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Matt Calkins: Gardner Minshew isn’t the Northwest’s first out-of-nowhere sports story, but he may be the best

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 24, 2019

Former Washington State quarterbacks Gardner Minshew and Jack Thompson chat on the sidelines during the second half Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Former Washington State quarterbacks Gardner Minshew and Jack Thompson chat on the sidelines during the second half Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Move over Movember, Meptember is in the spotlight now. Gardner Minshew and his signature mustache are captivating the nation the way they did the state of Washington a year ago.

The Washington State University product and Jaguars rookie has a better completion percentage (73.9) and passer rating (110.6) than any other NFL quarterback has had through his first three games in the Super Bowl era. It may be short-lived, but for the time being, Minshew is a bona fide star.

Fascinating as this tale may be, it’s also out of nowhere. Before Cougars coach Mike Leach recruited Minshew to Pullman, he was set to be a third-string QB at Alabama before starting his coaching career. Now, he’s a sixth-round draft pick playing at a Pro Bowl level.

So it got me thinking: What are the most notable out-of-nowhere sports stories to come out of the Northwest? Here’s a countdown. And by all means, tell me who I missed.

7. Edgar Martinez

Martinez was not a coveted prospect. He signed a $4,000 minor league contract and didn’t play a full major league season with the Mariners until he was 27. Word on the street is his career turned out OK.

After seven All-Star games, two American League batting titles, and a designated-hitter award named in his honor, Martinez was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame last August. Was he the greatest Mariner? No. But he may be the most beloved.

6. The 2003-04-05 Huskies men’s basketball teams

After going 10-17 in his first season at UW, coach Lorenzo Romar watched his Huskies lose their first five Pac-12 games in January 2004. But behind Nate Robinson and Brandon Roy, Washington won 12 of its next 13 to force its way into the NCAA Tournament, then earned a No. 1 seed in the Dance the following year. That 2004-05 team was probably the best Husky hoops squad to date. We’ll see how long that previous sentence is valid.

5. Steve Largent

A fourth-round pick in 1976 out of Tulsa, the Seahawks receiver made seven Pro Bowls, was named a first-team All Pro three times and held the NFL’s all-time receptions record for several years. With Jim Zorn throwing to him, Largent helped the Seahawks receive national attention in their formative years in the NFL.

4. Johnny and Eddie O’Brien

No scholarship offers despite leading their New Jersey high school basketball team to a state title. Rejected by Seton Hall after a tryout. Finally, after the 5-foot-9 twins worked in a factory for a year, Seattle U offered them full rides to play basketball and baseball, and the rest is… borderline mythology. Seattle U’s men’s basketball team went 90-17 in the three years they played, and its baseball team went 62-14. Johnny was a first-team All-American in hoops, and both were drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks before signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates. When Elgin Baylor is a fellow alum, and it’s unclear whether he’s the best overall athlete to emerge from your school, you know you’re good.

3. The 2015-17 Huskies women’s basketball teams

Before March 21, 2016, not many Seattleites could have told you who Kelsey Plum was. Then, she and the seventh-seeded Huskies shocked second-seeded Maryland in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Two dominant wins in Lexington, Kentucky, followed, putting the Huskies in the Final Four for the first time in program history. The next year? Ho-hum. Just Plum setting the NCAA all-time scoring record and teammate Chantel Osahor leading the nation in rebounds.

2. The 1977-79 Sonics

Seattle won just five of its first 22 games in the 1977-78 season, prompting the brass to fire head coach Bob Hopkins and replace him with future Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens. What ensued was one of the more dramatic turnarounds in NBA history. The Sonics finished 47-35 in 1978, then captured the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference the next year before winning their only championship. Fine. I’ll be optimistic. Before winning their first championship.

1. The 2012-14 Seahawks

Truth is, Russell Wilson (third round), Richard Sherman (fifth), Kam Chancellor (fifth), Michael Bennett (undrafted) and Doug Baldwin (undrafted) could each be their own items. Together, they formed the Out-of-Nowhere Avengers. The Seahawks were 7-9 in each of their previous seasons before vaulting to 11-5 in 2012, winning the Super Bowl the next season, and going back a year later. These teams need no introduction, but at one point, most of their key cogs did.

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