Suddenly, the NFL MVP race isn’t only down to two legitimate candidates, but it’s one in which there is a clear leader — Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Jackson’s stunning five-TD performance against the Rams on Monday night made him an even bigger favorite for the award to most of observers as well as those who’ll gladly take your money for the pleasure of wanting to gamble on it. Odds of Jackson winning are minus-200, meaning you’d have to bet $200 on Jackson to earn $100.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is next at plus-270 (meaning, a $100 bet gets you $270 profit), and Houston QB is Deshaun Watson third at plus-1,000, with everyone else a pretty big longshot.
And Jackson could take another big step toward earning MVP honors Sunday when Baltimore hosts San Francisco, a game-of-the-year type of matchup featuring a QB having one of the best seasons in recent league history against a pass defense that advanced metrics declare is one of the best in the past three decades or so.
That could leave Wilson even farther on the outside looking in, though he’ll have a chance to make a case in front of a national audience Monday night against the Vikings in a tantalizing matchup of teams that are 9-2 and 8-3.
And though Jackson might be hard to beat out for the award, any votes he doesn’t get would almost certainly go to Wilson, who has never before received an NFL MVP vote but is in the midst of an MVP-worthy season. He’s tied with Jackson with 24 touchdown passes and has thrown just three interceptions, the third-lowest interception percentage in the league, while having led four fourth-quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives, both the most in the NFL. Also, just think where Seattle’s season would be without Wilson — 6-5 or 5-6 instead of 9-2?
Wilson being in the MVP discussion got us thinking about some of the best individual seasons in Seattle team sports history.
That’s obviously a broad question, so for the sake of some brevity, as well as making as fair of a comparison as possible, I decided to confine this to what have been the five major pro sports teams in our area with some sustained history — Seahawks, Mariners, Sonics, Sounders (MLS version) and Storm.
I also decided to confine the list to players who received votes for either MVP, or more position-specific awards such as the Cy Young Award in baseball or Defensive Player of the Year in football.
And 12, for some reason, seemed like a fitting number. So here we go, one man’s list of the 12 most valuable individual seasons in Seattle pro sports history.
1. Randy Johnson, Mariners, 1995: In a year when the team had to win to stay in town and Ken Griffey Jr. missed three months because of injury, it was maybe the best pitching season in Mariners history by Johnson that kept things afloat. (Edgar Martinez played his role, too, and we’ll get to him in a minute.) The Mariners won 27 of Johnson’s 30 starts, and he won the American League Cy Young with an 18-2 record. He also had the highest WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of anyone in the AL at 8.6.
2. Ichiro, Mariners, 2001/2004: I’ll cheat a little here to acknowledge that Ichiro’s 2004 season and hits record of 262 is his greatest statistical season and probably the best in Seattle sports history. But the Mariners’ 63-99 record dulls the shine a little. So I’d side with 2001, when he won MVP and Rookie of the Year honors as Seattle went 116-46.
3. Shaun Alexander, Seahawks, 2005: Maybe we should add Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson to this, too, as the best left side of the line in team history helped pave the way for Alexander’s record-breaking season. But it was Alexander who got the MVP award, the only one earned by a Seahawk, for setting a league record with 27 rushing touchdowns.
4. Ken Griffey Jr. 1997: The Kid had a lot of good years. But this was the year he won his only MVP as the Mariners won their second division title and he finished with 56 homers and 147 RBI.
5. Kenny Easley, Seahawks, 1984: Easley didn’t get any MVP votes in a year when Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino shattered the record book. But he did win NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in picking off 10 passes (tied for a team record) as Seattle had a team-record 63 forced turnovers, which remains second in NFL history. The Seahawks finished 12-4, still tied for the team’s second-best record.
6. Edgar Martinez, 1995: Martinez finished third in the AL MVP balloting and had a league-leading average of .356 and OPS of 1.107, both career highs. Baseball doesn’t stay in Seattle without him, either.
7. Gary Payton, Sonics, 1998: Payton consistently earned MVP votes in the ’90s. But 1998 was his highest finish at third as he led Seattle to 61 wins in the season after Shawn Kemp had been traded, averaging 19.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 8.3 assists. It was the highest MVP finish for any Sonic.
8. Jack Sikma, Sonics, 1979: The Sonics’ lone NBA title was a true team effort. Sikma got the most MVP votes, though, finishing seventh, in a year in which he led the NBA in defensive win shares (as tabulated by Basketball Reference) at 5.7.
9. Breanna Stewart, Storm, 2018: Hard to do better than winning the MVP award in a season your team wins it all. She scored a career-high 21.8 points per game.
10. Kasey Keller, Sounders, 2011: In the team’s early MLS years, Keller returned home to give the team some of the best goalkeeping in the league. In 2011, Keller won Goalkeeper of the Year honors in leading the Sounders to the second-best record in the Western Conference.
11. Lauren Jackson, Storm, 2010: Jackson won three MVP awards. But this was the year when, like Stewart, she won the award in a year when her team won it all.
12. Alex Rodriguez, Mariners, 2000: Maybe because of his ugly departure, this is an easy season to overlook. But in the year after Griffey was traded, A-Rod led the Mariners to within a game of the World Series, and his 10.4 WAR is actually the highest of his career (Mariners or otherwise) and the best in Mariners history, though he was third in the MVP voting. A-Rod’s 1996 season when he was second in MVP voting deserves mention, too.
If we’d included the Huskies, three in the “pro sports era” stand out — Steve Emtman finishing fourth in the Heisman balloting in 1991 (the highest for any UW player) in the year UW won the national title; Kelsey Plum winning the AP Women’s Player of the Year award in 2017 when she broke the NCAA’s career scoring mark; and Brandon Roy winning Pac-12 Player of the Year honors and a finalist for national awards in 2006 when UW advanced to the Sweet 16.
A few other quick very-honorable mentions would include: Seahawk Cortez Kennedy winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1992, when the Seattle defense was considered one of the best in the NFL despite a 2-14 record; Seahawk Jim Zorn, who in 1978 actually finished third in the MVP voting behind Terry Bradshaw and Earl Campbell in leading Seattle to a 9-7 record that at the time was the best ever for a third-year NFL expansion team; and Sonic Dennis Johnson, who was fifth in NBA MVP voting in 1980 as Seattle advanced to the conference finals.
Wilson’s 2019 is right there with any of them. But the next five (or six. seven or eight or nine?) games will prove the ultimate tale.