By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon was talking about changing the culture of a team coming off yet another losing season. Then McClendon was talking about Pete Carroll and the Seahawks.
Before the Mariners left for spring training last month, and just a few days after the Seahawks had overcome an early deficit to win the NFC championship game, McClendon used the way Carroll and his Seahawks responded to adversity on their way to a Super Bowl berth.
“They showed a picture of Pete Carroll and he was very confident, a quiet confidence,” McClendon said. “He put a stick of gum in his mouth, he was very relaxed. I really thought that was a very important moment, because I could just sense that his players were feeding off of his confidence.
“Being a leader, that’s what it’s all about. You want your players to take on your personality, how you go about your business and how you prepare. I don’t fear anybody when I’m between the lines. I don’t boast to try to be a tough guy or anything of that nature, but I know if you’re going to win, there are certain things that you have to do and there’s a certain way that you have to prepare. And part of that belief is that when you step between the lines, you have to believe, ‘On this given day, I’m the best person out there.’
“That’s the type of attitude I want my players to have and that’s what we’re going to try to achieve in spring training.”
During that same pre-spring training press conference, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik ended his comments with a Russell Wilson-esque “Go Hawks!”
Fast forward three weeks and the Sounders were holding a preseason training session in the indoor practice facility of the recently-crowned Super Bowl champs, after which head coach Sigi Schmid joked of the location, “That’s why where here, so some of that can rub off on us.”
Yes, when it comes to sports around these parts, it’s the Seahawks’ world, and everybody else is just living in it.
Going back to last summer, the Seahawks have been THE big story in local sports, and for good reason — they were the best team in this country’s most popular sport. Sure the Mariners, Sounders and Huskies occasionally stole headlines with splashy additions like Robinson Cano, Clint Dempsey and Chris Petersen, but from the start of training camp through the Super Bowl celebration, Seattle has been a Seahawks town.
Now, with the Seahawks’ historic season over and with the Mariners and Sounders preparing for their 2014 seasons, and with former NBA commissioner/crusher-of-Seattle-hoop-dreams David Stern out of office, it is a good time for the rest of the local sports scene to ride the coattails of most popular team in town.
As the Seahawks’ 2013 season and subsequent celebration showed, sports fans in the Puget Sound region are ready to embrace winners; ready to rally behind a team that backs up the faith they put into that team. With a Seahawks title run kicking off the new year, with new NBA commissioner Adam Silver sounding a little more pro-Seattle than his predecessor, heck, with Everett native T.J. Oshie becoming an Olympic hero over the weekend, this all sets up very nicely for 2014 to be a fun year for area sports fans. (Maybe Oshie, who on Super Bowl Sunday posted on Twitter a picture of Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch jerseys, also had some of that Seahawks magic rub off on him, leading to his shootout heroics in America’s thrilling victory over Russia on Saturday).
Of course for us to get Seahawks-excited about our other local teams, they need to hold up their end of the bargain.
The Sounders have been a perennial playoff team and have shattered attendance records since joining Major League Soccer in 2009. They made a huge splash last summer by signing Dempsey, one of the best soccer players this country has ever produced, so it’s hard to be overly critical of that franchise. Even so, a rather thorough offseason overhaul shows that Sounders management knows they can improve upon what is already an unambiguous success, and they’re willing to shake things up to get the desired results. And as Schmid noted, it doesn’t hurt to be under the same business umbrella, and roof, as the Seahawks.
The Mariners, on the other hand, have a bigger hill to climb. To their credit, the Mariners are trying. They spent big on Cano this offseason, have made a few other notable moves and might still make another big signing or two. However, a decade of losing has left M’s fans understandably cynical. It’s great that McClendon wants to change the culture, and that he sees similarities in this team and the 2006 Detroit Tigers, a young team that turned into a surprise American League champion.
“You never know,” he said. “When you do the things that you’re supposed to do and you work on the things you’re supposed to work on and you believe in each other and you have accountability to each other and a responsibility to your teammates, then good things happen.”
Until the Mariners show that this year will be any different, however, even their biggest fans will be skeptical. But man, imagine what it would be like if they finally did take a big step forward and were contending for a playoff spot past the All-Star break. Imagine if instead of just waiting for football season to start, sports fans could spend a summer watching winners at two SoDo stadiums, and at KeyArena as well, if the Storm can overcome another Lauren Jackson injury.
The Seahawks can’t actually help their neighboring teams play well. But their success has served as a good reminder of how good of a sports town this can be (you paying attention, NBA?). That people here will rally around a winner with unbridled vigor and intensity.
Sports fans in this area are ready for a year-long celebration. The Seahawks did their part. Now it’s time for our other teams to do theirs, starting with the Mariners and Sounders, who have begun preparation for their fast-approaching seasons hoping to take a little something from the current kings of Seattle sports.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org