Highs and lows for local sports in the past decade

Unfortunately most of the promise came in the first part of the decade, with the decline capped by the loss of the Sonics. Still, let's not forget the Storm!
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A possible constituency with influence: Seattle Storm fans. (WNBA)

Unfortunately most of the promise came in the first part of the decade, with the decline capped by the loss of the Sonics. Still, let's not forget the Storm!

The decade that starts with a 'ꀜ2'ꀝ was one year and a few hours old when the 2000 University of Washington team signaled that the 'ꀜaughts'ꀝ might bring memorable sports fortune to the state. Two hours prior to the close of the tumultuous 10-year cycle, the UW Dawgs may yet shepherd away the decade with victory if the men'ꀙs basketball team can overcome Oregon State on the final night of the year.

Between that 2001 Washington Rose Bowl win and the end of 'ꀘ09 there was a lot more local sports misfortune than many might'ꀙve expected. In fact, even the high points seemed to be encumbered one way or another with tragedy or folly. Here, then, are some of the highs, lows, and in-betweens of the past 10 years.

Jan. 1, 2001: The 2000 Pac-10 champ Huskies beat Purdue 34-24 in the 87th Rose Bowl. Quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo was Player of the Game, a plaudit once earned by his coach, Rick Neuheisel. But the latter would be let go in June of 2003 after gambling-related infractions. In 2008 a Seattle Times series chronicled in great detail the sordid details of the Neuheisel years.

Tuiasosopo, one of the most talented athletes in school history, never realized his potential as a pro, playing in just 13 games during eight seasons, most of the time with the moribund Oakland Raiders. Just as moribund, the Husky football program fielded an 0-12 team in 2008. The Dawgs promise to be a serious bowl-game contender in 2010 as Heisman Trophy aspirant Jake Locker and a lot of other experienced players return.

Oct. 7, 2001: The Seattle Mariners tied a major-league record by winning their 116th game of the season. The feat was met with fittingly subdued celebration, coming just a few weeks after the events of Sept. 11. Moreover, the gifted contingent nevertheless required five games to put away the White Sox before losing to the Yankees in the American League Championship series.

The M'ꀙs, despite four more winning seasons during the decade, went through five new managers and haven'ꀙt been to the playoffs since 'ꀘ01. Indeed, during its one-third of a century, the franchise has only been to the playoffs four times and is one of just three clubs (with Texas and Washington/Montreal) never to have been to the World Series.

Oct. 12, 2004: The Seattle Storm'ꀙs greatest player has been Lauren Jackson but on this occasion the prize of the moment improbably went to guard Betty Lennox, most valuable player of the Women'ꀙs National Basketball Association finals. The Storm beat Connecticut at KeyArena, bringing the city its second major-sport world championship (after the Sonics in 1979).

The franchise continues to benefit from ardent fans, who originally feared the ownership group that plundered the Sonics also would move the women'ꀙs team to Oklahoma City or elsewhere. The since-well-traveled Lennox most recently played for the Los Angeles Sparks. Jackson, who also has played as a pro in Russia, South Korea, and her native Australia (representing the Aussies in two sessions of the Olympic Games), still is the mainstay of the Storm, a frequent playoff competitor. Many consider her one of the greatest female athletes in history.

March 13, 2005: The UW men'ꀙs basketball team, 27-5, earned a number-one seed in the NCAA national tournament. Within days Lorenzo Romar signed to coach eight more seasons and saw his minions make it to the tourney'ꀙs Sweet 16, losing March 24 to Louisville.

Diminutive star guard Nate Robinson, a third-team All-America pick, opted for the pro draft and since has played for the New York Knicks of the National Basketball Association. Husky teammate Brandon Roy stayed for his senior year, honing his superb skills and then became a premier N.B.A. player for Portland. Despite a few setbacks the Dawgs have continued as a force in Pac-10 and national basketball.

Feb. 5, 2006: The Seattle Seahawks reached the pinnacle of the Mike Holmgren era and the apex of their three decades of National Football League play. The appearance in Super Bowl XL was extra large for Hawk fans, eventually frustrated by repeated dubious officiating decisions that benefited the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won 21-10.

The Seattle franchise, mostly intact the following season, beat Dallas but lost to Chicago in the second round. The Hawks haven'ꀙt been to the playoffs since and now face a major rebuilding period while awaiting a decision about a new general manager. Holmgren recently inked a deal with the Cleveland Browns.

Is Lauren Jackson, by virtue of dominating her sport even though she'ꀙs still just 28, the greatest athlete to have played during the decade for a Seattle-area sports franchise? It'ꀙs worth considering while recalling spectacular efforts by other women'ꀙs teams, such as the 2008 UW cross-country runners and the 2009 softball club, both teams winning national championships.

Some would give the decade-best award to Shaun Alexander, N.F.L. most-valuable player in 2005. Others might cite speed-skater Apolo Ohno, winner of two gold, a silver, and two bronze Olympics medals, tied with Eric Heiden for most medals ever by a man in the winter games. Ohno, not incidentally, won a 'ꀜDancing with the Stars'ꀝ TV competition in 2007.

The view here is that the area'ꀙs greatest athlete probably could win 'ꀜDancing with the Stars,'ꀝ though it'ꀙs unlikely (but not impossible) that Ichiro Suzuki would enter. Instead, all Ich has done since his arrival in 2001 is win awards by showing consistent excellence to match that of the elite players in major-league-baseball history. His most audacious record is for hits during a season (262 in 2004). That alone would be enough to end any comparative discussion. A few months ago, though, the perennial all-star set the major-league mark for seasons with at least 200 hits, with 206 or more each of his nine years here. That he also is an annual Gold Glove winner for his disciplined performance as an outfielder has made him the most consistent point of pride for local sports fans. Indeed, few athletes in state history have performed at Ichiro'ꀙs level.

Even Ichiro and the championship-caliber teams, though, can'ꀙt assuage the greatest sadness of the decade. Because of greed, neglect, naivete, and stupidity, the Seattle Supersonics left in 2008 for reincarnation in Oklahoma City. It represented the all-time low point for those who knew of the 1970 loss of the Seattle Pilots and the attempted abductions of the M'ꀙs and Hawks during the 1990s.

The face of the civic disgrace belongs to Clay Bennett, an Oklahoma-based businessman born to be a B-movie villain. Bennett was the point man for the out-of-state ownership group but he scarcely acted alone. Despite their passion, fans were rendered powerless as corporate types and distracted civic officials and league bureaucrats blithely waved goodbye to a franchise four decades in place.

Perhaps it'ꀙs fitting, then, that some of the city'ꀙs most upbeat sports news of late has been about basketball. While fans remain hopeful that N.B.A. officials will affect the transport of one of the league'ꀙs several ailing teams to Seattle, KeyArena is being used for winter-time hoops activity. Washington State and Gonzaga both played December games in a place characterized by N.B.A. Commissioner David Stern as something like the worst basketball facility this side of the gym at Baghdad High. Seattle University, having returned to the ranks of major college basketball, plays home games at the Key.

Just as hopeful is a Husky men'ꀙs basketball team that opens league action at 7 p.m., Dec. 31. It would be good to think that the Dawgs, playing a suddenly glam team (the Oregon State coach, Craig Robinson, is President Obama'ꀙs brother-in-law), would usher out the double-zero decade by following the example of the 2000-'ꀘ01 football team. A win might augur well for the region's other teams, all of which could use a few breaks next decade.


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