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John Blanchette: These Seahawks give us a reason to raise the flag

Audrey: “So you go to all the Seahawks games, huh?”

Harry: “I never miss. It’s a reason for getting up in the morning.”

Ann-Margret and Gene Hackman, “Twice in a Lifetime”

Gene Hackman never quite did for Seattle football fans what Susan Sarandon did for the Durham Bulls, Robert De Niro did for the Eagles or John Candy did for the Cougs.

But he’s right.

From Newman Lake to Neah Bay, the Seahawks are the reason to get up this morning.

Sure, it’s Seattle’s football team.

But they’re everybody’s Seahawks.

They have cut the widest of swaths to reach Super Bowl XLVIII against the Denver Broncos, reviving and ratcheting up a love affair in this state that dates back to the franchise’s inception in 1976.

Oh, it’s been on low flame often enough. But now the heat is way off the index.

You see it all over Spokane in the “12” banners, flags and placards displayed from office building sills, front porch eaves and dorm windows – arithmetic that needs no explanation.

Marshawn Lynch jerseys are now the dress code for the staffs at banks, groceries and orthodontists.

Snowmen in South Hill yards are outfitted in the proper attire, and one-upped by giant snow sculptures of the team’s helmet logo across town. Casts on broken arms and legs have been suitably colored and adorned. Tattoo artists and barbers have been conscripted for elective surgery.

That guy crossing Riverside wearing khaki Dockers might not be doing it as an homage to Pete Carroll – but then again, he might.

And there was no mistaking one tribute: Wilson Elementary was named Russell Wilson Elementary for a week.

“You can’t tell whether they’re just hungry for a championship,” Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson said, “or just excited to see their team play. But they’re the closest thing to a college atmosphere I’ve ever seen in the NFL.”

The Super Bowl is America’s undeclared holiday – Thanksgiving with chicken wings and nachos on the menu instead of turkey and dressing, and when the prayers aren’t “thanks” but “please.” As in “Please, let them beat the spread.”

But it’s a different animal when you have a rooting interest.

Before the Seahawks took flight, Spokane was in No Fan’s Land, a Bermuda Triangle 700 miles from where the Raiders and Niners played, 1,200 from the Vikings and 800 from the Broncos. Big-city transplants brought their own allegiances, and sometimes those remain in the DNA – and sometimes they don’t.

Take Leroy Jackson. The Spokane man wangled two tickets through an NFL connection for this year’s game and planned to take his brother, an Eagles fan from their days growing up in Philadelphia, had they advanced. Instead, he’s going with his friend and Seahawks fan Shawn Taylor, who dumped the Super Bowl party he was going to host on his wife.

And as for Jackson and his boyhood team?

“They’ve disappointed me too much,” he laughed. “They’ve made me cry many times. And when the Seahawks were practicing here at Eastern, we used to go see them all the time.”

Thousands can say the same thing.

From the very beginning, the Seahawks made camp every July in Cheney, where things were loose enough that you could drive your car up on the little rise south of the practice field, unload your cooler and lawn chair and hear the pop of the pads and the players’ complaints about the heat. Stop on the way out of town and you’d likely bump into Jim Zorn at Zip’s, or Joe Nash at Showies.

They pulled out after 1985, returned again in 1997 (just coincidentally about the time of a statewide vote on a new stadium), then bailed for good 11 years later. But the 30-year-old franchise had long since captured the region’s hearts and minds.

Jim Hanley, of Spokane, remains a season ticket holder, and was in the stands at CenturyLink Field when the Seahawks punched this Super Bowl ticket.

“The fans around us were crying – tears were literally streaming down their faces,” he said. “Never seen anything like it.”

Not even in 2006, when the Seahawks reached their first Super Bowl. This time around, the 12s seem considerably more juiced – jazzed about players who are more electric, personalities that are bigger.

“I think everyone was just glad to get there before,” said Pat McDonald, president of the Spokane Valley Sea Hawkers booster group. “Now people are hungry for this team to win and hold that Lombardi Trophy.”

True, there is an itch in the Northwest that needs to be scratched. The one pro franchise to have won a major championship – 36 years ago – doesn’t exist anymore. The other team with titles has only niche appeal.

Besides, as Gene Hackman’s son-in-law told him in the movie:

“This city would be nothing without the Seahawks.”

Because everyone needs a reason to get up in the morning.