Nearly a year and a half ago, I wrote a column about the Seattle sports scene lacking a superstar. The creature was an endangered species in the city. It had gone the way of Randy Johnson’s mullet.
Well, that lament sure became outdated quickly, didn’t it?
Today, Seattle teams are well-stocked with superstars again. They’re everywhere. You can get whiplash looking around at them.
Some have reached this status because of continued excellence (Felix Hernandez, Marshawn Lynch). Some have developed because of their eye-popping talent and swagger (Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas). Some have been drafted (Russell Wilson). And lately, amazingly, some have chosen to come here in the middle of stellar careers (Robinson Cano, Chris Petersen, Clint Dempsey).
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We’re not exactly back in the 1990s, when Ken Griffey Jr., Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Don James, Edgar Martinez, Johnson and others gained international attention. But this current crop is good, and most of the teams are benefiting, and the young Seahawks have an opportunity to set a new standard.
You can almost see that old irrelevance trickling to the bottom of the hourglass now.
Last week, in two epic news conferences, Petersen brought his 92-12 record to Washington, and Cano ditched the New York Yankees’ pinstripes for the Mariners’ trident. Five years ago, when Seattle experienced a woeful 2008 in every major sport, Petersen and Cano would’ve been considered saviors. Now, they’re just high-profile additions to a good thing that’s developing.
They’re not the source of Seattle’s newfound mojo. They’re proof that the mojo exists.
Back when I wrote my “no superstars” column in July 2012, my wife and I were nurturing a 1-month-old son, Miles. I was wondering whose jersey he would want to wear and scratching my head over the limited options.
At the time, the city had several stars, but it was missing a transcendent sports figure with appeal beyond his or her sport. It was missing a rangy sports icon who could brand the city, resonate with the casual fan living thousands of miles away and influence the pursuit of championships.
Many readers bristled that I didn’t already consider Hernandez, the 2010 Cy Young Award winner, in that category. It wasn’t meant to be disrespectful to Hernandez’s talent or his status as perhaps the best pitcher in baseball. But the word “superstar” is given way too easily in sports, and according to my criteria, Hernandez still had some work to do.
1. A superstar must be the best or one of the best at what he does.
2. A superstar must influence winning, or, if he’s on a really bad team, transcend the losing with an undeniable level of dominance that rises above the despair.
3. A superstar must have the Rock Star Factor: far-reaching appeal that goes beyond sports.
In Hernandez’s case, the problem clearly wasn’t on-field performance. It was about the Rock Star Factor, and being on a losing team hindered his ability to captivate a wider audience. It wasn’t his fault, but with that as my criteria, Hernandez had to grade out as an incomplete.
Since then — as I’ve grown older, you know — I’ve loosened my judgment just a tad. And Hernandez has added two more dominant seasons, a perfect game and a $175 million contract to his superstar application. In terms of the Rock Star Factor, he’s not the same kind of superstar as Peyton Manning or Kobe Bryant. But if I don’t recognize that dominating a sport for five straight seasons should outweigh off-the-field hype, then I’m being petty. King Felix, I bow at your throne now.
But as beloved as Hernandez has become, Wilson might soon be the single athlete who defines this city. In July 2012, the Seahawks had just drafted him. On a list of players who could become superstars, I wrote that Wilson’s stately personality and his story would capture attention if he overcame a 5-foot-11 height disadvantage that is now considered overblown.
In actuality, Wilson has become a bigger star even more quickly than imagined. He plays on a team with some of the NFL’s most well-respected players and colorful personalities — Lynch, Thomas and Sherman — but Wilson is the one who charms the most households. He’s the one who plays quarterback, the position that creates the most popularity in all of sports. And he’s the one who handles the fame with admirable class and a civic mentality.
The Seattle sports scene is teeming with possibility again, and it’s no surprise there are many faces attached to this hope. In July 2012, I wrote that Pete Carroll was the biggest name attached to a local sports team. Now, the coach isn’t even the most recognizable figure on his team.
Of course, with great players comes the demand for great results. So, for the next year and a half, the directive is clear.
How about everyone doing what the Seahawks are in the process of doing?
How about taking these superstars and putting together some super teams?
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JerryBrewer