Can the Sounders break Seattle’s mediocrity streak?
by Art Thiel
The Sounders celebrated the retirement of Portland nemesis Roger Levesque with a Golden Scarf Sunday night at the Clink. Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest Credit: Drew Sellers/Sportspress Northwest
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The Sounders are entering the playoffs against a team that they have failed to score upon in 270-plus minutes of action over three games.
I realize it's soccer, where it seems sometimes that generations can be born and die off between goals. But the dearth is not from incompetence, because the Sounders and Real Salt Lake are quality MLS teams. Still, when a 1-0 win by RSL is followed by consecutive 0-0 draws, it is either a massive case of sporting constipation, or . . .
Is it Seattle?
The Seahawks and the Washington Huskies are each 4-4 in the middle of their seasons. With the win over Oregon State Saturday, coach Steve Sarkisian's record at Washington is 23-23. The Seahawks have been 7-9 in each of the first two seasons of Pete Carroll's tenure, so he's now 18-22.
I'd like to drag the Mariners into this, but at 75-87 the past season, they are still waiting to qualify for admission to the Mossy Mall of Mediocrity. The other teams are at least muddling more rapidly.
I realize these records are coincidence, that nothing really connects the enterprises except an area code. At least, I think it's coincidence. But it has been a long freakin' time since any one of them has busted a move toward championship accomplishment. The one that did, we gave away for $45 million.
Tie together all these neutral marks and Seattle is the Switzerland of sports.
Let's not forget the most successful team over the last decade hereabouts — the Washington Huskies men's basketball team. What happened to them last spring? They won the Pac-12 regular-season championship, yet failed to be invited to the NCAA tournament, which is at 68 teams and about two years away from inviting Jupiter and Saturn. To the NCAA selection committee, the Huskies had all the cachet of a damp spot on the basement floor.
A couple of weeks ago I attended a benefit for the A-Plus Youth Program, one of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's favorite charities. Chris Hansen's new best buddy and arena-investment partner invited Hansen and a lot of hoops glitterati to the SoDo event, including Lenny Wilkens and, surprisingly enough, Magic Johnson.
I was tempted to tell Ballmer that the final owner of the Sonics, Howard Schultz, also invited the former Lakers great to town, and that that precedent may have made Johnson's return a tad awkward. Schultz's desire, it seemed, was to make sure everyone saw him sitting court-side at KeyArena next to Johnson.
We don't have to worry about that unpleasant scene — no Sonics. But hey, Hansen is the new local hoops hero, and Ballmer's pal. So I decided to shut up and enjoy Johnson.
During the presser, he said all the predictable good things about Ballmer wanting to help get an NBA team back to Seattle. Standing next to a smiling Wilkens, he drifted into a reverie about his playing days against the Sonics, saying he recalled all "those tough battles against coach Wilkens."
And indeed they were epic spectacles, sweaty Sunday playoff afternoons with Magic and Kareem against Sikma, Gus, D.J. and . . . wait a minute.
In his rookie season, Johnson's Lakers, in the Western Conference finals, dethroned the defending NBA champion Sonics, coached by Wilkens . . . 32 YEARS AGO!
Any longtime Seattle sports fan understands it's been awhile. But seeing Wilkens and Johnson standing there together, listening to Johnson talk about old times . . . well, I was dumbstruck.
We all have moments where the passage of time hits us like an ice pick between the eyebrows. But shaking hands with the icons of yore had a way of bringing home the dearth of big-time sports championships for this marketplace that added some rust to the ice pick.
The ensuing years weren't entirely bereft of achievement, enjoyment, thrill, spectacle and drama, so it hasn't been uniformly bleak — and yes, football fans, I remember the 1991 top-ranked Huskies. What I also remember was an opinion poll, not a championship-game win.
It's not as if the forward gears can't be engaged, starting as soon as this weekend with the Sounders, Huskies and Seahawks.
But at the the moment, stuck in neutral while pulling out the ice pick, it's just . . . meh.
Score a goal, Sounders. Blow us away.