This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.
Many NFL teams claim that they have the best fans in the NFL. There isn’t one way to measure this claim. The San Francisco 49ers have always had a loyal, committed, diehard fanbase, so 49ers fans could easily be put in the conversation of best fans in the NFL.
The Seattle Seahawks seem to believe that the noise that their fans produce make them the best fans in the NFL. Seahawks fans in attendance of any home game in Seattle are collectively known as the “12th Man.”
There are several reasons why CenturyLink Field in Seattle is such a loud atmosphere. First of all, the architecture of the building lends itself to producing a lot of noise. Stadium architect David Murphy told Hank Gola of the New York Daily News that the Seahawks management hoped to create the same loud, disruptive atmosphere at CenturyLink Field that they had in their previous arena, the Kingdome or the Thunderdome.
“We had the legacy of the Kingdome, and while there were a lot of things that we were working to improve on that building, there were a number of things they held dear,” Murphy says. “The noise and the home-field advantage was one of them. So we worked real hard to get fans on top of the action. And then (Seahawks owner) Paul Allen had very fond memories of going into (the University of Washington’s) Husky Stadium as a kid and encouraged us at some of our first meetings to go out there and look at what made Husky special. He wanted to make sure the fans were covered. At first he wanted natural grass so he wanted an open roof. As we started looking at it, what makes it loud is that roof.”
Second of all, the fans produce a lot of the noise themselves. The fans start screaming and booing once the opposing offense heads into a huddle, and they don’t stop until the play is done. Then, they start up again at the next huddle or when the offense lines up again.
The 12th Man produces so much noise that they even set a Guinness World Record for crowd noise. On December 2nd, the 68,387 fans in attendance of the Seahawks’ nationally televised game against the New Orleans Saints notched a record-setting noise level of 137.6 decibels.
NFL teams know they have to prepare for the intensity and noise in Seattle. Teams have tried using several different techniques to make the noise less of an issue. Some teams have given their offense custom-made earplugs. Some teams have created different hand signals that their offense can use. Some teams use big, booming speakers in practice to simulate the crowd noise.
No matter what tactic the 49ers decide to use in order to prepare for their matchup with the Seahawks in the NFC Championship on Sunday, the 49ers know they will have to find a way to adjust to the 12th Man.
In the 49ers’ past two meetings with the Seahawks in Seattle, they’ve played some of their worst football. On December 23, 2012, the 49ers lost to the Seahawks 42-13. Kaepernick was clearly overwhelmed by the crowd noise, because he looked flustered for much of the game. He finished 19 of 36 for 244 yards with one touchdown and one costly interception.
In their most recent game in Seattle on September 15, 2013, the 49ers again lost to the Seahawks 29-3. In this game, Kaepernick appeared even more flustered than in the first game.
He finished 13 of 28 for 127 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. This was his worst passing game as a starter. He finished with a total QBR of 14.0, which is the lowest total QBR in any start in his career.
In these two games, Kaepernick clearly struggled immensely, mostly because of the crowd noise. The 12th Man’s noise has made him flustered and disorganized, and the 49ers can’t afford to have him play that way on Sunday.
Normally, Kaepernick plays well on the road. In his career, he has a 92.3 quarterback rating and a 59.38 completion percentage on the road. He’s shown that he can play in freezing temperatures, in the rain, etc. He’s yet to prove that he can play well in front of the 12th Man though. The 49ers will only go as far as Kaepernick can take them.
The 49ers are currently on an eight-game winning streak, so they certainly have momentum going into this tough road game. They are also 8-2 on the road this season, including the playoffs. The 49ers haven’t had trouble away from Candlestick this season, but Seattle is a whole other beast.
The 12th Man is certainly a factor in this week’s NFC Championship game between Seattle and San Francisco. The 49ers will have to overcome record-setting noise levels on Sunday, but they still might be able to pull off a win.