Same name, similar logo, different colors. Meet the Norwegian Seahawks team you've never heard of
The Ã sane Seahawks American football team in Bergen, Norway, was born 20 years ago, in March 1998. Today, its head coach is a 28-year-old Seattle native. This is the story of the Seahawks football team you probably haven't heard of.
A Seattle native is the head coach of the Seahawks.
No, not the Seattle Seahawks. The other Seahawks.
The Ã sane Seahawks American football team in Bergen, Norway.
In 1985, a 16-year-old Norway native named Jon Torstein Bakken spent a year as an exchange student at Forks High School, roughly 140 miles west of Seattle. While he was there, his host brothers convinced Bakken â" who âcouldnât kick a soccer ball if my life depended on it,â he told The Times this week â" to try out a different sp ort.
Thatâs how, during his only school year in the United States, Bakken doubled as a placekicker and admittedly ineffective defensive end.
Itâs why he returned to Norway the following spring with an unexpected mission.
âIn 1985, he saw the (Seattle) Seahawks and he also saw the American football culture and he loved that,â Sam Strickland, the Ã sane Seahawksâ head coach, told The Seattle Times in a video interview last week. âThe whole town showed up. It was what you do on a Friday night: go to a high school football game.
âThatâs what he fell in love with, and he wanted to build that up in Bergen.â
For those understandably unfamiliar, Bergen is the second-largest city in Norway, known as âThe City of Seven Mountains.â Nestled on Norwayâs western coast, it boasts roughly 280,000 residents. Itâs broken up into a number of boroughs, with Ã sane being one of them.
And, randomly enough, Bergen and Seattle are also sister cities. In 1970, to celebrate Bergenâs 900th anniversary, the city of Seattle sent a totem pole, which currently resides in Nordness Park. Thereâs also a mini-park in Ballard that was dedicated by King Olav of Norway.
It should come as no surprise, then, that in March 1998, Bakken chose to name his football team the Seahawks.
Twenty years later, the Ã sane Seahawks still exist. Their head coach is Sam Strickland, a 28-year-old Seattle native who played offensive line at Nathan Hale High School and fell in love with the Seattle Seahawks during their run to the Super Bowl in 2006. He met his wife, an international student from Norway, while in college at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, Calif.
They eventually moved back to Norway, and Strickland managed to find a little piece of home.
âThe Ã sane Seahawks found me, because Americans kind of stick out like sore thumbs here,â he said with a laugh. âIâd shown an interest in the past. I went to one of their games previously. So the president knew who I was and found me on Facebook and said, âHey, can you come help out?ââ
Strickland started as a strength and conditioning and offensive line coach but quickly climbed the ladder. Last year, in his first season on the Seahawksâ staff, the team finished 4-4 and fell to the highly favored Oslo Vikings in Norwayâs national championship game.
But while the Ã sane Seahawks share a nearly identical logo with their Seattle counterparts, thatâs where most of the similarities end.
âItâs an interesting thing, because coming from the United States, where you probably have hundreds of high school teams in the state of Washington, we have three levels (in the entire country),â Strickland explained. âWe have Division II, Division I and Elite Series. Last year we were in Elite Series and there were four total teams.â
Bot h the Elite Series and Division I play 11-man football, while Division II operates with just nine players on each side. To prevent any competitive advantages, each team is allowed one import from the United States.
Practice typically starts in the middle of February. (âIf we can scrape the fields clean from snow, weâll practice,â Strickland adds.) The preseason kicks off in March, with the regular season running from April through June. At the end of the regular season, the two top teams from Division I are added to a six-team playoff with the four Elite Series teams.
Year after year, they make it work.
And in a country (and continent) dominated by soccer, that isnât always easy.
âWe tried to host the Super Bowl at one of the local bars,â Strickland said. âWe walked around Bergen handing out flyers and getting people excited. Maybe we had one guy in a Brady jersey show up.â
And yet, the Seahawks continue to fill their roster. In all, they have roughly 100 players across four different teams â" under 13, under 15, Division II and Elite Series.
âThereâs a pretty big niche to fill with bigger kids that need an athletic outlet,â Strickland said. âThere isnât a sports organization run through schools. Itâs organized through neighborhoods. So if you want to be a competitive soccer player, if you are not one of the best in your neighborhood by 12 or 13 years old, you might as well quit sports.
âThereâs soccer, and thatâs about it. Maybe handball. Maybe hockey. You canât really find something for big guys.â
Thatâs where the Ã sane Seahawks come in. The youngest player on Stricklandâs Elite Series team is a 16-year-old center. And the oldest player? Well, thatâs harder to answer.
âItâs a mystery what his actual age is,â Strickland said of the Seahawksâ veteran offensive lineman, who he guesses is in his mid- to late-30s. âI never asked him how old he is. Or maybe I asked him once and he laughed at me.â
Still, with limited resources and an unknown age range, Strickland and Co. were able to cobble together a competitive team. Last year, in their top finish in team history, the Seahawks won all four of their home games and lost all four of their road games.
This was not an accident.
âItâs difficult, because I think if we were all put together in the same geographic location â" if we were an hour drive away from each other â" this would be a very competitive league,â Strickland said. âThe lady who runs the whole league said the MVP (last season) was the mountains, because we had a nine-hour drive to away games, because we live on the west coast.
âAll the other elite teams live on the eastern portion of the country, which is a very interesting dynamic. All these Oslo-area teams are very competitive amongst each other. They do very well. They come over h ere and we blow them out. We put up three, four, five more touchdowns than they do. Theyâre all tired. Theyâve been on a bus for nine hours. Theyâre stiff and sore. Or they fly over that day or the night before. Itâs not ideal.
âSame thing with us. We travel seven to nine hours to get there â¦ and we get blown out. Weâre dehydrated. Weâre stiff. We should take a nap but we have to play a game. So there are long days. The mountains are the MVPs.â
Granted, the Ã sane Seahawks arenât the only team thatâs had to deal with significant travel.
Last weekend, in the franchiseâs first game in Europe, the Seattle Seahawks trounced the Oakland Raiders 27-3 at Londonâs Wembley Stadium. Bakken attended, calling his first live Seattle Seahawks game âthe cherry on top of one of the great sundaes of my life.â
The other Seahawks are not as talented as their namesake in the NFL. Strickland estimated that his teamâ s understanding of the game most accurately compares with the American high school level. They donât have fancy uniform combinations, and theyâve never played in front of more than 400 fans. They canât afford to charter a plane to road games on the other end of the country, and theyâve never been on television (with the exception of last seasonâs loss in the championship game).
Still, if they can scrape the fields clean from snow, the Ã sane Seahawks will keep practicing and playing. Strickland will keep holding onto a little piece of home.
âI always say itâs been a dream of mine to coach the Seahawks,â Strickland said, âand Iâll leave it at that.âSource: Google News Norway | Netizen 24 Norway