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A worker, who declined to be identified, cleans seats at CenturyLink Field in preparation for the NFL football NFC championship in Seattle, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. The Seattle Seahawks play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Monson: 49ers face the loudest place on Earth

By Gordon Monson

| Tribune Columnist

First Published Jan 16 2014 09:33 am • Last Updated Jan 17 2014 10:03 am

Noise hurts.

It distracts, frustrates, intimidates, aggravates and sometimes steals your ability to communicate, your ability to function. It robs you of your will to endure, your will to win. Ask any dad driving a minivan full of teenage girls around town for an afternoon. It dulls your senses and numbs your brain. It pounds your psyche.

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Don’t the San Francisco 49ers know it.

In their last two trips to Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, the loudest outdoor stadium on Earth, they’ve lost by a combined score of 71-16. That’s not because the sun was in their eyes or their hotel beds were uncomfortable — and it’s not because the Seahawks are 55 points better than them.

It’s because they had jackhammers busting up concrete all around them for three consecutive hours.

They couldn’t think straight and therefore play straight.

They got caught in a vortex of crowd blasts that have been thunderous enough to cause small earthquakes. If the roar at CenturyLink can move the Richter scale at the seismology station at the University of Washington, it can jangle a football team’s nerves and rattle its poise. So it has, so it does.

The Seahawks are 16-1 over two seasons at home, all as their fans have broken and re-broken world records for noise. They recently hit a mark in excess of 137 decibels, which is just shy of the official threshold of human torture. Tinnitus begins at 127. A front-row seat at a rock concert registers at around 120. A chainsaw whirs at 122. Glass breaks at 163. Nausea ensues at 141.

To exactly no one’s dismay, CenturyLink hasn’t caused mass projectile vomiting — yet. Although some opposing quarterbacks, unable to properly communicate with teammates, nor conjure their best physical efforts, probably felt like a good hurl.

Tumult reportedly is what owner Paul Allen had in mind when CenturyLink was built in 2002. He wanted it lively and circular and raucous. He just didn’t know the unique parabolic architecture would end up capturing and amplifying the cacophony of crowd noise to the point of replicating the boom of a squadron of F-16s taking off at the 50. He didn’t just get a home-field advantage. He got a home-field explosion. He got a racket that could do more than stun an opponent. It could wake the freaking dead.


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I’ve been to a lot of loud sports venues, including CenturyLink, through the years. EnergySolutions Arena, in the Jazz’s best seasons, was one of the loudest, especially during those deep playoff runs of the mid-to-late ’90s. Back then, sports writers covering the games regularly loaded in earplugs to dampen the aggressive acoustics. Between the concrete blocks and the steel girders, and the way the seats stack up steep, the roar of the crowd ricocheted in every direction, giving the Jazz a huge edge. Other loud places: Oracle Arena in Oakland, the old Spectrum in Philly, Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, the Superdome in New Orleans, Cameron Indoor at Duke.

None of them is as loud — or as detrimental to opponents — as CenturyLink. Opposing quarterbacks, in particular, seem unhinged by the clatter and commotion there. Apparently, according to experts who study such things, attempting to complete fine motor skills under acoustic duress is infinitely more difficult than under calm, accommodating conditions. That’s why they don’t pipe crowd noise into, say, a library or an operating room or a testing center.

You can’t even burp while Tiger Woods is teeing off at a PGA event without him firing off a death stare and laying down a string of unpleasant words that rhyme with brother-trucker and jock-pucker.

Let alone negative noise. It’s one thing to work in the din of an impartial steel mill. It’s another to have 67,000 fans screaming their eyeballs out, yelling nasty things about your mother, hoping your joints dislocate and your chin gets driven into the turf.

That’s what Colin Kaepernick and the Niners will face on Sunday.

A darn good defense, backed by an assemblage of angry, loud people, accentuated by a stadium that has the acoustics of the Tabernacle at Temple Square, a football cathedral/megaphone that encourages the angriest, loudest collection of people on the planet even more. Pain and mistakes are bound to ensue. Here’s hoping Technicolor yawns do not.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.



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