After a thorough review, one thing is clear: Evaluating the year in Seattle sports is no easy task. A WNBA championship, an epic collapse, a resurgent giant and a heartwarming summer celebration. And much more.
You are the emperor of Seattle sports, and you’re standing with your arm extended and thumb facing sideways. Your task is to evaluate 2018, which you can either praise with a thumbs up or condemn with a thumbs down.
Unfortunately, this is no easy decision. The year was complex — replete with triumph, tragedy, failure and success. So you decide to give it a thorough review, starting with the Seahawks.
When it became clear that Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril would no longer play in Seattle, the season seemed doomed. And when Earl Thomas broke his leg and flipped off his sideline, it looked to be downright disastrous. But then something happened. Supporting actors turned into leading men. The running game surged back to the top of the NFL, and now the Seahawks are back in the playoffs when few thought they could.
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No, the star power from the Super Bowl days isn’t there. But when you take Pro Bowlers such as Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner and mix them with the likes of Chris Carson, Tyler Lockett, Frank Clark, Jarran Reed, Bradley McDougald and Michael “Big Balls” Dickson, among others, the blueprint for sustained success is there.
You’re pleased with this, and your thumb moves 10 degrees upward as a result. Then you think about the Mariners. Whoops.
The first half of the M’s season was among the most surprising in sports. Estimated to win fewer than 80 games, they surged to 55-31 in early July and held a 7.5-game lead over Oakland. James Paxton pitched a no-hitter. Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, Nelson Cruz and Edwin Diaz made the All-Star Game. Even with Robinson Cano serving an 80-game suspension due to a failed drug test, Safeco Field became Seattle’s epicenter.
Then came the quake.
The Mariners’ lead in the wild-card race vanished amid an epic collapse. The once-revered Felix Hernandez was relegated to the bullpen as Oakland secured the last wild-card spot. By mid-September, Seattle’s playoff drought had been officially extended to 17 years. By December, the roster had been officially decimated.
Was a tear-down necessary to build a future contender? Yes. Is it possible they’ll still miss the playoffs in each of the next 10 years? Definitely. Your thumb goes 10 degrees downward, then you move on to Huskies football.
It’s quite possible expectations were higher for the Dawgs in 2018 than they’ve been since the turn of the century. It’s equally possible the game against Auburn in Atlanta was the most hyped opener in program history.
That’s why the first couple months of the season felt like a three-punch combo from Roy Jones Jr. Losses to Auburn, Oregon and Cal? Pulling four-year starter Jake Browning before a crucial pick-six? What was going on?
Turns out it was just a setup for one of the more dramatic late-season runs Washington has made. The Huskies won their next four games — including the Apple Cup over Washington State in a snowstorm — to reach their first Rose Bowl since the 2000 season.
Running back Myles Gaskin will leave as the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns. Browning will leave as the tops in passing yards and TD throws. The defense was among the best in the country, and the recruiting class was coach Chris Petersen’s best yet. Your thumb moves up again.
Then you think about the Storm, and it moves higher.
Based on what she accomplished in college, it seemed inevitable Breanna Stewart would take over the WNBA one day. But for it to happen in her third year in the league was a more-than-pleasant surprise for this city. Averaging 21.8 points, and 8.4 rebounds and shooting .529 from the field, “Stewie” cruised to WNBA MVP honors for the 26-8 Storm. Forget about the regular season, though.
The Storm’s run to its first league championship since 2010 turned all eyes toward KeyArena in September. The Game 5 win over Phoenix in the semifinals was one of the best basketball games ever played in the venue. Sue Bird’s 35-foot bank shot in Game 2 of the Finals might have been the best of her career.
And considering Stewart, Bird, Jewell Loyd and Natasha Howard will all be back in 2019, the Storm could win again.
This makes you happy. So does the fact the Washington softball team made it to the championship round of the College World Series before falling to Florida State. And so does the fact the Washington baseball team made it to Omaha for the first time in program history.
Sure, you get bummed when you think about the Sounders losing to Portland in what might have been the most dramatic playoff game they’ve played — especially after their record-setting second half just to reach the postseason. But then you remember we’re getting a hockey team!
Yes, in early December the NHL approved an expansion team for Seattle. The winter sports void that’s needled this city since the Sonics left 10 years ago will soon be filled.
At this point, you wonder how 2018 can be seen as anything but a rousing sports success. And then you remember what was lost.
In October, Seahawks owner Paul Allen — the man who might have saved the franchise — succumbed to cancer. You didn’t see him much, but in addition to being one of the world’s leading philanthropists, Allen’s role in luring Pete Carroll to town was instrumental to the organization’s Super Bowl run.
In December, inaugural Sounders coach Sigi Schmid passed away due to a personal health issue. Not only did Schmid lead Seattle to the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons, he was among the most influential soccer coaches in United States history.
And though it wasn’t specifically tied to Seattle, it’s hard not to think about Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski, who took his own life in January. That’s difficult to process even 11 months later.
Still, Allen’s death reminded people of just how far charity can go. Schmid’s death reminded people of how instrumental he was in growing soccer in this country. And the extent the Washington State community went to preserve Hilinski’s memory was touching no matter which team you pulled for. Some good came out of all three.
A pessimist certainly could look at 2018 as a failure, but you know better.
You remember the smiles on the athletes’ faces when the Special Olympics came to town in July.
You remember the elation one-handed linebacker Shaquem Griffin showed when the Seahawks drafted and reunited him with his twin brother Shaquill.
You remember Washington guard Dominic Green’s buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat Arizona, the Seattle U women’s basketball team making the NCAA tournament, and Diaz collecting a ridiculous 57 saves.
Yes, Seattle had to say goodbye to Clint Dempsey, who retired after one of the most distinguished careers in U.S. soccer history. And five-star linebacker Ale Kaho heading to Alabama after asking for his release from Washington rankled more than a few Huskies fans.
Ultimately, though, 2018 was a successful sports year in Seattle. No choice but to give it a thumbs up.
Top stories of 2018
In chronological order
— Jan. 16: WSU quarterback Tyler Hilinski dies from suicide.
— March 12: The Seattle University women’s basketball team reaches the NCAA tournament for the first time.
— March-May: After struggling in his return to the Mariners, Ichiro is taken off the roster and named an assistant to the general manager.
— May 8: Canadian James Paxton pitches the sixth no-hitter in Mariners history, shutting down the Blue Jays in Toronto.
— May 15: Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano is suspended 80 games for violating MLB’s drug policy.
— June: The Washington softball team reaches the Women’s College World Series final before being swept by Florida State.
— June: The Washington baseball team reaches the College World Series for the first time before being eliminated by Oregon State.
— June-October: The Sounders win 14 of their final 16 games to earn their 10th consecutive trip to the playoffs.
— July 1-6: All expectations are exceeded as 4,000 athletes and coaches from 50 states and the District of Columbia compete in the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.
— July 7: The Seawolves beat Glendale (Colo.) 23-19 to win the inaugural Major League Rugby title.
— July 25: The Seattle Times reports Mariners executives, including current CEO and president Kevin Mather, faced workplace complaints, and three women received settlements.
— July-September: Seahawks safety Earl Thomas holds out in search of a new contract, returns for the season opener and suffers season-ending broken leg vs. Arizona.
— July-December: The Mariners blow a 7.5-game wild-card lead over Oakland and miss the postseason for a 17th consecutive year, then trade stars Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, James Paxton and Jean Segura for prospects.
— Sept. 12: Led by Finals and league MVP Breanna Stewart, the Storm sweeps Washington 3-0 to win the WNBA title.
— Sept. 13: Garfield, which won the Class 3A championship in March, announces boys basketball coach Brandon Roy is “stepping away” from the job, and several star players transfer to other schools.
— September-November: The UW football team enters the season with College Football Playoff expectations but suffers three losses before rallying to reach Pac-12 title game and earn a Rose Bowl berth.
— September-December: WSU football is picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 North but wins a school-record 11 games, including the Alamo Bowl over Iowa State.
— September-December: After turning over their roster and parting with stars from Super Bowl teams, the Seahawks make a largely unexpected playoff run.
— Oct. 15: Seahawks owner Paul Allen dies at age 65 after battling cancer.
— Nov. 21: The Gonzaga men’s basketball team beats No. 1 Duke, then takes over the top spot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
— November-December: After being fired, Dr. Lorena Martin is fired as director of high performance, accuses the Mariners of racism and sexism and files a lawsuit. The Mariners call the accusations false.
— Dec. 4: The NHL awards a franchise to Seattle after an agreement to renovate KeyArena is finalized.
— Dec. 25: Former Sounders coach Sigi Schmid dies at age 65.