Saturday, February 04, 2006

A Seattle Story (Night Before the Super Bowl Edition)

It is not often that someone can claim that they are less than a day away from the biggest sporting event in a city and region's entire history. Yet that is exactly what tomorrow's Super Bowl between the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers (sorry, Tom--Pittspuke)is for the entire Pacific Northwest. It really is that big of a deal. Lest I be accused of hyperbole, it is worth keeping in mind that the history of Pacific Northwest sports (especially professional sports) is quite short when compared with most other areas of the country. Only two professional sports championships have ever been won in the Pacific Northwest, by the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers and the 1979 Seattle Supersonics (no, the WNBA championship won last year by whatever team plays in Seattle does not count). Both of these took place B.A.S.S. (Before All Sports Stations) and before the NBA went MegaNational, so most people outside the Pacific Northwest don't remember those championships unless they watch ESPN Classic religiously.

Those championships also came at a time when the only pro football and baseball teams in the region--the Seahawks and Mariners--were in their infancy and, unknown by locals at the time, well on their way to defining "mediocrity" and "abysmal" ('Hawks the former, M's the latter) in the Unofficial Yet Universally Recognized As Authoritative Sports Dictionary. As a result, since 1979 Pacific Northwest professional teams have not won a championship in any major sport, and thus for the most part have been off the national sports radar screen. And with the exception of the Sonics, no post 1979 Northwest team has even played for a championship (and that 1996 Sonics team had no chance against Michael Jordan and the Bulls).

But to me and most other Pacific Northwest sports fans, the NBA pales in comparison with football and baseball. And that is why tomorrow is such a big deal--none of us have ever celebrated a Lombardi or a World Series trophy. I know that the longevity of this drought does not compare to cities like Cleveland, but for this 32 year old who does not remember not having the Seahawks and Mariners to beat my head against the wall about, this remains a lifetime drought.

Not that there have not been opportunities, particularly for the M's. But despite their success between 1995 and 2003, the M's have only broken hearts and caved in groins with their playoff runs (no more so than in 2001, when 116 wins in the regular season culminated with a collective five-game pants wetting against the Yankees). Yet if the M's were death by bludgeoning, then the Seahawks have until this year been death by boredom. Or slow asphyxiation. Never downright awful, but never downright good, either, despite having had some great players over the years. Steve Largent may remain the best wide receiver most football fans never saw. Curt Warner was one of the better running backs of his era. Jim Zorn and Dave Krieg were constantly reliable, if not dominating. Ricky Watters had some great years here, as did Warren Moon. Unfortunately, the one Seahawk most people outside the Northwest do remember well is Brian Bosworth, and usually the accompanying memory is of Bo Jackson implanting the Nike logo on the bottom of his cleats across Boz's chest. The 'Hawks' biggest NFL stage came back in 1984, with their loss to the Raiders in the AFC Championship. And since then, not much to talk about. Other than a number of 9-7, 8-8, and 6-10 seasons. In short, Seattle sports teams have mirrored the city's weather--mostly cloudy, damp, and dull.

So forgive me and every other Northwest sports fan for treating these past two weeks like a giant sun break--marveling at it and just standing in it to make sure it is real; or just to enjoy it before it disappears. Claims that the Seahawks are "just happy to be there" in Detroit apply more to their fans than to the team. We just don't know what to do with ourselves. This is new to us. But unlike the rest of the country, we know this Seahawk team. And we love this Seahawk team. Unlike the rest of the country, we saw this team play every week. Unlike the rest of the country, we have seen how much this team has matured since week four of the season (after a loss at Washington). Unlike the rest of the country, we have seen every team that lost to the Seahawks underestimate their O-Line, their running game, their QB, their Middle Linebacker, their pass rush; they accurately found the weaknesses in the secondary and special teams, however (these are big liabilities, ones that could hurt them in XL). But, unlike most of the rest of the country, we still think that these 'Hawks can win this game (special thanks to Dcat the Pats fan for thinking the same.... Solidarity, brother).

A few other points warrant mentioning. Many Seahawks fans have been complaining way too much about the lack of "respect" or the "bias" of the media against the 'Hawks. They whine about all the latte cracks, rain cloud jokes, and "suburb of Alaska" blasts. Guess what? The only possible way to stop all of that is to win. So until that happens, expect more of the same. But, don't be surprised if there is more of the same if the 'Hawks do win.

And if they do win, and the barbs keep coming, who cares? I, for one, am not interested in the 'Hawks (and M's) winning in order to get national respect. I want them to win for us, their fans. For our enjoyment. I could care less what people like Skip Bayless and Rick Reilly think. Sure, it would be nice if a Super Bowl win or perhaps a future World Series win (surely that will be the first sign of the coming Apocalypse) made Seattle a "legitimate" sports town in the eyes of the rest of the country. But if that doesn't happen, so what? I'm interested in the hardware, the peace of mind, the sense of reward, and the commemorative T-Shirts, not national love. They can call my teams (and their fans) any name in the book--someday (hopefully tomorrow) I just hope those names include "champions."

Strangely, I feel more at ease before this game then I did before the NFC championship (though my wife is taking 9-1 odds that this doesn't last once my eyes open on Super Bowl Sunday morning. I know she's right). I have no idea what this means, but I do know that one way or another, tomorrow night about this time I will be shedding tears for one reason or another. And having a(nother) beer for one reason or another. And talking to my dad about the game, no matter what happens. And looking back on one hell of an enjoyable year, no matter what happens. And looking forward to another run next year, no matter what happens.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go throw up.

Go Seahawks. No matter what happens.


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