There’s this thing about pain. Once you feel it, the normal response is to avoid doing whatever caused it in the first place. That sense is a survival mechanism. It’s disturbing to encounter people without it.
For most of the past six years, Seattle sports fans have protected themselves appropriately. You’ve hoped for the best from your teams, but you stopped short of believing. Because you know pain. And in 2008, when virtually the entire local sports scene went kaput, you experienced the worst pain.
You shut down. You doubted. You set personal records for cynicism. After a year in which the Mariners lost 101 games, the Seahawks finished 4-12 while saying goodbye to Mike Holmgren, the Washington football team went winless and the Sonics posted a franchise-worst 20-62 record and then relocated to Oklahoma City, you knew blind faith was a delusional reaction. That would’ve been masochistic. Reality was, the city faced a long, widespread rebuilding effort.
But slowly, progress was made. Then the Seahawks completed a fabulous 2013 season by winning the Super Bowl six months ago. And now, it’s not so dangerous to allow the B-word into your hearts again.
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Eight and a half months into a banner Seattle sports year, it has become plausible not just to dream, but to expect. The rampant rebuilding is over. Most every major local team is amid a period of contention.
The Seahawks are the new standard in the NFL. The Mariners are 10 games above .500 for the first time in seven years and in prime position to make the postseason as a wild card. The Sounders, still just six seasons old, are the best team in the MLS, and they have an opportunity to complete a trifecta of dominance: U.S. Open Cup championship, Supporters’ Shield (for best regular season record) and MLS Cup championship.
The Washington football team has been to four straight bowl games, and now the Huskies have Chris Petersen, a man with an .885 career winning percentage, as their head coach. Washington State is coming off its first bowl appearance in 10 years, and as the Cougars enter Year 3 of Mike Leach’s tenure, they’re getting closer to becoming the advertised offensive juggernaut that can sustain success.
You want more? The Reign FC, of the fledgling National Women’s Soccer League, lost just once in the regular season and boasts some of the sport’s most recognizable stars in Hope Solo, Sydney Leroux and Megan Rapinoe.
The Storm, at 12-20, is the only major local team that has had a losing record so far in 2014. But they’re playing without superstar forward Lauren Jackson, and they’ve long been the most consistent team in the city, with 10 straight playoff appearances and WNBA titles in 2004 and 2010. Despite their struggles, they have yet to be eliminated from playoff contention with two games remaining in the regular season.
Overall, it has been one of the most memorable and successful Seattle sports years ever, and there’s still plenty to play for in the fall and winter. There could be multiple pro soccer championships. The Seahawks have a roster capable of becoming the first repeat Super Bowl champion in 10 years. The Huskies could be a Top 25 team all season, and the Cougars should be good again.
But the Mariners probably have the most to gain, at least in terms of respectability. It has been 13 years since they last made the playoffs, with that remarkable 116-win season. Their drought has been ugly and frustrating, and it has torn apart what had become a strong baseball community.
This feels like the beginning of an exciting new era, however. The Mariners have captivating superstars in Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano. They have an overpowering pitching staff on pace to become the first American League team in 40 years to post a sub-3.00 ERA over a full season. And they’re mostly a young team that should stay together for a while.
The Mariners just completed a perception-altering homestand. They won eight of nine games, performed well in front of some big crowds and left fans talking about how much fun they had at the ballpark. Many have expressed that they haven’t felt like this about the Mariners in more than a decade. The ice is thawing. Trust is slowly developing.
The Mariners have to take this as far as they can. They can’t fade down the stretch. They’re close to eliminating so much of the skepticism that has plagued the franchise.
Six years ago, it hurt so bad and with such persistence that you had to laugh to avoid crying. Now, the limits have expanded, and the bar has been raised for every team. The NBA remains a void, but you can’t fix everything at once.
You can consider it the “Seahawks Effect”, but in truth, it’s bigger than that. Seattle teams aren’t just feeding off the Seahawks’ mojo. They’re creating their own footprints, and these breakthroughs are the culmination of years of building.
Eventually, there will be more pain. This is sports. Suffering is an inevitable part of the viewing experience.
But so is joy. And after a long wait, it seems you can rejoice in remembering that bliss isn’t just possible. Sometimes, it’s contagious.