By Aaron Swaney Herald Writer
It was so long ago most of the photos you find online from that day are black and white.
A sea of bodies lining Seattle’s Fourth Avenue as a thin strip of cars wind their way through the parted masses. Throngs of fans of all ages waving signs, pennants and pom poms out of cars and on top of street signs. Tall men in leisure suits with big smiles waving back at an estimated 200,000 fans.
It was 1979. It was Lenny Wilkins, Jack Sikma and the Seattle SuperSonics. And it was the last time Seattle celebrated a world championship.
I don’t remember it. I was 20 days old.
My dad does. He remembers my mom chastising him for being late to my delivery because he was watching the end of the Sonics’ Game 5 showdown against the Suns in the Western Conference Finals. He remembers going to a party and everyone crowding around the TV to watch one of the Finals games.
“It was what everyone was talking about,” my dad says.
Today, nearly 35 years later, the Seahawks give my dad, myself and Pacific Northwest sports fans hope of an encore.
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As a Seattle sports fan I’ve learned to insulate my emotions like so many layers of clothing on a cold January day. I’ve been conditioned to do so.
Heartbreak is the norm for sports fans, but it’s been especially cruel for Seattle sports fans. Whether it’s Dikembe Mutombo holding the ball above his head, Derek Jeter and the Yankees celebrating as the M’s walk off the field or Kevin Durant draining 3-pointers in a jersey with Thunder across the top, Seattle is in a fraternity of sports-heartbreak cities with Cleveland, Buffalo and Kansas City. We’re used to being the bridesmaid. We’ve grown accustomed to saying: Hey, we’re just glad we made it that far.
As a fan who doesn’t remember the 1979 championship or the Seahawks’ run to the AFC Championship Game in 1983, the 1980s feel like a sports wasteland. Think Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Strange looking characters with names like X-Man, Hendu and The Boz lost in a desert, thirsty for meaningful victories. Sure we had local legends like Steve Largent, Alvin Davis and Tom Chambers, but there was very little that galvanized the region. The Mariners were the epitome of the struggle, finishing 220 games below .500 for the decade and failing to post a winning record in any of those seasons.
Then hope arrived in the 1990s. Led by Don James the Huskies won multiple Rose Bowls and a split national title. The Sonics drafted Shawn Kemp in 1989 and Gary Payton a year later to create a winning foundation that would help the Sonics post 515 wins in the decade, nearly 100 more than the 10 years before. Even the Mariners started to show signs of promise with rising stars named Edgar, Junior and Randy.
But the thing about hope, it’s often accompanied by crushing despair. I remember Kemp dunking on Alton Lister and the cocksure Payton refusing to back down from anybody as the Sonics reeled off win afer win in 1994, all set to the soundtrack of Sonics beat poet Kevin Calabro (“Good Golly Miss Molly”).
I also remember that pit in my stomach as Mutombo celebrated on our home court.
A year later, the Mariners were fighting for their first-ever playoff appearance with a tiebreaker game against the Angels. Finally able to drive, my friends and I piled into a car and took off for Seattle. We parked on one of the berms under I-5 and joined the hopeful masses marching to the Kingdome. That day we cheered like we’d never cheered before at a Mariners game as Luis Sojo’s bunt cleared the bases and Randy Johnson pitched the M’s into the playoffs.
It was 1995 and M’s fans remember The Double that crushed the hated Yankees a few weeks later. But we often forget the M’s led the Indians 2-1 in the American League Championship Series only to score two runs over the final three games and fall short of the ultimate goal: the World Series.
Hey, we were just happy to be there.
Next it was the Sonics again. They finally got back to the NBA Finals in 1996, only to face Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Six games later … we were just happy to be there. In 2001, it was the Mariners. Four years later, the Seahawks. All just happy to be there.
For every record-setting regular season there’s a team that falls short in the playoffs. For every expansion team that sets attendance records there’s a team that packs up and moves away. For every Mike Holmgren there’s a Tyrone Willingham.
That’s the thing about winning a world championship. It finishes the conversation.
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This seasons’ Seahawks are the perfect team to put an end to our pain. They’re a mix of all the great teams we remember. They have the brashness and confidence of those ’90s Sonics’ teams; the grittiness and togetherness of the 2001 Mariners; the talent on both sides of the ball of those Huskies’ Rose Bowl teams. And unlike in 2005 when the Seahawks made the Super Bowl for the first time ever, this team doesn’t feel like it’s just happy to be there.
They’re in New York to win.
That’s why I’m giving them my sports baggage. All of my worst Seattle sports memories: Joey Cora crying on the bench; Bo Jackson running over Brian Bosworth; fans throwing dollar bills at A-Rod; Clay Bennett and David Stern smirking as they discuss a new arena plan; Vin Baker for Shawn Kemp; a winless Husky football team; Bill Leavy and his cronies in Super Bowl XL. All of it. Wally Walker. Bill Bavasi. Ken Behring.
I’m going to let it all go. I won’t forget, but I’ll see it differently. I’m going to let this year’s Seahawks put an end to it.
That’s what they will do today when they capture the city’s first major sports title since 1979.
This time, it’ll be a parade I will remember.
Aaron Swaney is a lifelong Seattle sports fan. He’s also the prep editor for The Daily Herald and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @swaney_aaron79.