Cheerful in Seattle
CenturyLink Field in Seattle is where confused opponents get tagged with false-start penalties, where boisterous spectators wake the dead and where Tamaria Favell cheers amid the pandemonium of one of the NFL's loudest stadiums.
The open-air venue where the Seattle Seahawks play — and where Favell, a 2007 South Medford High graduate, performs just 15 feet from the world's best football players — fosters a cacophony as noisy as a jet plane (135 decibels). It holds 67,000 and has a partial roof that reflects sound back to the field.
The result is a circus of noise.
"It is a whole different world," says Tamaria (TAM-aria), a 23-year-old in her second season as a Seahawks cheerleader. "I feel like we step inside this fantasy zone."
Before her fantasy came true, Favell had to first deal with some adverse realities. She was born with bow-leggedness, but danced the condition away without needing braces.
Later on, she contended with issues of time and distance. Favell drove from Corvallis to Portland every day for a year to cheer for the Portland Winterhawks hockey team and Vancouver Volcanoes of the International Basketball League. After making the cut with the Seahawks last season, she commuted from Portland to Seattle three days a week for two months before fortuitously being offered the chance to live with a family she met by happenstance at a baseball game. Favell would attend school from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. before filling up her iPod, rolling down her windows and jetting to The Emerald City, where she'd practice from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and then drive back to Portland, log around three hours of rushed sleep and then do it all over again.
"Girls would tell me, 'I don't know how you do that,'" Favell says.
Behind all the effort is love for a sport that she's never taken a break from.
"I am always dancing," Favell says.
The NFL cheerleading gig doesn't pay all the bills — Favell is also a waitress and a health product salesperson — but she says that doesn't matter.
The surge of adrenaline she gets as a Sea Gal (the name for the cheerleaders) come game day is invaluable.
"It's like when you jump into really cold water and you can barely catch your breath," says Favell, who performs at all the Seahawks' home games. "You have these butterflies. It is unreal."
Early on, the thought of Favell being a cheerleader may have seemed far-fetched. She was bow-legged as a young child, mother Lillian Favell recalls.
"The orthopedic doctor said, 'You need to keep her active,'" Lillian recounts. "We didn't want to put her in braces."
Dancing did the trick. By the eighth grade, Favell was shadowing other instructors and even teaching so that she could pay to participate in more classes.
"So many young girls look up to her now," Lillian says.
Before becoming a Sea Gal, Favell performed at South Medford High, Southern Oregon University and Oregon State University.
She outlasted a group that began with 220 Seahawk hopefuls last May and had to prove herself all over again this season.
"You can never be overconfident because you never have a guaranteed spot," Favell says.
The tryout process includes an orientation, interviews and dancing. Final auditions take place privately at the stadium.
"Your number is called and they hand you a pair of pom-pons," Favell says.
Seattle director/choreographer Sherri Thompson makes sure the dancers are knowledgeable of the team. Thompson gives quizzes asking questions about the Seahawks' personnel and history, and about football rules. Favell has an application on her iPhone that gives her daily NFL news so that she stays in the loop.
And Favell doesn't just root. She and her teammates make hundreds of appearances at promotions, community events and school functions. Favell has conducted interviews for the team's fan website (spiritof12.com) and recently participated in a six-day tour with players Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman.
"It is a paid hobby," she says. "We are all doing what we love."
One of the perquisites is that she gets a pair of season tickets. She thought to offer them to her father Doug before anyone else.
As a result of her work in the community and her appearances on the field, many Seattle fans recognize Favell and the other Sea Gals.
"They know us, they know how long we've been on team," she says. "People come up to me and say, 'Tamaria, oh that's how you say your name.' I feel like a celebrity with our fans."
Many others grow curious of Favell when they meet her, like patrons at the pizza place where she works who have noticed her Seahawks ring. She received the piece of jewelry after the 2011 season.
"Some people ask about it," Favell says. "I love to tell them I am following my dream."
On Sundays, Favell and her teammates (there are 34 cheerleaders in total) can usually be found 15 feet from the action, wedged between some 30 camera operators and two robust NFL rosters of players, coaches, trainers and officials.
Encompassing them all is the sea of supporters who make CenturyLink Field shake.
"The energy makes my heart pound and takes my breath away," Favell says.
The cheerleading team is broken up into four squads based on height. Favell is 5-foot-2, so you'll rarely if ever see her behind some of the taller Sea Gals.
Everything that the dancers do is synchronized, from their opening act to their end zone reactions.
The whole production requires a strong memory, Favell says. She hits the gym for personal practices in front of a mirror to reinforce what she learned with her teammates during squad drills.
"You always have to know what's coming next," says Favell, who can still dance to routines she learned at South Medford High and Oregon State University.
The meanest fans that Favell has ever encountered were traveling Oakland Raiders enthusiasts whom she said shouted virulent comments at players and cheerleaders alike.
During Seattle's Monday Night Football contest against the St. Louis Rams last winter, Favell smoothly dodged a situation that could have turned ugly.
A tipped football sailed her way when she was not looking.
"The ball is a foot from my face all of a sudden," she recalls. "At the last second, I took two steps backwards. If I hadn't moved back, I would have been tackled by two or three guys."
The close call didn't even put a scratch in Favell's passion though.
Nothing will keep her from dancing except Father Time himself.
"I'll cheer as long as my body can handle it," she says. "As long as my kicks are still high."
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org