My ears have been burning lately. No doubt so have Pete Carroll’s, Matt Hassellbeck’s, Charlie Whitehurst’s, and the ears belonging to every player on the Seattle Seahawks, and all of their fans, ever since the Seattle Seahawks became the losingest winning team in NFL history last Sunday night. With their victory over the St. Louis Rams, the Seahawks landed the NFC West Championship, and therefore a playoff berth, with a paltry 7-9 record. Needless to say, the response has widely been disbelief, mixed with joy or anger, depending on who you ask. We embrace the joy. And the anger? Yeah, we understand that.
I grew up, primarily, a baseball fan, and thus, a Seattle Mariners fan. Sure, I have always been a Seahawks “fan,” but for my formative years I can’t claim to have paid much attention to them (and who can blame me). Increasingly, over the past years, it became hard to ignore how conveniently football filled the MLB off-season, how many family members, friends and potential dates loved the game and imparted their knowledge and enthusiasm, how much damn fun it was to scream at the screen, to partake in the event that is Watching The Super Bowl. Thus, a “fan” turned into a fan.
It didn’t take long to realize that being a Seattle Seahawks fan is much like being a Seattle Mariner fan, is much like being a fan of any professional athletics team in Seattle. It is an act of love, an act of hope, but perhaps, most of all, an act of masochism.
Think life is rough when you lose a playoff berth to the losingest winning team in the NFL? Try being the winningest losing team in baseball. Did you honestly forget the 2001 Seattle Mariners? The team that won a 95-year-old-record-tying 116 games in a season, only to fizzle out, not even in the World Series, but in the ALCS? I suppose I can’t blame you if you did forget, because there are times when we’d rather forget that, too.
But lest you worry that I am turning this into a baseball post, never fear. The Mariners aren’t the only pro sports team in Seattle to be ditched at the dance. Surely you can’t have forgotten the 2006 Superbowl? AKA “Superbowl Ex-Hell,” where the best in the NFC Seahawks lost to the wildcard Steelers? The one where ESPN readers voted that bad calls affected the outcome of the game? The bad calls that have, apparently, caused referee Bill Leavy his fair share of sleepless nights and guilt, prompting him to apologize to the team just this year? It’s understandable if you forgot that one, too, because we’d like to be able to. Except for the Rolling Stones. That was cool.
Also, let’s not forget that the NFC West Champion Seahawks lost to the wildcard .500 record Rams, our erstwhile recent foes, in 2004.
Are there individual sports teams more tragic? Sure. But as a city, we are cursed, to the extent that even our winning teams somehow lose in the end. What happens to them? Oh, they die.
The Metropolitans, Seattle’s pro ice hockey team were actually the first American team to bring home the Stanley Cup, which they did in 1917. They disbanded seven years later.
The SuperSonics, Seattle’s NBA team, won the NBA Championship in 1979 (three years after the Seahawks had been born, two years after the Mariners). In 2008 they moved all the way to Oklahoma hoping to escape the curse.
The women, it seems, may be immune. The Storm, Seattle’s WNBA team, have won championships in 2004 and 2010, and have somehow managed to stick around.
Clearly, we’re not the type of crowd you’d expect to be sports fanatics. But that’s exactly what makes Seattle’s fanaticism so great, and perhaps, so fervent. In some way, perhaps we love sports precisely because those guys on the field aren’t us, because we want to taste the other side of the coin, because underneath our shy, polite exteriors, there are ravenous beasts, a Lou Pinella hat dance or base kick waiting for a reason to be unleashed. Why else do you think the “12th man” factor at Qwest would be so high?
So there were, technically, better teams that didn’t make it to the playoffs. It should be eminently clear that we can empathize with you, Tampa Bay Buccanners and New York Giants fans. We really can.
Go ahead, make fun of us, tell us we have no chance of beating the Saints tomorrow. We’ll listen to you, some of us may even agree with you. But you can’t tell us not to hope. And you certainly won’t be getting any apologies. Because, in the immortal words of Charlie Whitehurst, “Anything can happen.” That’s what makes sports, especially professional sports, so great. And so heartbreaking.