Seattle's `Same Old Seahawks' Now Aim for a Super Bowl Berth
Seattle sports fans had a reason at last to give thanks this week: The city's beleaguered professional football team, the Seahawks, suddenly look like a Super Bowl contender.
The team, derided locally as the ``Same Old Seahawks,'' have been a perennial disappointment, raising and then dashing the hopes of a city that hasn't won a major professional sports championship since 1979. The 1980s heyday of wide receiver Steve Largent, quarterback Jim Zorn and running back Curt Warner is a distant memory.
This year, the Seahawks have reignited optimism and raised it to a new pitch. They've won six straight games, boosting their record to 8-2 when they beat the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 20. The team's performance is the best in its National Football League conference.
``I am actually excited about the Seahawks this year,'' says Brian Acarregui, 38. ``I loved them when I was a kid.''
The Seahawks -- led by running back Shaun Alexander, the NFL's leading rusher, and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck -- are selling out tickets in their three-year-old stadium.
Victory has spurred more visits to bars and restaurants by local sports fans who have little else to cheer about lately, as Super Bowl fever heats up.
The Super Bowl, the NFL's annual championship match and American football's premier event, will be played Feb. 5 in Detroit.
It's been 26 years since Seattle won a major professional sports championship -- not counting last year's victory by the Seattle Storm in the Women's National Basketball Association.
In 1979, when the SuperSonics won the men's NBA title, 50,000 people watched the game in the since-demolished Kingdome, and fans mobbed the team's victory parade route. This year, with the NBA season just under way, the SuperSonics are 5-6.
Seattle's other football team, the University of Washington Huskies, which won a Pacific-10 conference college title in 2000 and a national championship in 1991, lost Nov. 19 to archrival Washington State. That tied the two rivals for last place in the conference. The University of Washington has won just three games over two seasons.
Seattle's Major League Baseball team, the Mariners, ended the season in last place in its division. That prompted frustrated comment even from All-Star Ichiro Suzuki, a sports icon honored by the sale of ``Ichiroll'' sushi at the team's stadium concession stands.
In an interview with the Kyodo News Service published in the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper this month, Suzuki said the team's attitude and commitment needed to improve.
`The Three Stooges'
For the Seahawks, being the only winning ticket in town is a shift in fortunes. As recently as 2002, the team's own coach derided his corps of receivers as ``the Three Stooges.''
``This is a team that has the capability to go all the way,'' says Largent, the former wide receiver and an NFL Hall of Famer who played for the Seahawks from 1976 to 1989. He now heads a Washington, D.C.-based trade group called the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.
East Coast teams that play the Seahawks may be in for a surprise, says Shannon Sharpe, a three-time Super Bowl champion and retired Denver Broncos tight end who now analyzes games for CBS Sports.
``They play in the Northwest, so no one knows anything about them,'' Sharpe wrote Nov. 13 on the league's Web site, NFL.com. ``But take my word for it, they are for real.''
The Seahawks moved into a 67,000-seat stadium, Qwest Field, that replaced the Kingdome in 2002. They have sold out the past 21 home games, says Seahawks spokesman Dave Pearson.
It was standing-room only Nov. 20 at the Fox Sports Grill in downtown Seattle, which has seen more people coming in on game days this year.
``Compared with last year, business is definitely up,'' says Kerry White, 35, chef and proprietor. ``The fair-weather fans are cautiously optimistic, and the people who are huge fans say it's going to be them and Indianapolis in the Super Bowl.''
The Indianapolis Colts, led by quarterback Peyton Manning, are undefeated after 10 games.
The excitement can't erase memories of past letdowns.
Since Seahawks owner Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft Corp., hired coach Mike Holmgren from the Green Bay Packers in 1999, the Seahawks have made it to the playoffs three times, only to lose.
Allen bought the team in 1997 after Washington state voters approved a $300 million bond sale to help build the new stadium, with 51 percent in favor and 49 percent opposed. The previous owner, developer Ken Behring, had threatened to move the team to southern California.
Facing Giants, Colts
The Seahawks' record has been helped by weak competition in their division, says J.R. Williamson, 47, who has followed the Seahawks throughout their 30-year history.
The Seahawks are the only team in the division, the NFC West, with a winning record. Tougher tests are approaching: The Seahawks play the 7-3 New York Giants on Nov. 27 at home and Indianapolis in the last regular-season home game on Dec. 24.
``They'll get to the playoffs and then they'll lose because they have to play against real teams,'' says Williamson.