SEATTLE – It’s OK to admit it – Seattle has been a little spoiled lately. At least from a sports standpoint it has been.
From a Super Bowl win to an MLS championship to appearances in the College Football Playoff and the Final Four of the NCAA women’s tournament, this town has spent the past four years shooting our teams back into national prominence.
It’s been fun, right? Especially when you consider that, nine years ago, the Seahawks went 4-12, the UW football team went 0-12 and the Sonics went to Oklahoma City. The only downside is all that success can become addicting – it can lead to a dependency only championships can remedy.
Perhaps that’s why 2017 felt somewhat disappointing.There were plenty of opportunities, but that signature, never-forget-where-you-were victory never quite came.
In fact, maybe that’s the best way to describe 2017. It was – and please don’t real this aloud – the year of the “but.”
We can start at the high school level, where the Nathan Hale boys basketball team made Seattle history by finishing No. 1 in the nation after an undefeated season. Michael Porter Jr. dazzled as the front man for perhaps the most talented high school hoops team this city has produced.
But … when you consider that the team was composed of seven transfer students cobbled together as inorganically as possible, that title feels more manufactured than won.
We can go to the college level next, where the UW football team went 10-2 while earning a Fiesta Bowl bid. It was a proud season, as UW defensive tackle Vita Vea won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and the Huskies continued their Apple Cup dominance with a 41-14 win over Washington State.
But … given the expectations after last year’s College Football Playoff appearance, not to mention that the two losses (Arizona State and Stanford) were extremely winnable games, the question of “what could have been?” will linger in fans’ minds.
And then there’s the pro level, where the Sounders returned to the MLS Cup final to defend last year’s championship. Like in 2016, the Sounders struggled early, surged toward the top of the standings in the second half of the season and traveled to Toronto for the title game.
But … unlike last year, when it won in penalty kicks after a scoreless tie through regulation, Seattle fell 2-0 to Toronto and missed its chance to become our first major-league team to win back-to-back championships.
Don’t get me wrong – there were some marvelous achievements in 2017. Perhaps the finest, or at least the most entertaining, was Washington point guard Kelsey Plum setting the all-time NCAA women’s scoring record. It wasn’t just that she broke it – it was how she broke it – dropping a school-record 57 points vs. Utah at Alaska Airlines Arena in the final regular-season game. She went on to set the NCAA season scoring record two games later, and a few weeks after that, would be picked No. 1 overall in the WNBA draft.
And then, of course, there was the Washington women’s rowing team – which not only won the national championship, but made history by sweeping all three of the grand races. That’s a hell of a UW debut for coach Yasmin Farooq.
Even so, the losses – whether it be games or people – seemed more salient that the W’s.
In May, Pro Football Hall of Famer and beloved Seahawks defensive lineman Cortez Kennedy died at 48. In November, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor – two of the staples of the Legion of Boom – suffered season-ending injuries in what may have been their last games as Seahawks. In December, the Mariners – who missed the playoffs for the 16th consecutive season – learned that Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani had spurned them for the Angels. There were no good “buts” to balance out any of those blows.
There might have been elsewhere, though.
For instance, when the Huskies men’s basketball team finished 9-22 despite having the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick in Markelle Fultz, it marked a low point for the program since the turn of the century. Compounding the disappointment was UW athletic director Jen Cohen firing 15th-year coach Lorenzo Romar, which caused Porter Jr. to bolt to Missouri.
But … that led to the hiring of Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins, whose Huskies already are 10-3 after stunning No. 2 Kansas in mid-December. Don’t be surprised if that team is NCAA Tournament-bound in the next year or two.
No doubt the Seattle sports figures saw their share of controversy in 2017, too. The Seahawks’ defensive line, led by Michael Bennett, has been sitting during the national anthem for the most of the season. Moreover, Bennett was detained by the Las Vegas Police Department in August, an act he chalked up to racial profiling.
There was Brandon Roy – the former NBA and UW star who coached Hale to the national title before taking over at Garfield – being shot in Los Angeles. There was former Huskies star turned Seahawks broadcaster Warren Moon being accused of sexual assault. And there was Huskies football coach Chris Petersen getting caught in a feud with ESPN over late kickoff times.
It might not have been a triumphant year for sports around town, but it certainly wasn’t a boring one. Even city hall managed to get sports fans’ blood pressure to boil.
When the Seattle City Council approved a Memorandum of Understanding between the city and the Oak View Group to renovate KeyArena, it marked the most significant step toward luring the NBA back to the city since the Sonics left. It also prompted the NHL to reach out to Seattle in regard to a possible expansion team.
But … even still, there were myriad sports fans livid that Chris Hansen’s Sodo project didn’t receive serious consideration.
It was just that kind of year. One minute, locals were celebrating former Seahawk Kenny Easley getting into the Hall of Fame, the next minute they were forced to say goodbye to legendary Huskies broadcaster Bob Rondeau.
One minute, they were watching Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson make an MVP push behind newly acquired lineman Duane Brown, the next minute they were watching the team lose 42-7 to the Rams in an end-of-an-era type of defeat.
One minute, they were witnessing Storm point guard Sue Bird break the all-time WNBA assist record, the next they were watching Mariners pitchers James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Drew Smyly and Hisashi Iwakuma all go down with injuries.
It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at once.
Again, Seattle sports fans had plenty to take pride in 2017. From the ageless Nelson Cruz bashing 39 home runs at 37, to KeyArena hosting the WNBA All-Star Game, to the Thunderbirds winning the WHL title, there were a bevy of events and achievements to praise. We even watched Fultz and Plum become the first players from the same school to go No. 1 in the NBA and WNBA drafts in the same year. It was awesome. There just wasn’t that marquee moment to spark bedlam throughout the city streets.
But … don’t worry. There’s always next year.
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