The Best Players On The Worst Teams, Part IV: Everything Else

Part I – Felix Hernandez

Part II – Other Seattle Mariners

Part III – Seattle Seahawks

There aren’t enough Sonics to include on this list to make it worth my while for a whole post, mostly because the Sonics had been consistently good throughout the years.  With the exception of the early going (the first seven years or so) and the late going (the last six years or so, before they left Seattle).  One name that popped to mind immediately was Ray Allen.  Of course, he went on to have great success with the Celtics (and I guess the Heat, depending on whether they can pull out these Finals), but in his time in Seattle, the Sonics greatly underachieved, with only one post-season appearance to his name.  Technically, I’m not counting players like Ray Allen, since the whole idea is to praise the guys who have suffered their whole careers on terrible teams, but as I said before, the pickin’s are pretty slim across Sonics history.

I was also halfway tempted to put Rashard Lewis on this list, as his Sonics teams were pretty underwhelming too.  But, he did go to Orlando, and they did go to the playoffs in three straight seasons, including one Finals appearance.  So, screw off to Lewis; he had his chance.

Once you rule out all the great players from the 70s, 80s, and 90s (for being on consistently good-to-great teams), the only name that comes immediately to mind is Bob Rule, the old Sonics center from the very first Sonics teams.  I don’t know much at all about these early-going Sonics, but I know Bob Rule was quite good in his day.  And, from the looks of things, he NEVER made the playoffs in his 8 seasons in the league.

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I likewise don’t have a great handle on all the Husky teams throughout the ages, but there’s one name that can’t be denied.  He might be the greatest Husky football player who ever lived.  At the very least, we’re talking about a guy in the Top 5 or Top 10 in all time Huskies.  Of course, I’m talking about Jake Locker.

When you think of great Husky teams, I’m sure you think of the Don James era.  Maybe you think about some of those teams in the 1920s, or the Jim Owens era if you’re real old school.  If you’re some young punk idiot, you’ll think about a couple of those Neuheisel teams, because those are the years I attended the university.  The point is, there are PLENTY of great Husky teams to choose from.  As there are PLENTY of great Husky players to choose from.

But, when you think of truly terrible Husky teams, you think of every season after the Neuheisel era.  You think of Gilby and Willingham.  You think of 2008 and 0-12.  And, of course, you have to think about Jake Locker.

Now, obviously, if we’re talking about one of the greatest Husky football players of all time, then you know we’re talking about teams that were terrible in spite of their leader!  Nevertheless, in his first two years, the Huskies were 4-9 and 0-12 before Willingham was rightfully fired.  That’s a disgrace!  How could you possibly draw in a player SO GOOD, and end up with records so poor?  Well, of course, Locker was hurt for much of that 0-12 campaign (that really seemed to drag on and on and on until the end of time; if there is a Hell, it’s forever sitting in the freezing nosebleed seats at the end of October, 2008, as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish trounce your home team 33-7), but that’s neither here nor there.

Locker never had the talent around him.  Period.  Even when Sark came aboard, there was little hope.  You can’t turn around a program this inept in one or two years.  Locker’s third season was a marked improvement, but the Huskies were still only good enough to finish 5-7, bringing his 3-year record to 9-28.  Finally, though, in his Senior season, through the sheer force of Locker’s will, the Huskies made it back to a bowl game and kicked the asses of the Cornhuskers.  A 7-6 final season brought Locker’s total record to 16-34, which makes me weep a little on the inside.  Deep down, where I’m soft like a woman.

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Upon conception of this post idea, it was supposed to center around Felix Hernandez.  I decided to broaden the scope and include other sports, so I reached out to some friends to give me ideas on other elite players who have been banished to terrible teams throughout their careers.  So, let’s get it on.

A lot of people feel sorry for Larry Fitzgerald, but let’s face it, if you’ve ever played in a Super Bowl, you’re disqualified (I don’t care HOW terrible his quarterbacks have been since Kurt Warner retired).  So, forget about him, and start getting a huge sad sack boner over Steven Jackson.  Nine years in the league to date, all with St. Louis.  In his first season (2004), the Rams made the playoffs (remember the game where they beat the Seahawks in the Wild Card round?) and won a single game before losing the following week.  At that time, Jackson was sharing the load with the legendary Marshall Faulk, so he didn’t even get a full allotment of carries in his lone post-season appearance!

In a real oddity, the Rams for Jackson’s entire career (including 2004) have never had a winning record.  At best, they’ve been 8-8 (twice); at worst, they’ve been 1-15 (once) and 2-14 (twice).  His total record in the NFL is 44-99-1.  His stats to date are:  10,135 yards, 56 touchdowns, 407 receptions, 3,324 receiving yards, 8 receiving touchdowns, in 131 total games.  My hunch:  we’re talking about a guy who will be in the Hall of Fame one day.  And it’s only now, as he’s signed with the Atlanta Falcons, where he will finally get a real taste of the post-season life.  Even then, nothing is guaranteed in the NFL.  I generally dislike the teams in Seattle’s division and the players on those teams, but Steven Jackson is one of the good ones.  If it weren’t a foregone conclusion that the Seahawks are going all the way this year, I’d root like crazy for Jackson and the Falcons.

Next on my list of the parade of the damned, we’ve got probably my favorite running back of all time:  Barry Sanders.  Ye GODS, was he spectacular!  Hands down, probably my favorite player to watch play the game of football.  He lasted 10 years, all with Detroit, before retiring at an age where he probably – if he wanted to – could have continued his career.  I mean, in his final season, he ran for 1,491 yards!  In his next-to-last season, he ran for over 2,000 yards!  If that’s not a guy who’s still in the prime of his life, I don’t know what to tell you.

The Detroit Lions, in his time, were consistently mediocre.  78-82.  Yes, they made the playoffs in five of his ten seasons, but they were never really CONTENDERS.  And, not for nothing, but the Lions’ playoff record in his tenure was 1-5; yes, they lost their first game 4 out of the 5 times his Lions made the playoffs.  Remember these names:  Rodney Peete, Dave Krieg, Scott Mitchell, Charlie Batch.  These are just a few of the quarterbacks who did little more than hand the ball off to Sanders and watch him try to carry the team into the playoffs.

OK, one more player before I finish for the day and continue this post later.  O.J. Simpson.  He IS a Hall of Famer!  He played in 11 seasons throughout the late 60s and all of the 70s, 9 of them in Buffalo before finishing his career in San Francisco (before they were SAN FRANCISCO).  In that time, Simpson played in exactly one playoff game, in 1974, against the Steelers, where they lost 32-14.  He ran it 15 times for 49 yards with another 3 receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown.  Those are the entirety of his playoff numbers.  Little did the world know then just what kind of an asshole he would become, but at the time of his retirement, I suppose you had to feel sorry for the guy.

To be continued …

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