The case of a Seattle Sounders fan, a bet and a tattoo of Celine Dion
The story of the Sounders fan who got Celine Dion's face tattooed onto his butt in honor of the club's first MLS Cup title is both more and less convoluted than you'd think.
More, because there isn't really much of a backstory. It started as an inside joke between Matt Oak and his Seattle-area tattoo artist and he'd mostly forgotten about the promise made on social media last February until the team got hot toward the end of last season. Less, because of course a Sounders supporter got a Celine Dion tattoo on his butt in some vague homage to an on-field accomplishment.
This is a fan base of inside jokes and blind devotion. Despite the record crowds inside CenturyLink Field, theirs is still a close-knit, niche community at heart. And while soccer fanatics do not have the market cornered on imprudent body art -- see: this Pittsburgh Pirates-themed tattoo in honor of a 2015 World Series title that never happened -- perhaps only the beautiful game could have inspired such a strange show of loyalty.
"Well, not everybody is like Matt Oak," Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. "He's a super fan, I guess you could call him. But I see photos of fans at Seahawks games with their crazy outfits.
"Pro sports have a little bit of quirkiness. They're passionate about their team. They want to show some support. How they show the support is obviously where the creativity comes in."
SEC football fans might beg to differ that only pro sports bring out the eccentrics. Oak is actually a native Alabaman who also also roots on the Crimson Tide, which explains a lot. He can name only two Celine Dion songs and the idea arose only through the vague resemblance between one of his earlier tattoos and the Canadian pop star.
"She's got features that are recognizable, as famous faces go," Oak says -- and you have to give him that. But he needn't have worried about staying true to his word for much of last season. His promise actually included U.S. Open Cup and Supporters' Shield wins too, but Seattle was eliminated early for the former and well out of contention for the latter by mid-summer.
"I'm obviously not going to root against us, but I would have been OK if we'd have waited to win next year," Oak said.
But then the Sounders signed Uruguayan playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro, longtime coach Sigi Schmid was fired, and Seattle finished the season with a run of eight wins, two defeats and four draws. The rest is history.
"It's kind of a third-date story," Oak jokes. "People who aren't sports fans don't really get it. If I explain it to you, and it's OK, maybe that's the tipping point. It's a litmus test: If you can deal with this, maybe we've got a shot."
A kinder reading is that this story illustrates the deep connection between the Sounders and their fans. Schmetzer is a personification of that bond: He played for the club during the NASL '80s, coached it during the minor league "dark ages" and was promoted from top assistant to manager last July. During the downtown parade the Tuesday following Seattle's title triumph, Schmetzer hopped off the team trolley to walk with fans for solidarity. Yet not even this lifelong Sounder has ever written that in ink.
"Did [Oak] actually lose the bet? He lost the bet, right?" Schmetzer said. "If I ever get a tattoo, it'll be either the names of my three kids or my wife. I could put Christine and a bunch of hearts [on my shoulder]. ... No, not on my white, German body."
Oak and Herculez Gomez exchanged barbs on Twitter long before the veteran forward signed with the Sounders last March. When an old rumor linked player with club, Oak wrote off Gomez and as an "old, busted dude" and even after they established an unlikely friendship in the past year, Gomez has never let Oak forget it.
So Schmetzer couldn't help but smirk at one particular donation to the GoFundMe page he set up after MLS Cup. Oak had lost his job the previous month, so he was just looking for a little help to keep up his end of the bargain. The alert popped up: Herculez Gomez donated $100.
"Of course he did," Oak said. "That's exactly the type of guy he is. He probably did that half to help and half because he knows I'm going to be sitting there with a needle on my ass in pain."
Gomez, who is now an ESPN analyst after retiring from professional soccer this past winter, does not elaborate upon his intentions. Instead, he just laughs at the memory -- and, perhaps, that visual.
"Sometimes I feel like there should be a bit of a give and take, and that we should invest in the fans the way they invest in us." Gomez said.
"We're the reason he's getting Celine Dion tattooed on his ass. I kinda felt compelled."
Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based soccer reporter covering primarily the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.