Friday, January 31, 2014

How Long It's Been: Seattle Won a World Championship


The Seattle Seahawks will be playing the Denver Broncos on Sunday, at MetLife Stadium in the New Jersey -- not New York -- Meadowlands, in Super Bowl XLVIII (48).

The Seahawks have played since 1976, but have never won a title.

In fact, Seattle's record as a sports city is pretty pathetic. To wit:

* In 38 seasons of play, this is only the 2nd time the Seahawks have won a Conference Championship, only the 3rd time they've reached a Conference Championship Game (1983-84 in the AFC, 2005-06 and 2013-14 in the NFC), and until 2003 they'd made the Playoffs only 5 times. Even with those 2 trips to the Super Bowl, in those 38 seasons they've won a grand total of 11 Playoff games -- a little better than 1 every 4 years.

* The Seattle Mariners have played 37 seasons, and have reached 4 postseasons, winning 3 American League Western Division titles, and reaching 3 AL Championship Series. But they've never won a Pennant. Only 3 teams have ever had longer Pennant droughts: The 1901-44 St. Louis Browns, the 1919-1959 and 1959-2005 Chicago White Sox, and the 1945-present Chicago Cubs -- meaning that, if the M's conclude the 2022 season without winning the Pennant, they will have the longest drought in AL history.

* The Seattle SuperSonics played their last 29 seasons without winning an NBA Championship, a period in which they only won 1 Western Conference title and only made the Conference Finals 3 times. Then, in 2008, they were moved, to become the Oklahoma City Thunder.

* Seattle has never had a team in the National Hockey League. Nor did they have one in the World Hockey Association -- surprising, considering the WHA was looking for untapped NHL markets and Seattle was very much one, is very much a Northern city, and had a hockey history, long in the minors if distant in the majors. The Seattle Metropolitans played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association from 1915 to 1924, winning that league 5 times, and in 1917 beating the Montreal Canadiens to become the first American-based team to win the Stanley Cup. The team folded with its league, and for 90 years Seattle hasn't had anything that could be called a "major league" hockey team. Since 1977, the Seattle Breakers began play in the Western Hockey League; in 1985, they became the Seattle Thunderbirds. But only once, in 1997, did they reach the WHL Finals, and they got swept.

* If you count soccer in North America as a "major league sport," the first version of the Seattle Sounders drew big crowds to the Kingdome (in fact, they opened it), but only once did they reach the North American Soccer League's title game, losing Soccer Bowl '77 to the New York Cosmos.  They had 2 legitimate excuses, though: The game was played at Civic Stadium (now JELD-WEN Field), home of their arch-rivals, the Portland Timbers; and the Cosmos were loaded, with legends like Pele, Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Neeskens and Giorgio Chinaglia.

* The new version of the Sounders won the Supporters' Shield, Major League Soccer's regular-season title, in 2011, and in 2009-11 won 3 straight U.S. Open Cups (the American equivalent of the FA Cup) and nearly made it 4. But they've never won the MLS Cup; as New York Red Bulls fans found out in 2013, MLS is the one league on the planet where finishing the season in first place overall doesn't make you "League Champions." So, in spite of their superb pre-Playoff play and having the best attendance in MLS, the Sounders haven't brought much glory to Washington State, either.

Indeed, in the entire history of major league sports in Seattle, they've won only 2 World Championships: The 1917 Stanley Cup, by the Metros; and the 1979 NBA Championship. In 1978 and '79, both seasons, the NBA Finals featured the Sonics against the Washington Bullets (now the Washington Wizards); the Bullets won in '78, the Sonics in '79.

That title happened on June 1, 1979, a 97-93 win for the Sonics over the Bullets at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.

That's 34 years and 4 months. How long has that been?

*

The Sonics were coached by Lenny Wilkens. The leading athletes in Seattle were Sonics stars Dennis Johnson, Gus Williams and Fred "Downtown" Brown; Hawks players Jim Zorn, Steve Largent, and, for that one season, former Minnesota Vikings legend Carl Eller; and Mariners players Ruppert Jones, Danny Meyer and Bruce Bochte.

At that point, the Houston Rockets, the Detroit Pistons, the Chicago Bulls, the San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat, the Dallas Mavericks, the San Francisco 49ers, the Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New Orleans Saints, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Kansas City Royals, the Minnesota Twins, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Braves since they moved to Atlanta, the Florida/Miami Marlins, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team now known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Giants since they moved to San Francisco, the New York Islanders, the Edmonton Oilers, the Calgary Flames, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New Jersey Devils, the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche franchise (unless you count the 1977 WHA title), the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes franchise (unless you count the 1973 WHA title), the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings had never won a World Championship.

The Rockets, the Pistons, the Bulls, the Spurs, the Heat, the Mavs, the Seahawks, the Niners, the Pats, the Bucs, the Saints, the Isles, the Oilers, the Flames, the Pens, the Devils, the Lightning, the Canes, the Ducks, the Kings, the Orlando Magic, the Utah Jazz, the Indiana Pacers (unless you count their 3 ABA titles), the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets (unless you count the 1974 and '76 ABA titles), the Buffalo Bills (unless you count the 1964 and '65 AFL titles), the San Diego Chargers (unless you count the 1963 AFL title), the Atlanta Falcons, the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise (unless you count the 1960 and '61 AFL titles), the Carolina Panthers, the Royals, the Braves since they moved to Atlanta, the Jays, the Marlins, the D-backs, the Angels, the Milwaukee Brewers, the San Diego Padres, the Houston Astros, the Colorado Rockies, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Texas Rangers, the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars franchise, the Vancouver Canucks, the Florida Panthers, the Washington Capitals and the new Ottawa Senators had never reached their sports' finals.

And the Magic, the Mavs, the Heat, both sets of Panthers, the Marlins, the Rockies, the D-backs, the Rays, the Lightning, the old Charlotte Hornets (now the New Orleans Pelicans), the new Charlotte Hornets (formerly the Bobcats), the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Toronto Raptors, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Baltimore Ravens, the Houston Texans, the San Jose Sharks, the Nashville Predators, the new Winnipeg Jets (formerly the Atlanta Thrashers), the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild didn't even exist yet.

As of Super Bowl XLVIII, those facts are no longer true.

The NBA of 1979 has often been retroactively described as being "in trouble." And then, the next season, came Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. This is nonsense, as the league already had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius "Dr. J" Erving.

The Los Angeles Clippers were still playing down the coast in San Diego, the Kings in Kansas City, and the Jazz were about to move from New Orleans (where their team name made sense) to Utah (where it doesn't). The New Jersey Nets were playing on the Rutgers campus, as the Meadowlands arena was just beginning construction. And while the Portland Trail Blazers and Milwaukee Bucks had both won NBA titles within the last 8 years, neither saw any problem playing in an arena with no more than 12,880 seats -- in the Bucks' case, only 10,938.

In the NFL, the Colts were still in Baltimore, the Cardinals were still in St. Louis, the Rams were still in Los Angeles, the Titans were still the Houston Oilers. In MLB, the Brewers were still in the AL, the Astros still in the National League, and the Washington Nationals were still the Montreal Expos.

The ideas of the NBA using international players, MLB using Asian natives, and the best players from Eastern Europe being allowed to leave for the NHL (unless they successfully defected, like the Stastny brothers) were far-fetched.

Not one player on the Seahawks' Super Bowl roster had yet been born; for the Broncos, only Peyton Manning, Champ Bailey and Paris Lenon had, and Quentin Jammer was about to be born. Current Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was the secondary coach at Ohio State University, while Broncos coach John Fox was a graduate assistant at San Diego State. Tom Brady was about to turn 2 years old. Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers hadn't been born yet.

In addition to the Sonics, the defending World Champions were the Yankees, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Montreal Canadiens. Muhammad Ali had retired as Heavyweight Champion of the World, the WBC was recognizing Larry Holmes as Champion, while the WBA hadn't yet made up its mind, and the IBF didn't exist yet.

Since that last Seattle title, the Olympic Games have been held in America 3 times, Canada twice, and once each in Russia (and are about to be again), Yugoslavia (post-breakup, Sarajevo is in Bosnia), Korea, France, Spain, Norway, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China and Britain.

The President of the United States was Jimmy Carter. Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, their wives, and the widows of Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were still alive. Ronald Reagan was beginning his 3rd run for President, George H.W. Bush his 1st. Bill Clinton was in his 1st year as Governor of Arkansas. George W. Bush had recently lost his 1st run for public office, for Congressman from Texas. Barack Obama had just graduated high school, and Michelle Robinson was still in it. Joe Biden had just been elected to a 2nd term in the U.S. Senate from Delaware, and John Boehner was working for Nucite Sales, apparently believing the line in the movie The Graduate about the future being "plastics."

The Governor of New York was Hugh Carey, of New Jersey Brendan Byrne, and the State of Washington had one of the earliest women to be elected Governor without her husband having previously held the job, Dixy Lee Ray. The Mayor of New York City was Ed Koch, and of Seattle Charles Royer. He was in the 2nd of 12 years on the job, and is still alive.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Pierre Trudeau, but had just led his Liberal Party to an election defeat, after winning 3 times. Just 3 days after the Sonics' title, Progressive Conservative Party Leader Joe Clark would be sworn in as Prime Minister. The next day would be his 40th birthday, making him the youngest person ever to be head of government in either Canada or America. But his government would quickly fall apart over a budget impasse, and early the next year, Trudeau would lead the Liberals back to victory, and serve another 4 years as Prime Minister, for a total of 15.

The monarch of Great Britain was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- but Margaret Thatcher had just been elected Prime Minister. (Thatcher in Britain in May 1979, Clark in Canada the same month, Reagan in America in November 1980 -- a pattern, the difference being that Canada wised up a lot faster to the fact that conservatism doesn't work.)

England's FA Cup was won, 3 weeks earlier, by Arsenal, after blowing a 2-0 lead in the last 5 minutes against Manchester United, but Alan Sunderland's last-gap goal won the Cup for the North London club. The Football League had just been won by Liverpool, dethroning Nottingham Forest, which won the European Cup (now the UEFA Champions League) by beating Swedish club Malmo in the Final. They would win it again the next year, too, beating Hamburg in the Final, making them, to this day, the only team in all of Europe to win the European Cup more than it's won its domestic league. Forest manager Brian Clough, after winning the League with Derby County in 1972 and failing spectacularly with Leeds United in 1974 before moving on to Forest (ironically, Derby's arch-rivals), had proved the point he made after that '72 title: "I wouldn't say I'm the best manager in the country, but I'm in the top one."

Among Clough's acquisitions that 1978-79 season was Birmingham City player Trevor Francis, the first player in the English league to be purchased for at least one million pounds. My, how times have changed.

Major books of 1979 included Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Jeffrey Archer's Kane and Abel, Barbara Taylor Bradford's A Woman of Substance, Stephen King's The Dead Zone, Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song, William Styron's Sophie's Choice, and Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff. All were made into major motion pictures or TV-movies. So was Peter Shaffer's play about Mozart, Amadeus, which debuted in 1979.

The day of the Sonics' title, Joy Division released their album Unknown Pleasures. In the days before, The Who played their first concerts since the death of Keith Moon, with former Faces drummer Kenney Jones in his place, and Elton John played 8 concerts in the Soviet Union. In the days after, rock and roll pioneer Bill Haley made his last recordings, fellow rock pioneer Chuck Berry was sentenced to 4 months in prison on tax evasion charges, the first Sony Walkman went on sale in Japan, to be released in the U.S. a year later, the Bee Gees sold out Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, and, in an officially unrelated event but a totally welcome counterpoint, Disco Demolition Night (a.k.a. Disco Sucks Night) was held at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

"The World Series of Rock" was held at Cleveland Municipal Stadium (as opposed to the World Series of baseball, which was only held there once, in 1948), and Ted Nugent was one of the headliners. That's how long it's been since Nugent was relevant in music, unlike in politics, where he has never been relevant. Also on the bill were AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, rising bands Journey and the Scorpions. The headliner was Aerosmith, but after the concert, an argument developed among the soused, coked-out members, and lead guitarist Joe Perry quit. It would take 5 years and a lot of rehab for the original lineup to reunite.

New in theaters when the Sonics' won what remains Seattle's last title were Alien and The Muppet Movie. One featured weird creatures. The other had Sigourney Weaver kicking ass, with her own barely covered. Just wrapping up their first seasons were the TV shows WKRP in Cincinnati, The White Shadow, The Dukes of Hazzard, Diff'rent Strokes, Taxi, Mork & Mindy, and the original version of Battlestar Galactica. Preparing for a fall debut were Hart to Hart, Benson, Trapper John, M.D., Knots Landing and The Facts of Life.

But 1979 was a disaster for NBC. They also launched the super-campy, body-suited version of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, a lame attempt to capitalize on Star Wars and Star Trek that did no one, least of all the original character, any good, that show was still a gem compared to their disastrous Hello Larry, Brothers and Sisters, Turnabout, and, yes, Supertrain. NBC was desperate enough to advertise these shows on what were then "independent stations": In New York, you could turn from WNBC-Channel 4 to WNEW-Channel 5 (now WNYW, Fox 5), and see a promo for Supertrain, an obvious Love Boat ripoff. Or Brothers and Sisters, not to be confused with the later ABC drama of the same title: This was a ripoff of Animal House, which ABC had tried to officially do, taking some of the actual actors from that film and making the ill-fated Delta House.

It was so bad that, on one of the few NBC shows that was still successful, The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson said maybe the network should use the same method that floundering Chrysler Corporation was using, with NBC sportscaster Joe Garagiola faking a smile throughout the commercials: Pay off viewers to accept a lousy product: "Watch Hello, Larry, get a check!" It would have been no use: Hello, Larry ran 38 episodes in 2 seasons; between them, Brothers and Sisters, Turnabout and Supertrain aired 28 episodes.

There were desktop computers, but, as yet, no taptops. Mobile telephones existed, but they were as big as Army walkie-talkies. AIDS was around, but not yet discovered. "Chronic fatigue syndrome" was hardly known, and even more rarely were doctors, who hate to admit that they don't know something or can't cure something, willing to diagnose it. NASA was still trying and failing to get the first space shuttle off the ground. A few weeks after the Sonics' title, Skylab fell out of orbit, broke up, and crashed into the ocean.

In the late spring and early summer of 1979, a civil war began in El Salvador, and power was democratically transferred to the first government made up of Rhodesia's black majority, which would later rename the country Zimbabwe and make democracy there a cruel joke, Robert Mugabe being no less brutal a dictator than his white predecessor Ian Smith. John Paul II visited his native Poland, becoming the first sitting Pope to visit a Communist country. President Carter and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev signed the SALT II treaty. A DC-10 crashed at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, killing 273 people, still the deadliest air disaster in American history. Former San Francisco Supervisor (what most cities call a Councilman) Dan White got a light sentence for killing fellow Board member Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone the preceding November, and the gay community rioted. McDonald's introduced the Happy Meal.

A. Philip Randolph, and Mary Pickford, and John Wayne died. So did baseball legend Duffy Lewis, and hockey legend Fred "Cyclone" Taylor. Rosario Dawson, and Andrea Pirlo, and LaDainian Tomlinson were born.

June 1, 1979. The Seattle SuperSonics won the NBA Championship, for the only time in their history. It remains the last World Championship won by any Seattle-based team.

Now, the Seattle Seahawks are 2 days away from playing in the Super Bowl. The Denver Broncos are currently favored by 2 1/2 points, in spite of the Hawks' vaunted defense. Can they win their city's first World Championship in nearly 35 years? Stay tuned.

 

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