Bring your own energy: Seahawks prepared for no fans at CenturyLink

RENTON, Wash. -- In their season opener against the Falcons in Atlanta, Bruce Irvin and other Seattle Seahawks found that playing inside an empty stadium, as unusual as it is, has its benefits.

"I actually liked it a lot," Irvin, the Seahawks' ninth-year outside linebacker/defensive end, told 710 ESPN Seattle. "You could hear communication, guys talking. You could hear the snap count and guys being physical -- you could hear those pads talking. So that's always great to hear. To me, it was a pretty cool experience for the most part."

But that was on the road, where visiting teams usually don't have crowd on their side. What will it be like, Irvin was asked, when the Seahawks host the New England Patriots on Sunday night with no fans at CenturyLink Field?

"Oh, yeah," Irvin said. "That's terrible. That's going to be terrible. I didn't even know it was Sunday night until you just told me that. That's bad, bro."

The absence of fans across most NFL stadiums due to the COVID-19 pandemic might be no more pronounced than at CenturyLink, where the ear-splitting din has contributed to one of the league's biggest home-field advantages. Under normal circumstances, it would be as raucous as ever Sunday night, with the Seahawks playing a home opener in prime time against a team -- and a quarterback in Cam Newton -- with whom they have plenty of history.

It had Pete Carroll's imagination running wild, as the coach thought of ways to make up for the "unbelievable amount" of energy the stadium will be missing.

"This is one of the great spectacles in sport, playing here in front of our fans," he said. "Notably the loudest venue that you can find. The excitement level and the energy and the connection with the people of this area has been unique and extraordinary, nothing but a spectacle. That's not going to happen.

"But that doesn't mean that when we score or something, make a big play, sack the quarterback, people can't go out on their front steps and start screaming, yell out their windows. I'm hoping that's what happens. I'm thinking that should be part of the game, your responsibility to connect with your fellow fans out the window. I hope that happens. We need you. We'll feel you in some regard. We're sorry that we won't be able to play in front of our fans."

Watch your language

CenturyLink set the Guinness World Record for loudest crowd roar at a sports stadium twice during the Seahawks' 2013 Super Bowl-winning season, both in prime-time games. The second winning mark of 137.6 decibels was topped the next season at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium, which still holds the record at 142.2.

It'll be about half as loud Sunday night and through at least the Seahawks' next two home games -- against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3 and Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night in Week 5 -- which also won't have fans.

The Seahawks adjusted the levels of piped-in crowd noise during the two mock games they held at CenturyLink, going louder in the first one and turning the volume down a few notches in the second. Carroll was under the impression home teams would get to choose from a range of noise levels for every game but said this week that he's received clarification from the NFL that the league has set the decibel level at 70, with the ability to increase it to 75 when music is playing or the public address system is in use.

"What we played with in Atlanta was the same," Carroll said. "It really wasn't a factor in the game at all. There was a real different dynamic to the game. You guys that watched it and heard it on TV, you could hear a lot more. There was a lot more spoken on the field that was made available to the fans, I guess. We just got to know what we're doing, what we're saying, myself included."

Said linebacker Bobby Wagner: "I thought the game was really fun because [since] there was no crowd noise, you was able to hear a lot of stuff that you don't normally hear. So you hear people who cuss that don't normally cuss during the week, so that was fun to find out some guys have some potty mouths."

Bring your own energy

The absence of fans in the stands means players will have to manufacture energy they would normally draw from the crowd. Carroll found a tie-in to that with a story from his second-to-last season at USC.

The 2008 Trojans were preparing for their fourth straight Rose Bowl and fifth in six years. Carroll had become aware of a media perception they had played in the game so many times that they had developed a been-there-done-that indifference to it, and the excitement they were projecting was merely a put-on.

"It really pissed me off that they didn't understand what they were talking about ... because we did love going to that game," Carroll said. "So I made a big deal to the team during the process of getting ready for the game that we were going to have as much fun as you could possibly have at a football game on the sidelines.

"Everybody was going to be in it and we were all going to be cheering for one another and going crazy and celebrating and all that, which is no big deal except for [when] we were coming out for halftime, the referee came to me and said, 'If you guys continue to celebrate like that on the sidelines, we're going to have to penalize you.'"

Carroll thought that was "the greatest thing I ever heard" -- that his players were having so much fun that officials threatened to flag them.

He sees that experience as an example of how teammates can feed off of each other in empty stadiums.

"We just want to make sure it's as energized as possible and we help each other play the best we can possibly play, and whatever that takes, we want to do," he said. "Maybe [referee] Craig Wrolstad will come over there and tell us we're making too much noise on the sidelines or something. That would be fun."