There are places where football fans, faced with the reality of a pair of teams with mediocre records, would take it as a matter of civic disgrace.
Here in Greater Seattle, of course, 6-6 and 6-6 add up to party time. We think we won the lottery.
Actually, fans may not have won much of anything, at least for the short term. Yes, the 6-6 UW Huskies are headed for a bowl game (the Holiday Bowl Dec. 30 in San Diego against Nebraska). True, given the arithmetic of National Football League mediocrity, the 6-6 Seahawks still could be playoff-bound, albeit assuming they win an undetermined number of their final four (a tough assumption to justify). While neither post-season possibility is something to sneeze at, both should barely be enough to stifle a collective yawn.
But “should” doesn’t apply here, not when The New Normal of local sports for much of the past decade has meant losing football and baseball games and losing an N.B.A. franchise. Were it not for the WNBA champion Seattle Storm, the arrival of big-league soccer, championship-caliber college softball, cross-country and volleyball teams, and perennial post-season efforts by Husky men’s basketball we’d be living in a sports environment you’d expect to see in the zombie TV series “Walking Dead.”
Yet, the double-win weekend that just ended amounts to cause for celebration. The perception among many fans seems to be that better — maybe much better — years are ahead for local football. If so, post-season play for the Dawgs and Hawks would seem to amount to a necessary step toward that end.
In the near term, both programs at least seem to be holding fans’ attention. The Saturday (Dec. 4) Apple Cup represented yet another instance of the Huskies sucking it up late in a league game, playing capably the way teams on the ascent are supposed to. It happened at home against Oregon State and at USC and Cal, three occasions when the Dawgs easily could have coughed up losses that would have meant 3-9 instead of 6-6.
It also could’ve happened in Pullman against Washington State. The Cougars gamely pulled even at 28-28 after the Dawgs had them down by a pair of touchdowns early in the fourth quarter. Washington had dominated in ball control. The Huskies used up nearly a third of the first-half clock on their epic first scoring drive: 98 yards on 16 plays.
Then, in their final possession, the Dawgs used up most of the remaining four minutes during a nine-play drive that ended the scoring at 35-28.
The game, of course, was essential to the postseason fortunes of Steve Sarkisian’s program. Fans who appreciate a gambling approach doubtless are impressed by the “card-sark”-style late-game wagering of the coach. He had famously (foolishly, some believed) gone for the game-ending touchdown instead of a tying field goal at Cal a week earlier. At the Apple Cup he eschewed a 49-yard try for a go-ahead field goal. Jake Locker promptly found Jermaine Kearse with a touchdown pass with 44 seconds left.
Beyond that, the annual Apple Cup was about a pair of precocious sophomores. One is Wazzu’s Jeff Tuel, whose stats were better than Locker’s and who could become the best quarterback in the conference. The other is Chris Polk, the Huskies’ leading ground threat: at once graceful and elusive and powerful enough to keep chugging after contact. Polk’s 284 yards amounted to a performance just shy of the school-record 296 that Hugh McElhenny put up (coincidentally against the Cougs) 60 years ago.
The next day the Seahawks had a seemingly easy task: Enlist the unflagging (unwarranted, given two recent home-field losses) support of 12th-Man Qwest Field fandom. Use it to take down a league-worst 1-10 Carolina Panthers club, whose sole victory was by a three-point margin against nearly as bad San Francisco.
Seldom has "easy" seemed so hard. The Panthers pounced to a quick 14-0 lead, finding little Hawk resistance during impressive drives. Seattle punted after an inept three-and-out first possession. Suddenly a 5-7 record seemed likely, as did a 5-11 season, especially since gimpy pass-catcher Mike Williams was reinjured during the first possession. Ben Obomanu’s second-quarter injury left the club with just three wide receivers.
The Hawk offense didn’t get a first down until the second quarter. Later coach Pete Carroll called for a time-out because his team had fielded just 10 players on a defense that played like it had only seven.
Poor Matt Hasselbeck, already handicapped with heavy left-hand bracing and bandaging, somehow returned from an apparent leg injury late in the second quarter, leading the team to its meager first-half field-goal tally.
The second half began with a Hawk-bobbled kick-off but promptly got better. Four minutes later, star-of-game Marshawn Lynch carried it in to make the score 14-10. Lofa Tatupu picked off a Jimmy Clausen pass at the end of Carolina’s initial second-half possession, and his scoring gallop gave Seattle the lead for good. Leon Washington’s 84-yard punt return led to another touchdown and made it 24-14.
The 31-14 win gives the Hawks little time to smile. Their easiest (well, least difficult) task comes next week at 4-8 San Francisco. Then it’s a pair of hard-to-win situations: home and away with better teams (Atlanta and Tampa Bay) before the Jan. 2 finale hosting St. Louis, possibly for the division title given that the Rams’ current record is — what else? — 6-6.
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