This past month, something has been brewing in the Seattle sports scene. It started in December with an impressive Seahawks overtime victory in Chicago. It grew into a frenzy when the Seahawks won all of their games in December, and it climaxed to a fever pitch as the Seahawks advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs the same week rumors broke about an NBA team returning to Seattle. The Seahawks would go on to lose to Atlanta and the Sonics return is far from a sure thing. But if you’re a Seattle sports fan, you’re used to heartbreak. It’s the sudden burst of optimism that feels strange.
With the exception of the very youngest, every Seattle sports fan around today lived through 2008. It was arguably the worst year in sports for a city ever. The Mariners, Seahawks, SuperSonics and Husky football combined for a dismal .312 winning percentage.
The Mariners were mentioned as contenders at the beginning of the 2008 season, but the only impressive thing about their year was the sheer number of times they lost: 101. They finished in last place in the AL West.
University of Washington football began 2008 with eager anticipation about how good Jake Locker would be going into his second season. They failed to win a game, finishing the season with 12 consecutive losses and earning last place in the Pac 10.
The Seahawks, coming off of four straight division titles and five consecutive playoff appearances, were favorites to capture the NFC West for the fifth year in a row in 2008. Instead, they fell apart, finishing the season at 4-12. A 2-14 season from St. Louis was the only thing that kept them out of last place in the NFC West.
By December, not a single head coach or manager who began the year would be returning. UW coach Tyrone Willingham was fired, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren resigned and the Mariners burned through two different managers. The Sonics outdid every one of the other team’s disasters by ceasing to exist. After a season darkened by rumors of an upcoming departure, in July of 2008 the Sonics officially moved to Oklahoma City. They did make sure to finish the season in last place though, just to keep with the year’s theme.
Sure, teams go through bad seasons. But all of the teams in a city collapsing and burning at once, in a horribly perfect synchronicity? The seasons were not just bad; they were each disastrous. Collectively, they felt apocalyptic. When a city’s sports teams are doing well, there is a certain buzz that emerges, a positive beat that pulses throughout the fan base and spreads to the general population. In 2008, it seemed like that beat was nowhere to be found.
Remarkably though, 2009 began with enthusiasm. Fans had hope that new general manager Jack Zduriencik could save the Mariners, new head coach Steve Sarkisian could save the Huskies and Jim Mora, the man selected to succeed Holmgren, could breathe some life into the Seahawks. Even the Sonics, demoted to just a memory, retained a passionate fan base that held frequent rallies begging the city to bring back an NBA team. That’s the thing about this city – it’s good at hope.
It’s not used to having a lot to be hopeful for, though. In the four seasons since 2008, the Seahawks have only won the NFC West once and that was in 2010 when they sparked national outrage by securing a playoff berth despite the fact that they had a losing record. The Mariners haven’t finished better than third in the AL West. The Huskies at least have earned three straight bowl game appearances, but have not finished with more than seven wins in any of Sarkisian’s four seasons with the team. The Sonics remain gone, and to add insult to injury, the Oklahoma City Thunder have flourished.
However, January of 2013 felt like the beginning of a new era for Seattle sports.
First of all, in just a few short months, the team that has easily been Seattle’s best team since the 2008 meltdown, the Sounders FC, will return to play. In January of 2009, the Sounders began their first season in Seattle as an MLS expansion franchise. They exploded onto the Seattle sports scene, gathering a fiercely dedicated fan base. They reached the MLS playoffs in their first season, and then returned each of the next three for four consecutive playoff berths. The team also captured their third straight U.S. Open Cup in 2011 and won their first playoff series in 2012, although they finished 2012 without winning either the MLS Cup or the U.S. Open Cup. Still, this is a team that’s been consistently good since 2009, and looks to unleash another strong season in 2013 beginning with their home opener on March 2.
Next, one struggling Seattle team made a huge leap in 2012. In the third year of the Pete Carroll regime, it seemed like all of the pieces finally started to fall into place for the Seahawks. The team finished 11-5, their first winning season since 2007. Not one of the team’s losses, including the playoff loss to Atlanta, came by more than seven points. The Seahawks won all of their home games for just the third time in franchise history, won their first road playoff game in almost 30 years and even debuted new uniforms.
This year’s Seahawks were tough, confident and hungry, and the good news is that there is no reason to expect next year’s team will be much different. The Seahawks have the NFL’s seventh-youngest roster and most of their key players are signed through at least 2015, so this is a group of players you can expect to be around for awhile. This team has given Seattle a glimpse of a team that could be championship contenders for several years to come.
When it comes to the NBA, however, most fans would settle for any team, forget about perennial contenders. Ever since investor Chris Hansen pushed forward with a deal to build a new arena in October of 2012, Seattle has been buzzing with a renewed hope that someday there might be a team to play there. On January 9, 2013, rumors broke that a deal to bring the Sacramento Kings to Seattle for the 2013-2014 NBA season is expected to be completed. It is not a sure thing; the Kings ownership group has a history of backing out of deals at the last minute, and any number of factors could prevent or slow the process. However, this is by far the closest Seattle has been to bringing back an NBA team since the Sonics left.
The thought had the entire state whipped into a frenzy over the past few weeks, especially with an NFL playoff game taking place at the same time. The Mariners are still struggling, and questions about UW quarterback Keith Price are causing some concern about the next Husky season. But after a year like 2008, fans learn to take joy in what they have to take joy in. A dominant MLS team, an NFL team in the playoffs and an NBA team possibly returning is enough to create a sort of madness among the city’s sports fans. Most fans still have a bitter taste in their mouth from 2008 and that makes every win for Seattle sports taste a little bit sweeter. This month, this state came alive with sports fever. This was a little glimpse, a sneak preview into what Seattle sports could be. Imagine the Sounders put together another stellar season and an MLS playoff run. Imagine if the Sonics do return, and start playing in Seattle again by the end of 2013. Imagine the Seahawks come out strong in 2013, a young team seasoned with playoff experience that comes back hungrier than ever. 2013 might finally be Seattle’s time, and for once, that hope doesn’t seem so unfounded.