By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — Six months ago, with an outstretched left hand, a leaping Richard Sherman put an end to one of the most memorable sporting events ever played in Seattle.
And with that NFC championship-clinching play, Sherman didn’t just send the Seahawks to New York, where they would pummel the Denver Broncos on the way to the first Super Bowl title in team history, he also kicked off what is shaping up to be a very memorable year in sports for a region too familiar with losing, or in a good year, mediocrity.
If you need a reminder that the 2014 calendar year has the potential to be a special one for sports fans in the Puget Sound region, on Sunday take a look at the same stadium where the Seahawks punched their ticket to the Super Bowl, as well as the one across the street. This afternoon, close to 100,000 fans will fill CenturyLink Field (Sounders-Timbers) and Safeco Field (Mariners-A’s) to watch two winning home teams play important rivalry games.
And sure, a big Sunday in Sodo is nothing new for sports fans. One that doesn’t involve the Seahawks, however, is a refreshing change of pace.
Not too long ago, we hit rock bottom as a sports town. In 2008, just about every team was terrible, except for the Sonics, who couldn’t be bad since they, you know, failed to exist anymore. Since then:
? The Sounders have burst onto the scene as a successful new Major League Soccer franchise that didn’t just win right out of the gate, but one that also drew fans at an unprecedented rate.
? The Seahawks endured another bad season in 2009, but have since turned things around in dramatic fashion under Pete Carroll, culminating in a title earlier this year.
? And the Mariners, well, the Mariners haven’t given fans much to get excited about, but there have been signs — from the offseason signing of Robinson Cano to the fact that they’re still over .500 and in contention for a Wild Card berth heading into the All-Star break — that perhaps even they are going to give people a reason to stay interested through the end of the season.
“We’re going to fight to the end,” Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders said earlier this week before landing on the disabled list. “And we know September is going to mean something this year.”
September meaning something other than the start of football season? That would certainly be different.
In 2010, 2011 and 2013, Forbes determined that Seattle was the most miserable sports city in America — Atlanta edged Seattle for that “honor” in 2012 — but in 2014, the misery is not only over, it appears the good times are here.
Sure, it’s only July and a lot could go wrong. By the time 2014 ends, everyone expects that the Seahawks will be on their way to another NFC West title, or at the very least a playoff berth, and while they are very well set up to do just that, a high bar also means the potential for bigger disappointment if things don’t work out.
And by losing three of four to the last-place Minnesota Twins, the Mariners reminded us that they’re still very flawed despite an impressive first half of the season that saw them get as many as nine games over .500.
The Sounders, meanwhile, are enjoying their best season since joining MLS in 2009, but after five straight playoff berths and no titles, nothing short of an MLS Cup will make this season feel like a success.
But while we don’t know what will happen between now and Dec. 31, we do know that this year already has seen the Seahawks win a Super Bowl, the Mariners get off to a surprising start and the Sounders dominate MLS while also sending two players to the World Cup. And let’s not forget University of Washington football, which hired Chris Petersen, one of college football’s best coaches, meaning what is already a good program has the potential to take another step forward this fall.
It’s silly to think that one team’s championship can make teams in other sports actually perform better, but it’s not that unreasonable to suggest that the Seahawks gave Seattle sports fans their swagger back. And while today’s Mariners and Sounders rival games aren’t nearly as significant as the one that sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl last year, it should be a special day of sports in Sodo nonetheless. Not only are the Sounders playing their biggest rivals in front of more than 60,000 fans, plenty of those soccer fans will start the day early to watch the World Cup final at one of the many bars in the area, or at the viewing party the Sounders are hosting as a fund-raiser for Special Olympics in Occidental Park.
“The support we have here, you can’t replicate it anywhere else in the States because of the numbers we get at our games,” said Sounders star Clint Dempsey, who got a plug in for today’s game while appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman earlier in the week. “It’s something that’s special … It is exciting. It’s not too much of a drop-off in terms of that excitement we experienced during the World Cup.”
A World Cup appetizer followed by a Sounders-Timbers main course would make for a fun day by itself. But when you add to it a meaningful game between two playoff contenders at Safeco Field, it sets up to be as big of a non-Seahawks sports day Seattle has seen in a while.
In all likelihood, the sports year peaked in January and February — short of Felix Hernandez pitching a no-hitter in a World Series-clinching victory on the same day the NBA announces the return of the Sonics, it’s hard to imagine anything topping the Seahawks’ Super Bowl run. But as today shows, the good times for area sports fans didn’t end with that Super Bowl win.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.