Hawks fans craving company

DETROIT — This party has gotten started with a guest of honor arriving fashionably late.

Super Bowl XL finally revved to life in the Motor City on Thursday as hordes of autograph hounds shoved Sharpies in the faces of Hollywood stars and football jocks making the rounds on the interview circuit. Comedian David Spade, that "Napoleon Dynamite" dude and former Super Bowl MVP Franco Harris were just a few making entrances.

But missing from this football-fueled frenzy was a strong showing of Blue and Green.

Hello, Seahawks fans! It's lonely in Detroit. Please hurry up and get here.

"Everybody hates us!" said Brandon Helderop, 18, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., who wore a blue Seahawks NFC Championship T-shirt while pining for autographs at the Media Center.

Pittsburgh Steelers fans and Detroit Lions fans — shoot, even Green Bay Packers fans — outnumbered Seahawks fans at the center, which is the best place in town to gawk at celebrities. Located inside Detroit's Renaissance Center, this is the spot where several national and local TV and radio programs are being broadcast this week.

Helderop was among an intrepid gang of five from the Detroit area boasting of a Seattle bias. Jack Janigian, Helderop's youth pastor, got to know Seahawks quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn through their church when Zorn worked as an assistant coach for the Lions. But Janigian said that when he wore his Zorn jersey while teaching recently at a local high school, "people were booing me."

The city of Detroit has adopted the Steelers as its team for Sunday's game. It awarded a key to the city earlier this week to Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, who grew up here. The fact that Pittsburgh is a five-hour drive away also is helping tip the sentiment in favor of the Black and Gold.

Steelers fans have heard Seattle's complaints about the Seahawks feeling slighted — and they are unsympathetic.

"Their fans need to get here to Detroit if they want a voice," Steelers fan Debbie Jones said.

Jones flew into Detroit from Tulsa, Okla., earlier in the week and is joined by her brother and sister-in-law, who flew in from Little Rock, Ark., and another brother who drove in from Chicago. Two more brothers from Indianapolis are on their way. The five siblings all grew up near Pittsburgh.

None of them has tickets yet to Sunday's game. They are staying in an Ohio hotel and driving into Detroit each morning to show their Steelers pride.

"We all had to travel and spend a lot of money to get here, too," said Jones, leaning against a barricade to watch a live broadcast of ESPN2's "Cold Pizza."

"I've heard people say that the Seahawks fans are crybabies. I don't know if I buy that. But you can't just sit back in your rocking chair in Seattle and complain. I got out of mine, and they can get out of theirs, too."

The lack of respect for the Seahawks is not just imagined. A booth inside the Media Center offers a complimentary gift for signing up for a credit card — a fleece blanket with a choice of either a Pittsburgh Steelers or NFL insignia.

Seahawks fans aren't covered.

Tod and Brett Johnson, two brothers from the Eastside who arrived in Detroit on Tuesday, said people were stopping them on the street to tell them that they were the first Seahawks fans they had seen in town.

"Let me tell you how bad it is," said Ken Wheadon, another Seahawks fan joining them for Sunday's game. "The pilot on my flight coming in from Seattle said, 'Go Steelers!' "

As the Motown Winter Blast street festival in downtown Detroit kicked off at 4 p.m. Thursday, there was scant sign of Seahawks blue.

Shaun Fried, working at one of 20 souvenir stores within the 14-block perimeter of the festival, offered an unscientific analysis of how Steelers merchandise was selling compared with Seahawks stuff.

"A lot to a little," he said.

A few more Seahawks fans milled about the crowded Media Center late Thursday afternoon, offering a slight cure for the Blues.

"We're used to being the underdog," said Nate Johnson, of Puyallup, who was wearing a Shaun Alexander jersey. "I'm OK with this."

Things will be less lopsided as the weekend wears on. At Detroit Metro Airport on Thursday evening, many Seahawks faithful arrived on two flights from Seattle, including one group of passengers who landed more than three hours late because of a mechanical problem on the plane.

"Tell everyone we're coming, and we're coming with lots of bells and whistles," said Dwight Bickel, of Edmonds. "Our rental car is going to have four magnetic beaks, two Seahawks flags and two signs that we got at Sunday's rally."

Bickel's wife, Lucinda Vergason, said Seahawks fans are arriving at the appropriate time.

"Maybe if this was Miami, I would have flown in earlier to lay out on a beach," she said.

Grabbing his luggage from Carousel 6, Bill Baker, of Tacoma, wearing a Seahawks construction hat and holding a Seahawks banner, announced the official arrival of the 12th Man.

"Everybody!" he shouted. "Hawks are in town! Woo!"

And outside, for the first time during Super Bowl week, it started to rain. Detroit feels less lonely now.

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or seskenazi@seattletimes.com

Bill Baker, of Tacoma, celebrates his arrival at the Detroit airport Thursday evening after a delayed flight from Seattle. He has no Super Bowl ticket but plans on buying one at the game. "Everybody!" he shouted. "Hawks are in town! Woo!" (MIKE SIEGEL / THE SEATTLE TIMES)