Seattle Sehawks, Washington Huskies & Seattle Mariner Fans Living out here on the far left edge of the country, it sometimes feels as if Seattle is the forgotten orphan of sports.
But I’m here to tell you, the worst is over.
Many of us felt abandoned by the rest of the U.S. when Clay Bennett, David Stern and the NBA were conspiring to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City. While Seattle marched and gathered and hollered in protest, hardly anyone else in the lower 47 appeared to care.
Over the past few years, most of the news coming out of Seattle sports has been bad.
• The NBA’s stealth bombing of a 41-year old franchise.
• The Huskies’ 0-12 season.
• The hiring of Ty Willingham. The firing of Ty Willingham.
• The Seahawks’ four-win season of 2008 and their five-win season of 2009.
• Mike Holmgren’s “retirement.”
• Tim Ruskell’s rotten drafts and subsequent firing.
• Jim Mora’s firing.
• The Mariners’ 100-loss season of 2008.
• John McLaren’s firing.
• Ken Griffey Jr. skipping town.
• The M’s subsequent collapse into chaos.
• Don Wakamatsu’s firing.
Before all of this misery, for almost a decade, Seattle was blinded with star wattage. The nation paid attention.
Junior and Edgar Martinez. Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson. Ichiro and Freddy Garcia and Jamie Moyer. Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. Shaun Alexander and Walter Jones.
The national media came to town and gushed about Seattle’s embarrassment of riches.
Even the bosses were big names. Seattle had Lou Piniella, George Karl and Holmgren.
That seems like a long time ago. Another era, before Twitter and blogs and ESPN.com.
Now, a Seattle fan watches SportsCenter at his or her own risk. There is a woe-is-Seattle feeling in this town. Winning and losing is supposed to be cyclic, but this down cycle has seemed infinite.
But listen up: The worst is over. Seattle sports really bottomed out in 2008.
That was the year the city lost everything. The mayor collapsed under the NBA’s full-court pressure and let the Sonics leave.
Quarterback Jake Locker got hurt and the Huskies’ football season was almost unwatchable. The Seahawks’ reign of NFC West titles disappeared as the team looked old and broken.
The Mariners’ clubhouse was a collection of cliques, and the farm system was as fallow as Dust Bowl fields.
There were no Sounders to lend a spark. Huskies men’s basketball didn’t even make the NIT. And, with Lauren Jackson recovering from her post-Olympics surgery, the Storm lost again in the first round of the WNBA playoffs.
Those were the worst of times.
Now, I see the light.
There are signs everywhere that sports in Seattle are emergent.
The Storm has had a historically good season and enters the playoffs as the overwhelming favorite to win its second WNBA title. This franchise is an example of what a team can do when it surrounds three superstars with hungry veterans who know how to play.
And, in its second season, Sounders FC has escaped its early-season fog. Fredy Montero might be the best forward in the league. Steve Zakuani is maturing.
Blaise Nkufo and Alvaro Fernandez have joined the team after World Cup appearances with Switzerland and Uruguay. Ossie Alonso has been solid in midfield. Jeff Parke and Patrick Ianni have been very good in central defense. And keeper Kasey Keller still has the footwork of a fighter.
I’m not telling you that you should be a fan of women’s basketball if you’re not. I’m not saying you should throw away your prejudices and learn to love soccer, if you don’t.
I’m just saying that those of us who like both have been treated to a sweet summer that has been the antidote to the gloom inside Safeco Field.
The Storm and Sounders have become symbols of what this sports scene can become.
That’s not to say Seattle suddenly is going to be Boston. But there is hope.
Locker is healthy, a Heisman Trophy candidate, and poised to lead the Huskies to their first bowl appearance since 2002. In his second season, coach Steve Sarkisian has restored discipline to the program. He has gone after recruits like a Doberman.
He has an offense that can score in bunches and a defense that is improving. Huskies fans no longer have to face Saturdays (or the occasional Thursday) fearfully.
Pete Carroll has brought a buzz to the Seahawks. For the summer, at least, he has given football here some national cred. His face is on more magazine covers than Lady Gaga and his name is on everybody’s list of Top 5 NFL stories for 2010.
The team still looks to be a year away from playoff contention, but what happens if the Hawks start 3-1 and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck stays healthy and the defense finally finds a pass rush?
Let’s not slight Lorenzo Romar, whose Huskies basketball team has been the most consistent winner during these seasons of pain. He should be back in the NCAA tournament in 2011.
Ah, but whither the M’s?
They not only are heading to a 100-loss season this year, but 90-plus losses are realistic for next year.
This remains a troubled franchise, but it still is in better shape than it was after 2008. General manager Jack Zduriencik has rebuilt the farm system and dramatically improved player development.
Now he needs owners who are willing to spend money and spend it wisely. He needs people, like owners Chris Larson and Jeff Rakes, to stand up like Peter Finch in “Network” and declare they are mad as hell and won’t take it anymore.
Zduriencik needs somebody with clout in this organization to demand excellence, to ask for much more.
I think Seattle is a good sports town that deserves more than it is getting.
Seattle made Qwest Field one of the NFL’s most inhospitable stadiums for visiting teams. Seattle turned X-Box Pitch into something that feels as rich as the English Premiership.
Seattle always cheered the Sonics. KeyArena had an old-time soulful feel. Seattle still fills Hec Ed for hoops and is coming back to Husky Stadium. Seattle is angry with the Mariners, but it hasn’t abandoned them.
Seattle is a city that deserves better. And better is on the way.
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