January 6, 2013 in Sports

Thiel: The perch for Seahawks fans in D.C.

Art Thiel

WASHINGTON – The “Hawks Nest” in the nation’s capital shares some touches with its Clink end zone-section namesake in Seattle: It’s crowded, noisy, near a construction zone and has a Starbucks nearby. As well as surrounded by the the traditional metropolitan trappings of skateboarders and homeless grate-sleepers.

But the The Penn Quarter Sports Tavern, a block north of the National Archives and facing the horse’s rear end of a statue bearing Civil War hero Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, has the distinction of being the 16-week home of Seahawks fans forced to live and work in the lesser Washington.

Saturday night it has gone big-time.

“Every football Sunday we get from 20 to 50 Seahawks fans in here,” said Brent, the bar manager for the last several years. “Tonight’s different. We’re going to have more than a hundred.

“I’m a Redskins fan, but tonight I really don’t care. It’s the Hawks Nest.”

In this town, cash is king. And some in the several hundred blue-clads among the 85,000 expected at FedEx Field Sunday were throwing down cash in the PQ because the Seahawks are in town, dammit.

Shaun Messerli of Puyallup, Wash., and Ryan Willmaser of Monroe, Wash., – in full 12th Man regalia – were sitting together with an ice bucket of Buds between them on the top floor of the two-story bar overlooking equine hindquarters.

They spent morning through the lunch hour doing the usual stuff first-timers do in D.C. – The Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall and other tourist magnets.

But by midafternoon, they were back at the work of the self-styled “12th Army” of season-ticket holders and fans the pair has helped create: Spreading the word of Beast Mode, DangeRuss and the Legion of Boom.

So far, no injuries.

“People have been pretty decent, mostly good-natured,” Willmaser said. “Of course, it’s not game-day either.”

Added Messerli: “We took a little crap from a couple of bouncers who wanted charge us double, but that’s about it.”

If that’s the extent of the weekend’s capital punishment for the delegation from the Northwest, many will be happy. The Redskins and their fans, however, figure to work up a wallop, because the Redskins, one of the NFL’s legacy franchises, have not hosted a playoff game since 1999.

As the first franchise with a marching band and fight song, the Redskins are as entrenched in the fabric of a city as any sports team in America. Which is odd, since Washington is a city with almost no fabric outside of politics.

Maybe that’s why the NFL works. As the hub of a polarized nation, Washington is not often a safe place to talk socially about politics, race and class. And besides, so many are not from here – workers coming and going on two-, four- and eight-year election cycles – that the simplest, safest thing to latch onto is sports, specifically the Redskins and their manageable 16 Sundays.

Pro basketball has always been an afterthought, and Major League Baseball didn’t return until the Montreal Expos showed up reinvented as the Nationals in 2005.

Being the sole talking point and the only soul in a soulless town has its benefits for the Redskins. Forbes magazine in 2012 valued the franchise at $1.6 billion, third-highest in the NFL. The Redskins pull in a whopping $80 million annually from premium seating and last year had operating income of $109 million.

With Super Bowl wins after the 1982, 1987 and 1991 seasons, the Redskins seemed as towering and secure as the national debt. But they have won only three playoff games since. In fact, the past two times they made the playoffs, following the 2005 and 2007 regular seasons, they were ousted by the outlander Seahawks.

Until this season, the Redskins have been in a two-decade slump, thanks in part to the death of longtime owner Jack Kent Cooke and the subsequent sale in 1999 to Daniel Snyder, one of the most derided and disliked owners in sports. Since the 1993 retirement of coach Joe Gibbs, the Redskins had eight coaches, including four seasons by the returning Gibbs.

This season’s 10-6 record is only Washington’s  third winning season in the last 13.

To suggest that the 2012 renaissance under coach Mike Shanahan, along with explosive rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, has been warmly greeted locally is to say that Beethoven’s Ninth is a nice little toe-tapper.

The game begins with the Seahawks down 84,500 to 500. It will be good for the Penn Quarter crowd Saturday night to save up a little for today.

Art Thiel writes for sportspressnw.com.

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