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Thursday, September 21, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


The loud and proud fans at Qwest Field

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sound has been Fred Micera's business for more than 30 years.

He has toured with musical acts ranging from James Brown to Ozzy Osbourne and mixed the sound for a Billy Idol concert in front of more than 100,000 people in Rio de Janeiro.

On Sunday, one of his biggest challenges will be keeping up with the Seahawks' crowd. He's the audio engineer at Qwest Field, and as far as allegations that Seattle had piped crowd noise into the stadium, he can already hear the complaints.

"I would kind of take offense if I was a fan," Micera said. "That's absolutely absurd."

Micera estimated the volume at field level can exceed 110 decibels. The Seahawks' 12th man needs no additives, said Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke.

"There's one noise being heard, and it has been heard around the country, and it's our crowd," Leiweke said.


New York Giants @ Seahawks, 1:15 p.m., Ch. 13

The NFL sent a notice to the New York Giants and Seahawks, saying it would be keeping an eye — and presumably an ear — out to make sure the league's restrictions on artificial noise are followed at the game Sunday. The notice mentioned allegations the crowd noise in Seattle was enhanced, though it did not specify the origin of that claim.

"It put a little smile on my face when I saw this memo," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "If I'm a fan, I take that kind of personally. Like, 'If you think last year was loud or the championship game was loud, wait until Sunday.' "

The Seahawks' 24-21 overtime victory against the Giants last Nov. 27 was a defining moment in Seattle's season. A team that found ways to improbably lose games in 2004 found its way to an unlikely victory over the Giants, and the crowd shouted its way into national prominence as the Giants were penalized 11 times for false starts.

The soundtrack of Seattle's fans doesn't require audio support, Micera said. He sits in a glass-enclosed booth on game days, coordinating the stadium's sound system in a losing battle to make sure the referees, public-address system and other in-game entertainment can be heard above the crowd.

"Usually we fall well short of what the crowd is able to generate," Micera said. "We have a PA [system] that is adequate for the job, but we certainly can't keep up with the fans."

Giants coach Tom Coughlin was asked Wednesday if he thought the crowd noise in Seattle was enhanced.

"No, I'm not sure about any of that," Coughlin said. "I know it was very loud, and it certainly served their purpose very well, but I'm not aware of anything other than the normal crowd noise."

Did anyone with the Giants allege it had been pumped up?

"Not that I know of," he said.

Coughlin came to Seattle four times as the coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, but last season's game between the Giants and Seahawks was the first time one of his teams played at Qwest Field.

"I played before there [twice at the Kingdome, twice at Husky Stadium], and I really didn't remember it being that loud," Coughlin said. "Last year, it was very loud."

It probably won't get any quieter after this week's conversation.

"I think it's awesome," Seahawks defensive end Grant Wistrom said. "I'm sure our crowd is going to hear it and feed off it and make life even more miserable for the Giants, who probably complained about it."

Sound off

Jason Graham's enthusiasm came from the pit of his stomach in last year's NFC Championship Game. He has a medical file to prove it. He suffered a hernia after cheering for the Seahawks in their win over Carolina.

Graham is a season-ticket holder and travels from California for a few Seahawks games each year. He will not be coming to this weekend's game, but joked that he should reconsider now.

What does he expect Sunday?

"We'll just be louder," he said.

Graham is not alone in his enthusiasm. Qwest Field has become one of the loudest outdoor stadiums in the league, which means an NFL team must be able to flip the mute switch with a silent snap count.

Signals are substituted for words. Timing is no longer based on a quarterback's cadence, but gestures. A silent snap count has become a non-negotiable part of an NFL team's preparation.

"Every team had to develop that part of their game," Holmgren said.

The quarterback becomes like a third-base coach. If he's in the shotgun formation, he might raise a leg to signal he's ready. Or perhaps that's the dummy signal, and it's when the quarterback grabs the towel that he signals he's ready.

Then, the center checks his formation and indicates the snap is going to come with the placement of his helmet. It could be the ball is snapped one count after the center cocks his head to the right. Maybe it's two counts.

The sign language also eliminates one of the advantages the offense has at the line of scrimmage. The linemen can't anticipate the snap, and the offensive tackles — being farthest from the center — are forced to watch the ball out of the corner of their eye.

"They're just a tick late, coming off, and the speed rusher outside can give them real problems," Holmgren said.

Five of the 11 false-start penalties against the Giants in last season's game were assessed against Luke Petitgout, who started at left tackle.

Sound of stress

There are players who thrive in hostile environments, who see a loud crowd as a challenge.

"For some athletes, in loud arenas, it's quite helpful because it energizes and allows them to be more excited," said Dana Sinclair, a sports psychologist who has worked with the Sonics the past four years.

For others, an opposing crowd can create feelings of anxiety or fear of failure.

But it's not just emotions involved in football. It's logistics. Communication is an essential part of the game, and a player's execution depends on his timing and his ability to understand instructions.

Coughlin said the Giants have maintained the same preparations. They aim speakers at the practice field to simulate crowd noise during the week. Officials are brought in to monitor for penalties, and players had to run for any penalties committed.

This time, the team knows the kind of environment it's coming to.

"I think we probably underestimated it last year," said Willie Ponder, Seattle's kick returner.

Ponder was on the other side of this game last season. He was returning kicks for the Giants.

"It was one of the loudest places we played," Ponder said of Qwest Field. "The crowd here — all I can say is I'm happy to be on this side, you know?"

Joel Fish is a doctor at the Center for Sport Psychology in Philadelphia. He has worked with a number of professional athletes, and he said the Giants' struggles last year don't equate to some sort of mental block. History isn't a curse for most professional athletes so much as a challenge.

"The goal, whether it's good, bad or ugly, is to learn from their experiences and improve on what they did before," Fish said.

That comes with a caveat. An early miscue or a false-start penalty in a critical situation can trigger a psychological relapse of sorts.

"What can happen is a here-we-go-again phenomenon," Fish said.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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