The Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos will be facing off in New Jersey in Super Bowl XLVIII this weekend. Here in Los Angeles there will also be a contest, of two rival sports bars.
Now, before we go any further I have to confess that I was born and raised in Seattle and I’m a lifelong Seahawks fan. I sometimes fly back on the weekends for games. From my experience, fans at The Backstage Bar and Grill, in Culver City, are every bit as rabid – if not sometimes more so - than the ones in Seattle.
Backstage has become Seahawks central in Southern California thanks to Cedric James Morris. Eight years ago, he started the L.A. Seahawks fan group, which has grown to almost 900 members.
“I never knew there were so many Seahawks fans in L.A., and they show up and I’m like, ‘this actually works,’” said Morris, standing outside Backstage recently, in a Richard Sherman jersery. “Ever since then, it’s just snowballed.”
Morris isn’t even from Seattle. He hails from Utah, which like L.A., lacks an NFL team. As a kid wanting to be a running back he became a big fan of Curt Warner, not the famous quarterback Kurt Warner, but the more obscure running back who played seven seasons for the Seahawks.
The ‘12th man’ takes over Culver City
Like any coach, Morris addresses his team at halftime every Sunday, giving a pep talk to those who pack into Backstage.
Here he was during the NFC Championship game, when the Seahawks trailed San Francisco by a touchdown.
The Seahawks have become famous for having the loudest fans in the NFL, and Backstage has become a semi famous as well, earning shout-outs from head coach Pete Carroll on Twitter.
Relatives of Seahawks players who live in Southern California regularly stop by the bar when they can’t see the games in-person, including cornerback Richard Sherman’s parents, cornerback Walter Thurmond’s dad, and defensive tackle Brendon Mebane’s uncle. Carroll’s daughter has come to the bar as well.
When Seattle played in San Francisco last month, much was made of the fact that a Seahawks banner flew over Candlestick Park. It didn’t come from the Northwest. Morris and his fellow L.A. Seahawks fans raised the money.
“Not only did we fly the banner, but we raised about $3,000 for charity,” said Morris. (The money went to The Wounded Warriors)
Fans have to show up hours early, before Backstage closes its doors, to avoid getting in trouble with the Culver City Fire Department.
If you can’t get in, Morris hands you a flier sending you down the road to an overflow Seahawks bar.
“On Sunday you could say Culver City is Seahawks blue,” said Morris. “There’s about four or five bars you’ll see Seahawks in.”
Marina del Rey bleeds orange
If Culver City is Seahawks blue, Marina Del Rey is Broncos orange. Jason Griffing has been the Peyton Manning of the Broncos’ L.A. meet-up group since 2008.
“When it first started out, it was pretty quiet,” remembered Griffing. “It was a small intimate group of 15-20 people on a weekly basis. When Tim Tebow came along, it really exploded.”
The L.A Broncos group now includes about 550 members, many of whom go to Brennan’s Pub on game day (pictured below).
“It still blows my mind how crazy it gets down there, especially during the playoffs,” said Griffing, who lived in Denver for eight years.
Griffing originally chose Brennan’s because one of the owners is a Broncos fan, and there was plenty of room. But like Backstage, the pub has outgrown its capacity, so the owners expanded.
“They’ve set up a few TV’s outside and a little standalone bar outside,” said Griffing.
Both bars a winner
Not surprisingly, both L.A. ambassadors are very bullish on their teams in the Super Bowl.
“I’m going to take the Broncos over the Seahawks 35-21,” predicted Griffing.
“My pick’s definitely the Seahawks,” said Morris. “The Broncos have never played a real defense. We could blow them out.”
No matter who wins the game, the owners of both bars have hit the jackpot, because they would most likely be empty on Sunday’s, if not for the fortune of being associated with two teams who've gone from relative obscurity as recently as a few years to making it all the way to The Super Bowl this season.
“From a business standpoint absolutely, we have struck gold,” said Backstage Bar Manager Steve Chen.
He says the Seahawks boost is especially helpful these days, when marquee L.A. teams like USC and the Lakers are struggling.
“If you rely on local sports, it can be more difficult to be successful,” said Chen.
As great as it’s been to have his bar packed, Chen is ready for the season to be over. He says his weary staff needs a break from all those crazy fans.
And where will I be watching the big game on Sunday? I haven’t decided yet, but I’m leaning towards the comfort – and the quiet - of my couch.
Where will you be watching the game? Let us know in the comments section below. We're compiling a list of the best places to watch The Super Bowl in Southern California.