The newspaper story instigating today’s blog post was a column by noted L.A. sports writer Bill Plaschke, who casts Superbowl 48 as a clash between good and evil, light and darkness, Darth Vader versus Prince Valliant; with Denver as good and light, and Seattle as dark and evil. Huh?
If ever there was a case of a guy being brainwashed by the very last thing he’s heard — in this case, no doubt Plaschke viewing the Richard Sherman rant on national TV — this is it.
Superbowls bring out the best and worst in sports writers looking for handy and clever metaphors to paint a simple and compelling story for fans. They have two long weeks in which to produce copy. Plaschke’s article works if you don’t know much about Seattle or the Seahawks. Otherwise, it’s a lot of nonsense. Read it, and enjoy.
Like Plaschke, I too want to write a ying-yang, dialectic piece about the upcoming Superbowl; but rather than another Bronco-Seahawk side-by-side, I prefer comparing the 2005 and 2013 Seahawk teams, the only two editions of the franchise to reach the Superbowl.
For Seattleites like me (I lived in or near Seattle for 33 years), understanding why the 2013 football team is receiving enormous respect nationally, compared with the 2005 club, is more interesting than yet another orange versus teal or John Denver versus Jimmy Hendrix face-off.
Seattleites are an insecure lot. They aren’t sure they are a “major league” city (or even want to be one). But they get upset when not treated like one of the big dogs. In particular, they believe their sports teams are not taken very seriously.
Some of this is a collective emotional problem warranting therapy; maybe a form of mass seasonal affective disorder (SAD). But some of those beliefs have a solid basis in reality. Seattle is, indeed, in the lonely upper left hand corner of the continent; one of several reasons why Boeing moved its headquarters to Chicago. But wait, after the Trans Pacific Trade Agreement passes, Seattle will be at the center of that new trans national universe, with Chicago in the boonies.
As I mentioned, some of the disrespect, even disdain, for Seattle sports teams is real and understandable. For example, why should the rest of the country respect the George Karl 1990s Supersonics teams, and the self destruction of that mini (regular season) dynasty?
Those (first place) Seattle NBA teams lost two first round playoff series against pathetic #8 seeds, the first time highlighted by Dikembe Mutombo writhing in ecstasy at center court in Seattle’s arena. What an embarrassment! The second time, they were mugged by a mediocre, Vlady Divac led Laker team.
Even in 1996 when the Sonics eventually made it to the NBA finals against the Chicago Bulls, comporting themselves well in a six game series, they were almost beaten in the first round by a miserable Sacramento Kings squad. They were “this close” to a humiliation trifecta.
After holding their own against the Bulls, the Sonics were poised to challenge Chicago’s dominance. But the front office pulled off one of the worst deals in Seattle sports history, giving the unproven Jim McAllvaine a $33 million contract, while refusing to re-negotiate with team MVP Shawn Kemp. The franchise collapsed from there. You can trace the lineage, from that deal to the creation of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Why should the rest of the country have respected the Seattle NBA franchise?
There are other examples of Seattle sports teams not taken seriously by the rest of the country, but where the slights where truly unfair and unjust. One case was the remarkable 2001 Seattle Mariner baseball team, which won a record 116 games, led by Ichiro. That’s an astonishing feat. Yet, no one remembers them. Barely two books were written about that team, both by obscure local sports writers. Can you imagine how many books would have been penned and monuments erected had this been accomplished in New York, L.A., Chicago, Boston? Even if these franchises, like the Mariners, had lost in the post season, the paeans would still be pouring out today. Winning 116 games is really sick. Nothing accomplished over a 162 game season can reasonably be considered a fluke, but was by the rest of the country.
Then there are the 2005 Seattle Seahawks. (Now we’re getting closer to the real topic). That team was 13-3; it boasted the league’s most valuable player (Shaun Alexander, who set many rushing records that year), and was coached by Mike Holmgren, who will likely be inducted into the Canton, Ohio Hall of Fame sometime soon. He had previously won a superbowl with the Green Bay Packers, and gave a lot of credibility, or so it seemed, to the Seahawks. That 2005 team also had the best offensive line in football. Arguably one of the best ever, with one Hall of Famer, Walter Jones, and seven time pro bowler Steve Hutchinson, who may also make it to Canton Ohio.
But this fine professional football team was never in the national lime light. No one but maybe John Clayton style wonks and other professors of the game, mentioned them much all season long, on their way to a 13-3 record. That really annoyed Seattlites; and they were right to feel disrespected.
I vividly recall listening to sports talk in L.A. and San Diego in 2005. (We had a second home in southern California which I visited often in those years). You could literally go thru an entire four hour dialogue ranging from high school basketball scores through soccer and motor cross discussions, and finally to the Chargers, still without hearing a peep about the first place Seattle Seahawks.
Then, when that 2005 Seahawk team clinched a berth in Superbowl 40, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle’s Rodney Dangerfields really had something to cry about.
The long two weeks prior to the Big Game in Detroit was a national tribute to Jerome Bettis, a good Steeler running back, and a fine NFL citizen, with a nice thirteen year career who would be retiring after Superbowl 40. Everyone outside Seattle, including the news media, was unabashedly rooting for Bettis and Pittsburgh. Bettis was good, and deserved honors, but he was no Jim Brown, Gayle Sayers or Walter Payton. Meanwhile Seahawk MVP running back, Shaun Alexander, had just set records that Bettis never approached at any time in his career. Yet, all I heard on talk radio in California in January 2006 was about how grand it would be if Bettis won a superbowl ring in his final game. I never begrudged him that.
To the rest of the country the Seahawks were to the Steelers what the Washington Generals were to the Harlem Globe Trotters. Or what Arnold (“Golden Boy”) Skoland was to Antonino Rocca in pro wrestling: Foils and patsies.
You think that’s whiney, exaggerated, and delusional? Not if you watched the ensuing big game in Detroit, with critical calls that negated touchdowns and long gains for the Seahawks. The Seahawks didn’t have much to show for outplaying the Steelers over 60 minutes. That remains the single worst officiated post season football game I have ever seen. A lot of people, including the officals crew chief for that game, a Mr. Leavey, practically said so later, and apologized. Mr. Plaschke would call me a whiner if he deigned to read this article.
But things are much different now for the 2013 Seahawks. Even if most of the country winds up rooting for the team from John Denver, Rocky Mountain High Country or finds many Broncos more likeable than Richard Sherman, the 2013 edition of the Seahawks doesn’t lack respect or notoriety. They are taken very seriously. What happened?
Its not that the City of Seattle is better liked or respected than it was in 2005. Since then, Seattle has identified itself even more closely with one side of our national culture war, so it probably has more supporters, but also more ardent detractors today. Practically everyone agrees it continues to be so obsessed with correctness, process, and inclusion, that it’s remarkable it has remained in at least the second tier of major league cities, with occasional flirtations with the first.
No, the 2013 Seahawks are respected and notorious because of who they are. And probably a lot more likeable than Bill Plaschke knows or understands. They are respected and even likeable because they are fearless, charismatic, unscripted, electric, confident, cool, edgy, sometimes brutal, and not always nice. Its about time.
Part II of this post (forthcoming, and scheduled for July 24th) will detail some of the most pertinent comparisons between the two Seahawk Superbowl teams, In the mean time, read one of the many (new) short biographies of Richard Sherman and his accomplishments. Tell me if you think everyone on the Broncos, including the front office, not just Michael Crabtree, might possibly be mediocre in comparison with Richard. In fact, most of us reading this blog are mediocre in comparison. Will be back tomorrow with Part II.