June 8, 2013
King Felix and... President Wilson?
Long-time readers might already know this, but I'm not a "Seattle Sports Fan." Yes, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest (in the stark atomic splendor of the Tri-Cities). Yes, I became a rabid Seahawks fan back in '83 when I was eight years old. But the Mariners didn't move me- I became enthralled by Roger Clemens and latched onto the Red Sox for life. The Sonics? They were a fun, competitive team back in the 1980s, but I have always followed players more than teams when it comes to the NBA. When I moved away from the Northwest to Columbus, I adopted the Blue Jackets and Crew as my local rooting interests... So the Seahawks are the ONLY Seattle team that I root for.
Does this mean I hate the other Seattle teams? Nah. Unless they're playing the Red Sox or the Crew, I prefer that Seattle teams win, given my affinity for the area and the large number of friends I have back west. Do I get jealous and bitchy about the other Seattle teams if they're ever in some sort of conflict with the Seahawks? Hell yes. I remember I was out for a visit to Seattle right after the 9/11 attacks, and I was supposed to go to the Seahawks/Chiefs game that Sunday, but it was postponed until the end of the 2001 season.
I was out at breakfast with a friend, and I was lamenting the fact that there wasn't a game that day. I understood why there was no game, but watching the Seahawks would have cheered ME up, at least. This total stranger in Mariners garb decides to chime in with "Pffft. Seahawks? Who gives a crap about THEM?"
With murder in my eyes, I said "I do. And when did you get that M's gear? October of '95?" Back in the 90s, when the Sonics and Mariners were captivating all my friends, I SEETHED. To this day, I somewhat irrationally get peeved when Sounders fans call a crowd of 40,000 at our shared stadium a "sellout." The Seahawks have been selling EVERY seat for EVERY game in that arena since 2003... So you get the picture- I'm fiercely defensive and sensitive about the Seahawks' place in the local sports pecking order.
Russell Wilson throwing out the first pitch at the Mariners game last night got me cogitating. If you look across the history of Seattle professional sports, who are the most "iconic" figures? The ones who captured the imaginations of millions, both in the region and nationally/internationally? I hate to say this, but as great as Steve Largent, Walter Jones, Cortez Kennedy and every other Seahawks legend has been, none of them ever became popular phenomenons like Ken Griffey Jr., Ichiro, Shawn Kemp or Gary Payton did (Edgar Martinez also has his rabid adherents, but I'd argue his stature is much more localized in nature).
To me this is fascinating- The Mariners have had peaks of great success, but overall their history is much more forlorn than the Seahawks' past. Despite that (and the M's current struggles), Felix Hernandez is BY FAR the biggest individual figure on the Seattle sports landscape right now. Kemp and Payton were a spectacular duo, but they played for a team that no longer exists (sorry, Sonics fans). So why haven't we seen a Seahawk reach those heights of popular obsession?
Part of it is almost certainly the simple fact that football players wear helmets that render them somewhat anonymous, and they play a sport that is much more focused on team success than individual accomplishments. If you look at Seahawks history specifically, our three greatest players are a left tackle, a (prolific) possession receiver, and a defensive tackle. None of those positions lend themselves to an easy embrace from the larger public.
Who are (most of) the most popular, well-known, endorsement-laded NFL players? Quarterbacks. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have transcended those natural limits football inherently places on individual super-stardom. This morning I was watching ESPN and Linda Cohn was GUSHING about Russell Wilson throwing out the first pitch at the M's game, even throwing in a Wilson-esque "Go Hawks!" at the tail-end of the segment. That's just one reason I think Russell Wilson is on the verge of becoming the most towering figure in Seattle sports history. Ten years from now, I think he will have eclipsed even Junior in dominance of Seattle sports consciousness. Why?
First, he's going to be a prolific quarterback on a highly successful team, who will regularly show up on SportsCenter's Top Plays. If/when Seattle wins a Super Bowl, he'll ROCKET into the Brady/Manning/Rodgers stratosphere nationally. Beyond that, he has a great backstory: The third round pick who was too short to be a successful QB, but who won over doubters at EVERY point in his career. The kid's got a little Kurt Warner in him. It also doesn't hurt one bit that he's humble, grounded, telegenic and handsome. One can easily imagine him going into broadcasting after his NFL career ends (or even politics, if he was so inclined). To put it another way, he's a total dreamboat who can fucking BALL. I truly believe this kid will be bigger than Luck or RGIII. Someday, his statue will be in the North Plaza of Seahawks Stadium- Ten feet tall and forever running to victory. I already kinda wish I had a Wilson jersey for every day of the week.
What do you think, sirs?