We are in the middle of one of the most exciting eras of hockey in Seattle. The Seattle Thunderbirds won the WHL Championship last season, and the Everett Silvertips are one series away from bringing another one to the area. The NHL is expected to make some form of expansion announcement next month. It’s the perfect time for Seattle sports fans, who haven’t paid attention to hockey before, to learn the game. One guy who’s taking advantage of this? Seahawks legend Walter Jones.
Jones is a native of Alabama, which is not exactly the hockey capital of the country. He has never been on ice skates. He says his size (the Seahawks listed him at 6’5” 325lbs) is the main reason for that, and I can’t really argue. He’s the biggest human I’ve ever stood next to. But the growing hockey community has his attention now.
“This is my second game here. I came here to drop the puck one game. I got a chance to meet the guys,” he told me. “Those guys are just like everybody else, they’ve got dreams of doing something they love. I said to myself, I want to come back and support these kids and be a part of something. I told them, I said ‘if y’all get to the playoffs and do good I’ll be back,’ so to get back here to a game is pretty awesome. I’m still learning.”
He’s still learning the game, which I’m sure is true for a lot of folks in this area. The best way to do that is to get out to a game in person. The feel of a live hockey game is practically incomparable to watching one on TV at home, especially if you haven’t watched much hockey before. The atmosphere in the arena, especially in Everett during the playoffs, is incredible.
“I think the thing about it is with the hockey, telling everybody that’s getting into the hockey that don’t know nothing about hockey, these are great opportunities to get a chance to see some of these smaller teams and get a chance to just watch it- feel the true fans and how they love it.”
The fans are an aspect of Seattle that Jones is very familiar with. He spent all 12 of his seasons in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks, backed up by the self-proclaimed (and not wrong) loudest fans in the league.
“It gets loud. Playing at CenturyLink, I know that crowd, the twelves are pretty loud, but I think coming to the game here tonight and seeing how passionate these fans are...I think they’re going to have a great fanbase. In every sport here, the fanbase is pretty loyal. The excitement, it’s just building, so once it happens it’s going to be amazing to see.”
Walter Jones gets it. The fans here love their sports teams. Sure, the Mariners don’t always draw a crowd, but 17 years of mediocrity can really wear you down. And even after all that, SafeCo Field still drew a crowd of almost 50,000 people to opening day. The Seahawks still sell out regularly and the Sounders broke MLS attendance records from their first season in the league. There’s no need to be concerned over the fans here getting behind a hockey team.
The fans in Angel of the Winds Arena already know what a playoff game should sound like, even before the NHL gets here. The cowbells were loud enough that even Walter Jones, the man who regularly played in front of the twelves, had to stop and appreciate it. It’s infectious too. When the Silvertips scored what should’ve been their third goal (it was reviewed and determined that the net had come off, changed to no goal), Jones stood up and waved that rally towel around like every other fan in that arena.
“ For me to be here to see tonight, those fans are loyal to the team and they scored these points, so we get a chance to really see how they love the team. So to be a part of it, to witness tonight, it’s pretty cool. You can feel it, you can feel the excitement.”
Jones embraced the fans wholeheartedly. He let them come into his suite throughout the night to take pictures and get autographs, and was happy to chat with anyone who asked.
There was a point when one fan leaned over the wall from just outside the suite and asked Walt if he knew why the Silvertips chose that name. At first I thought he was trying to teach us, but as he talked it became clear that no, he was just legitimately curious about the name.
“I’ve asked 4 other people already and nobody knows!”
Walt suggested he look it up online but alas, he was from Vancouver. No cell service in the states. Luckily for him, he stumbled upon a pro football Hall of Famer with a smart phone. Walt happily looked it up online, curious about the name himself, and was happy to inform the man that they were named after the Silvertip bear. Their conversation segued into what every future Seattle NHL fan really wants to know now: what’s the new team going to be called?
The gentleman from Vancouver suggested Steelheads. Walter Jones approved of the name, and in the process made me rethink my whole #nofish philosophy. But it wasn’t Walt’s favorite.
“The Seattle Emeralds, I like that...I think it’ll be something that’s fierce. You watch the game and these guys are pretty tough with what they’re doing on the ice. I’m hoping that whatever name they pick is a good name that represents the city and represent the fan base too.”
There you have it. Walter Jones: future Seattle Emeralds superfan.
The game itself was great as a hockey fan, less so as a Silvertips fan. For the second straight game Everett went into the third period with the lead, only to see it disappear with a late goal by Swift Current. As we waited for overtime to start, Walt asked me what the rules were for hockey overtime. After I explained that they just keep playing until somebody scores, I mentioned that the Silvertips actually hold the record for the longest game in the league.
“How long was that?” he asked.
“It went into the fifth overtime before they won.”
While he definitely enjoyed the game, I could see a slight look of panic on his face when I said that. I guess it might take a bit more time before the prospect of watching 6 straight hours of hockey sounds appealing. I’m sure once the NHL arrives, he will be right there with everyone else, soaking it all in.
“I definitely see myself coming to the games. I know tickets are probably going to be pretty hard to get a hold of once things start happening but I think if I get an opportunity, I definitely want to be a fan. I’m a fan of the soccer team here, and the baseball team. You want to be a part of the atmosphere too and you want to be a part of something great.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.