Why Seattle is Sports Hell

UPDATED 2/2/2015:  Oh, that’s right.  I remember now.


January 22, 2011

There’s a popular saying that’s been going around for a while now – possibly created by the Sports Guy, or at least made internationally famous by him – attributed to cities with Down On Their Luck sports teams.  “God Hates _____”.  Like:  God Hates Cleveland, God Hates Philadelphia, God Hates Buffalo, etc.

Well, I’ll tell you what, God doesn’t just hate Seattle; God has rendered Seattle into Sports Hell.  Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here!

As a sports city, I haven’t the foggiest what the nation considers Seattle.  For a while there, it looked like we were going to be considered a Baseball City.  The Mariners had a great run from the mid-90’s through the early 00’s, with a ton of big name stars like Griffey, Randy, Edgar, A-Rod, Ichiro, Sweet Lou; and a plethora of second-tier players who had some big-time seasons.  The crown-jewel of the city, Safeco Field, is one of the best baseball parks in the nation, and for a while there we were raking in big attendance bucks while we made run after run at the AL West title.

But, if you ask the average hardcore sports fan in Seattle, they’d tell you we’re a Football Town through and through.  That starts predominantly with the Washington Huskies, who’ve been our pride and joy for decades.  Husky Stadium, on the edge of Lake Washington, has been notorious for being a tough place to play a football game (especially during the Don James years).  We had some amazing teams in the early part of the 20th century, went through a bit of a lull in the middle decades, and then became a powerhouse from the late 70’s through the early 90’s.  Throughout, we’ve been devout in our Husky pride, and that football fervor spilled over nicely to the NFL team we brought here in 1976.

The Kingdome was a rockin’ place to watch a football game when the Seahawks were good (primarily in the early-to-mid 80’s).  And that notion has only intensified with the advent of Qwest Field in 2002; we’re easily the loudest stadium in the NFL, and the 12th Man has reached epic levels of mystique in our playoff games (we have a 5-1 home record in Qwest — now CenturyLink Field).

But, from a professional sports standpoint, Seattle came into it pretty late in the game.  It’s hard to consider Seattle much of a Football Town based on the Huskies alone, because we’re not really a College Town.  We’re not Ann Arbor, we’re not Tuscaloosa, we’re not Lincoln or Columbus or Gainesville.  We’ve GOT pro sports teams, even if they were brought here in the mid-70’s and haven’t done much of anything since.

Seattle is an enigma.  A painful, tragic enigma.  And we haven’t won a professional sports title in my lifetime.

Our first pro sports team was the Seattle Metropolitans, who played here from 1915 – 1924.  We were the first American team to ever win the Stanley Cup, back in 1917.  We went on to play in two more finals, losing 1, with the other being cancelled thanks to a Spanish flu pandemic with the series tied.  The team and the league they played in folded in 1924; we haven’t had pro hockey here since.

In 1969, the Seattle Pilots were our first Major League baseball team.  We were 64-98, establishing a longstanding tradition of losing baseball in Seattle.  Depressingly, that was our only season before we were stolen by Bud Selig and moved to Milwaukee (establishing a more sinister tradition:  losing entire teams to po-dunk midwestern cities thanks to devious, conniving bastards and overall incompetence).

Two years prior, we got our NBA team, the Seattle Supersonics.  They won their only title in 1979, two years before I was born.  They proceeded to build an exciting, flashy, talented bunch in the early 90’s that culminated in 1996 with defeat to the Chicago Bulls in 6 games in the NBA Championship.  We struggled for a while to retain that glory for the next few years, until we completely fell apart, had our team sold twice, and eventually ripped away to Oklahoma City.  The outlook for getting another NBA team to Seattle is pretty grim at the moment, with nothing on the horizon looking to change that.

What we have left are the Mariners and the Seahawks.  Two teams with one combined appearance in their respective championship games.  The Mariners are one of only a small handful of teams to never make a World Series appearance.  The Seahawks have the pleasure of looking back at our lone Super Bowl appearance and wonder what might have been (mostly wondering what might have been had the refs not had their heads up their asses, and if we’d never stupidly drafted Jerramy Stevens).

It took the Mariners 15 seasons before we posted a winning record.  Only 11 of our 34 seasons have seen us winning more games than losing.  In 2001, we won a major league record-tying 116 games, which was good enough to see us lose to the Yankees in the ALCS in 5 measly games.  Even when we were good, we were collosal disappointments come post-season.  We’re currently embroiled in a tailspin since winning 93 games and finishing 2nd in the AL West in 2003; attendance figures have plummeted, money for player salaries is shrinking, and fan confidence is at an all-time low.  With no hope for winning in sight, baseball in Seattle has become a joke.  Bobblehead dolls and aging erstwhile superstars are bigger draws than the actual team taking the field day-in and day-out.

At least with the Seahawks, it’s not quite so suicidal.  We had our first winning season in year 3, finishing second in the AFC West.  Our first playoff appearance happened 5 years later, where we made it all the way to the AFC Championship game before losing to the hated L.A. Raiders.  In total, we were involved in 7 playoff games in the 80’s, going 3-4.  Things were looking pretty good until 1988, when the team was sold to Ken Behring, who did his damnedest to do what Bud Selig did and what Clay Bennett would eventually do.

He TRIED to move the team to Los Angeles (at the time, L.A. had lost both NFL franchises to other cities), at a similar time as when the Mariners were thinking of making a move to Tampa.  Fortunately, in the mid-90’s, Seattle and the state of Washington had competent leadership who prevented these moves.  However, for the Seahawks, the damage had been done.  From 1989 through 1998, we had exactly one winning season (and a comical number of busted draft picks and free agent signees).  It took the combined efforts of a passionate owner (Paul Allen) and a hall of fame head coach (Mike Holmgren) to turn this franchise around.  In the last decade, we’ve won five division titles and made the playoffs six times (compiling a 6-7 record in the post-season).

Currently, the Seahawks are a rebuilding team (in spite of 2010’s NFC West title with a 7-9 record) with no long-term solution at quarterback in sight.  Nevertheless, the Seahawks remain our only hope for professional sports success.

That still doesn’t change the fact that we don’t currently have a pro franchise who has ever won a championship.  Overall, in the modern era, we can only look back at our NBA title in ’79 and our college football co-title in ’91 with the sort of pride most other sports cities have seen multiple times over.  Seattle has to settle for lesser achievements.  The breathtaking Game 5 in the ALDS in ’95 against the Yankees.  The bitter disappointment at our fortunes in Super Bowl XL.  The major league record in wins in 2001 that was all for naught.  A 6-6 bowl appearance (and shocking win) by our 2010 Huskies two seasons after going 0-12 and being the worst major college football team in all of Division I.  A few Sweet 16 appearances by our college basketball team led by Lorenzo Romar.

You could compare our overall misfortunes to the likes of Cleveland and make a decent case for Seattle not being quite so bad; but no city ever had to endure the likes of our 2008.

After four straight playoff appearances, the Seahawks fell apart, winning only 4 games and seeing our division rival Arizona make their first Super Bowl (losing to the hated Pittsburgh Steelers, who beat us three years prior).  Meahwhile, the Mariners totally imploded amid a crumbling clubhouse atmosphere, being the first team with a $100 million payroll to lose over 100 games (101).  As I mentioned above, the Husky football team went 0-12 thanks to Tyrone Willingham’s utter indifference for recruiting and mind-boggling incompetence as a head coach on Saturday afternoons.  The 2007-2008 Husky basketball team underachieved their way to a 16-17 finish (good for 8th in the Pac-10) and a first round loss in the third-best NCAA post-season basketball tournament (the College Basketball Invitational, which takes the 16 teams NOT picked for the NCAA Tourney or the NIT).

All of that failure couldn’t even begin to outweigh the outright torture of losing the Seattle Supersonics on July 2nd.  Our only winner.  The only team we could look back at with fondness for having brought a championship to Seattle.

No, 2008 has never and will never happen to another city the way 2008 went down for Seattle.  You think Cleveland has it bad?  At least they still have three pro sports teams.

And at least they have a long history.  Seattle doesn’t enjoy the same hardcore lifestyle others do on the east coast.  We don’t have multiple generations of fans living here.  Our Mariners and Seahawks have only been here for a little over 30 years, each season ending in defeat.  Not only do we employ terrible teams, but as a city we’re not taken seriously from a national perspective.  Our fans are considered less passionate, less knowledgable, the epitome of Bandwagon.  Combine that with the fact that we’re located all the way up here in the Pacific Northwest:  when we’re not regarded in a negative light, we’re hardly regarded at all.

That’s why Seattle is Sports Hell.  And until a miracle transpires, with either the Mariners or Seahawks bringing home a trophy, Seattle will always be Sports Hell.  From the looks of things, it’s going to be a long wait.  I just hope it happens in my lifetime.  I understand how rare and precious a championship is – believe me, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to learn this lesson!  If God really does hate Seattle, then He’s got to hate me specifically, because it looks like I’m doomed to root for losers until the day I die.

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