By John Boyle Herald Columnist
Think back to 2008 for a moment.
For sports fans in the greater Puget Sound area, it was about as miserable of a year as possible. The Sonics left town. The Seahawks went 4-12, ending a streak of four straight division titles. The Mariners were the first team in baseball history to lose 100 games while spending $100 million. And if you were a fan of either of the two big college football programs in the state, you saw your schools meet in the most infamous Apple Cup in the rivalry’s history as they came into the game with one win between them.
Come to think of it, don’t think back to 2008. That was a pretty awful year in sports. I apologize for bringing that up. But there is a reason to reflect back to that miserable year if only to appreciate the fact that, five years later, we could be at the beginning of one of the most memorable — and in a good way this time — years in sports this region has seen in a long, long time.
Yes, the calendar changed more than two months ago, but with the Super Bowl putting a wrap on the 2012 NFL season, now is really the time when the sports calendar turns over. And when you look ahead into 2013, it’s hard not to get excited about what’s to come.
Five years after rock bottom, we may have NBA back by fall. The Seahawks, after a promising 2012, look like Super Bowl contenders. Sounders FC, a year after finally getting the monkey off its back by winning a playoff series, is ready to go a step further.
And the Mariners … well, maybe it’s too soon for a magical Mariners season, but after taking small steps forward each of the past two seasons, it’s not out of the question that the baseball team that has disappointed its fans for so long may finally give people a real sense of hope for the future.
A lot of folks consider 13 to be an unlucky number, but when almost an entire city’s sports history has been full of rotten luck, why can’t 2013 be a year of good fortune? That unfamiliar feeling you might have been experiencing in recent weeks as you think about the Seahawks’ future, and as you dream about the NBA’s return? That’s hope. It’s a weird sensation after years of sporting heartbreak, I know, but embrace it. This year has the potential to be special.
Of course, if 2013 is a year of winning, of title runs, of once again cheering for the Sonics, then we’ll look back on the past year, and two men in particular, for laying the foundation.
Almost exactly a year ago, Chris Hansen, a Seattle native turned very wealthy San Francisco-based investor, emerged as a man with the plan and financial wherewithal to get an arena built to bring the NBA, and perhaps NHL, to Seattle. Then in April, the Seahawks used a third-round pick on Russell Wilson, who would go on to not just win the starting job, but to have one of the best seasons in NFL history by a rookie quarterback. Hansen and Wilson, two people Seattle sports fans knew little of before 2012, are the two biggest reasons to dream big in 2013.
Since making his intentions known at the beginning of the year, Hansen has purchased a ton of land, made concessions on an already strong arena plan to get the deal approved by King County and the city of Seattle and now he has reached a deal to purchase the Sacramento Kings. That sale, though, still has to be approved by the NBA’s Board of Governors.
For the past year, Hansen repeatedly has gone above and beyond to bring basketball back here, not so much because it stands to be a profitable enterprise for him — though in the long run it almost certainly will be — but because he grew up in Seattle as a diehard Sonics fan, and feels this is his chance to do something great for the city.
“I mean, I have enough money, and I don’t have a desire to be a mega-billionaire,” Hansen said last summer. “If you can do great things, whether it’s for charity or something like this for community while you’re alive and you can enjoy it, that’s what you should do.
“This is an opportunity for me to give something back to the community and it’s something that I’m very passionate about. It goes beyond profits.”
As for Wilson, who could have possibly imagined that the 75th pick of the 2012 draft, a player everyone expected to be backing up Matt Flynn, would become the single biggest reason for Seahawks optimism going forward?
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider didn’t just find a starter in last year’s draft, they found a star. The Seahawks have the pieces to be good with any quarterback; they can contend for a Super Bowl title with Wilson.
“We know we’re building something great here,” safety Earl Thomas said a day after Seattle lost to Atlanta in the playoffs. “This is something great to build on for next season.”
Meanwhile, Mariners pitchers and catchers report this week, and while the Mariners aren’t as far along in turning things around as are the Seahawks, there are reasons to believe that, even if the Mariners can’t give fans a September to remember, they can provide hope.
Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez is about to be locked up for another seven years, which will not only help the Mariners win games but also show that the franchise’s most important player believes in the team’s direction. It also means, thankfully, that we don’t have to hear all of those Hernandez-to-the-Yankees rumors if the Mariners aren’t in contention this summer.
Of course, with the growth of the Mariners’ young players who went through struggles last year, and with the addition of some veterans to the middle of the lineup, the M’s hope they won’t wait long to be contenders.
“We feel like we’re in a very, very good place,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said last month. “I get questions often in regard to the timetable of us being a championship team. The only thing I can tell you is that we’ll be better and we’ll continue to get better, as we have the last couple of years, and at some point in time we will be a championship team.”
This year should bode well, too, for Sounders FC, the most consistent winner Seattle has had in recent years along with the Seattle Storm. The Sounders should at the very least be a playoff team for the fifth consecutive year.
After winning its first playoff series in franchise history, however, the Sounders’ goal now isn’t to get back to the postseason, but to advance to win an MLS Cup. For the most part, the pieces are in place to contend, and if Seattle can add a big-name forward to replace Fredy Montero, there is no reason it can’t contend for a title.
“We had a very good year last year, we were really close,” Sounders forward Eddie Johnson said. “And getting that close and not accomplishing what we want to accomplish, now we know this time around, having a healthier team throughout the whole season and doing the little things right will get us where want to be, and that’s in the MLS Cup finals,” .
Inevitably, 2013 won’t be a perfect year in sports.
Already we’ve seen Mariners catcher Jesus Montero linked to the shady anti-aging clinic in South Florida that is being investigated by Major League Baseball, and Storm star Lauren Jackson won’t play this year while recovering from hamstring surgery. But unlike so many years in recent history, 2013 should provide more ups than downs; more wins than losses; and hey, why not dream big maybe even a championship for a city that has won far, far too few of them.
Yes, five years after rock bottom, the mountain top doesn’t seem so far away.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.