, most people will distance themselves from the team. "But there are people who will feel bad, feel ashamed, feel terrible about their city."

So though it may seem "oxymoronic," being a fair-weather fan signals a "high enough" self-esteem to withstand the disappointment when one's favorite team takes a beating, he says.

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