June 5, 2010

Our Junior

Last week Ken Griffey Jr.'s amazing career came to an end, and the Pacific Northwest uncorked an immense amount of adoration upon Junior. Quite simply, he is the most significant figure in the history of Seattle professional sports, and it got me thinking about who Griff's Seahawks equivalent is...

First of all, there isn't one. No Seahawk has matched Junior's professional or cultural impact. Not Big Walt, not Largent... No one. So then the question becomes: Which Seahawk is the closest thing to an NFL Junior?

Shaun Alexander.

A LOT of you aren't going to buy that. Hell, Shaun Alexander was never my favorite player either; but that says more about the differences between the two sports and their fans than anything else.

First, the similarities... both substantive and superficial:

-Both men have roots in the Cincinnati area
-Both of their Seattle glory days ended around age 29
-Both were the first player from their franchise to be named league MVP
-Both were spectacularly skilled offensive weapons
-Both specialized in producing dramatic, Sportscenter-worthy plays
-Both were photogenic and avoided any significant off-the-field problems

There's more, but you get the idea: The only Seahawk to come close to Junior's profile of cultural impact, on-the-field success, and national recognition is Shaun Alexander. Just to once more emphasize Alexander's resume:

-2005 NFL MVP (including 28 touchdowns and 1880 rushing yards)
-112 career touchdowns (#1 in Seahawks history; #14 in NFL history)
-9,429 career rushing yards (#1 in Seahawks history)

And let's not forget the signature moments of his career:

-201 yards on 40(!) carries in the snow v. GB on MNF in 2006
-His 88-yard TD run at Arizona in 2005
-FIVE first-half TDs v. Minnesota on SNF in 2002
-266 yards and 3 TDs on Sunday Night Football v. Oakland in 2001
-132 yards on 34 carries/2 TDs in the 2005 NFC Title Game victory over Carolina

But then, there are the usual complaints levied against SA:

-The "stab in the back" comment after failing to win the NFL rushing crown in 2004.
-Rightly or wrongly, his rushing style made him often look like a douche. It may have saved wear and tear and prolonged his career, but it also didn't help him look like a hard-nosed tough guy.
-The fact that his best season occurred when he was up for a huge new contract, followed by a dizzying decline in production thereafter.
-His lack of abilty/enthusiasm in pass blocking and/or pass catching out of the backfield, forcing Holmgren to take one of his best players off the field in a lot of situations.

Junior could also be aloof at times, and wasn't always a classic example of a team player. Why was SA judged so much more harshly?

1. Baseball is a series of individual battles, and much less dependent on coordinated team play/strategy; If Junior hit home runs, made amazing catches, and wasn't a huge steroid-taking dickwad, that was enough to achieve folk-hero status.
2. Junior quite literally saved baseball in Seattle, to the extent that we should probably call it Griffey Field. By the time SA came around, pro football's future in Seattle was already secure.
3. SA's performance was dependent on the skill of other players around him (Big Walt, Hutch, Mack Strong, etc) in a way that Griffey's never was. Junior being selfish = team success. Shaun being selfish = coach-killing cancer.
4. The passage of time: When Junior bolted for Cincy, he wasn't exactly Homecoming King for Seattle fans... But that was a looooong decade ago, and last season he was welcomed back with a monsoon of worship from M's fans. The passage of a few more years might do similar wonders for Alexander's reputation among Seahawks fans.

What do you think, sirs?

1 comment:

Kevin said...

I don't know if people necessarily love Shaun as much a Junior though...the closest to that has to be Walter Jones