This first history blog on my site is not for every history buff. This is solely about sports history where I am from (or nearby).
Seattle, like most large cities, has a long history of professional sports intertwined with it. Sports can be a source of civic pride and heartache. Of immense joy and deep sorrow. They can be a nice distraction from daily life or a form of connecting with a family member of whom you share very little commonality. It brings you together with thousands of like-minded people who share the same love of a team you have followed for years and most likely even a lifetime.
I was born in Puyallup, Washington in 1972. I have lived in several different cities of Washington in my life, primarily Puyallup in my youth and Tacoma in adulthood. That is until I had to move to Albuquerque, New Mexico over five years ago. No matter where I lived, then, or now, I have always been a fan of those teams emanating from the largest city in Cascadia, Seattle, which barely edges out Vancouver, BC.
Addendum:I am, and have been, a supporter of the Vancouver Canucks for a long time. However, if Seattle does acquire an NHL team I will have to most likely relinquish my fandom with them and put my full support behind Seattle’s new team! I will speak more on that a little later.
Here are professional teams from Seattle’s past and present, and what they have achieved.
A Slam Dunk
I watched the Super Sonics (1967–2008) from a very young age until they were stolen by a rich Oklahoman with the help of the NBA, the idiocy of the Seattle City Council, and a ghastly mistake by the founder of Starbucks. While in residence in Seattle they won the NBA championship in 1979. This was their only league or national title but they did win three conference titles. The 90’s were a flurry of great basketball being played in the city lead by Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. In this era there were many post season appearances but only one NBA Final appearance where they faced off against the Chicago Bulls. And, just like pretty much every team to face the Michael Jordan led Bulls, we lost.
Another professional basketball team we must not ignore is in the form of the Seattle Storm (2000) of the WNBA. They won two championships, both lead by Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. First in 2004 and the second in 2010. Regardless of your feeling on women’s professional sports this is a legitimate league with legitimate athletes. Some people even think the WNBA is a better and purer form of the game than the egocentric showboating that permeates the men’s game. Personally I enjoyed the games I watched, and those championships were exciting.
My joy for basketball has waned quite a bit over the years. The Sonics left and several years later was the debacle of trying to acquire another team. This would-be team was denied to us by the League, the Commissioner, and his good buddy who just happened to be the very man who took the Sonics from Seattle in the first place. The committee chaired by this Seattle archenemy to decide the fate Seattle’s basketball future had the cojones to use some of the arguments that were rejected for keeping the Sonics in Seattle as very good reasons to keep someone from buying a failing Californian team and bringing them up north. Since that day I have outright rejected anything NBA
Super Sonics championships:
1 NBA title
3 Conference titles
2 WNBA titles
2 Conference titles
The ’79 Sonics’ championship was not the first major title won by a Seattle team.
Men in Their Sweaters
With another nineteen months before the end of the Great War, in March of 1917, the Seattle Metropolitans (1915-1924) were the first American team to win what is perhaps one of the most sacred trophies in all of sports (a certainty for north American sports), The Stanley Cup. It would take over a decade before another U.S. team would lift it (New York Rangers).
In 1919 the Metropolitans were once again playing for the Cup, this time against the Montreal Canadiens. With the series tied, history intervened. The last game was postponed due to the deadly Spanish Flu Pandemic. Several Montreal players and their manager contracted the disease. One died four days after the canceled game, leading to the permanent cancellation of the series with no cup being awarded. It could be argued they (unofficially) share the title, which would make two for Cups for Seattle and put the total for Montreal now at an astonishing twenty four!
1 Stanley Cup
3 total appearances in the Final
The Rye Bread and the Mustard
In 1969 Seattle had received its Major League Baseball team in the form of the Seattle Pilots. It was a disaster all the way around. One thing of note was that they selected a twenty six year old Lou Piniella in the expansion draft. Piniella would be traded after Spring Training but would return to Seattle in 1993 as a manager and become a Northwest Icon. The Pilots only lasted a year in the city before being bought up and relocated to Milwaukee and be re-branded as the Brewers.
Pilots Championships: 0
Following the Pilot’s relocation King County and the State of Washington decided to sue MLB for breach of contract. Eventually the league offered Seattle an expansion team on condition that they would drop the lawsuit. They were awarded their franchise and the new team was christened the Mariners!
I watched the Mariners (1977) be a sub-par team for fourteen years until in the ’91 season when we finally achieved a .500 record. I remember another Northwest icon, John Keister, happily yet sarcastically exclaiming on Almost Live “We’re average!”
Two years later in a strike shortened 1995 season one of the greatest comebacks in sport’s history transpired. On August 2 after a loss to the Angles Seattle was 13 games out of first place. Within several days the famous “Refuse to Lose” mantra began to be heard emanating from the æther. That mantra grew and began to be chanted louder over the next couple of months ’till it was finally a deafening roar heard among all in the Pacific Northwest. This was due to the incredible and uncanny ability of the Mariners to win no matter what transpired.
The lead shrunk until they tied with the Angels in the standings forcing a 145th game, a one game playoff in the Kingdome on October, 2 for first place! In the end, the Big Unit was standing victorious upon the mound, his lengthy arms outstretched to the heavens.
The Mariners immediately flew across the country because the very next day the “greatest series no one saw” began against the New York Yankees. Culminating with game five in Seattle where “The Double” hit by Edgar Martinez had Junior rounding second, then third, ultimately sliding safely into home and sending us into the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians. The most memorable thing of that series was the photo of a young Mariner named Alex Rodriguez comforting a tearful Joey Cora. I’m sorry, Jimmy Dugan, there is indeed crying in baseball.
Up and down seasons followed. A few playoff runs culminated with the historic 2001 season. 116 wins. A feat only accomplished one other time, generations ago by the 1906 Cubs. Just like those Cubbies, we did not win a championship that year. The Mariners have never won a World Series. In fact, the ’95 and ’00 seasons were the closest we ever came to appearing in one.
0 World Series
0 American League pennants
You Mad Bro?
It was in the bicentennial year that the Seattle Seahawks were born. Fondly I remember when they made their first playoff berth as well as a few good runs in the 80’s. I had the good fortune to meet Steve Largent, Jim Zorn, Mike Tice, Curt Warner, and a few others from that era. For most the 80’s the Seahawks were the kings in the Northwest!
The narrative changed however, when in 1988 the NFL’s version of Barron Harkonnen, Ken Behring, bought the team. That was their last good year save for an aberration in 1999 after Paul Allen took over ownership. Those Ken Behring years would send a shock wave of mediocrity across time until four years into the Holmgren coached era where they entered the power house phase we’ve known predominantly the last thirteen years.
Ken Behring nearly destroyed the team and in fact had their operations running in Anaheim and at one point all of Seattle’s equipment were on trucks ready to move the team to California. Thankfully, they were stopped. People to this day believe that was Behring’s plan all along, ala Major League, a football edition.
A short bankruptcy transpired and that is when he finally sold the team to Allen. During this Allen owned era the team has seen its most success especially between two coaches, Holmgren and Pete Carroll.
1 Super Bowl
3 NFC titles
Boom! Boom! Clap!
There have been many professional sports teams calling Seattle home of which we covered the largest sports and entities. Several of those have won championships or National Titles. There is one team in particular that is a part of the most popular sport in the world, a sport referred to as the beautiful game by its estimated 3.5-4 billion fans. Football. Or Association Football. Otherwise called in America by the average sports fan, Soccer.
I am lucky enough to have been born in the Pacific Northwest. To have spent my first thirty eight years in Cascadia. It is a region that loves the beautiful game with a passion on par with any part of the world. Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver BC have taken soccer to new heights in America and Canada. We have a deep respect for each other as Cascadians, but when it comes to our soccer teams, we have a bitter rivalry and hatred as deep as baseballs Yankees and Red Sox. It rivals that of Manchester United and Manchester City…or Liverpool! This is never more evident as when it comes to Seattle and Portland.
Cascadia is perhaps the grates soccer region in North America including Mexico. While not the longest of rivalries in Americans sports, they are still rivalries that date back to the mid ’70’s, over forty years. The Cascadian derbies between these three teams are part of the Cascadia Cup, the regional championship that has been played the last twelve years. Seattle has won four times, two of which come in the MLS era.
There have been several incarnations of the Sunders over the last forty two years. While they have been in a few different leagues they have a continuous connection and shared history. That is how the sports fans and even the teams view themselves. We care about the history of our teams. When and if Seattle gets an NBA team it will be named the Super Sonics and will be viewed and accepted by all as the same team that was here for forty years until they were moved. When and if Seattle gets an NHL team I hope to Zeus that we honor our Hockey history with pride and name that team the Metropolitans, for that name is still to this day engraved on the Stanley Cup. But I digress.
This team is the most successful team in Seattle sports history. When it comes to championships, the Seattle Sounders FC, have no equal. Perhaps this is because the way soccer works.
Many average American sports fans don’t quite understand the way the beautiful game works. They are used to single entity leagues with playoff systems to determine one champion after the regular season. In soccer, this is not the case. This is a sport with multiple competitions happening simultaneously. Some American and Canadian teams from the MLS may be playing in four or five competitions throughout the season and beyond. Even more, a few players from many teams will also play for their respective national teams in international competitions a few of times a year during the MLS season.
In the MLS there are technically three championships. There is the MLS Cup played for by the qualifying teams in a post season tournament. The typical American championship way. However, there are two more important competitions. One, being the Supporter’s Shield. This is awarded to the season champions, the team with the best record and most points. This is actually how most league champions are declared in Europe and many places around the world.
The third, is the U.S. Open Cup. This tournament has been played in the United States for over a century. The year the Metropolitans won their Stanly Cup, the U.S. Open cup was already four years in existence.
This Tournament is played by teams from three American professional leagues, and dozens of amateur teams. The 2016 tournament had ninety one teams involved. The sounders have four of these titles, all of which were won in their MLS era and are tied for the second most wins in Cup history.
This year, the 2016 season, saw one of the greatest comebacks you may ever witness. In Seattle it is on par and in many ways even paralleled the Mariners Refuse To Lose season of ’95. In fact, it is arguably one of the greatest comebacks in American sports history outright.
The Sounders were in dead last place in the West, head coach Sigi Schmid is sacked, and mirroring the Mariners, they lose their best player in Clint Dempsey (heart condition). Long time Sounder Brian Schmetzer (player, head coach, assistant coach) dating back to 1981 is given the interim head coach position the same day midfielder Nicolas Ledeiro arrives as a designated player from Boca Juniors. Everything came together.
Seattle was on a mission, and while everyone in the league counted them out and with no chance of redemption, slowly they made the steady climb. They ultimately shocked the league by taking fourth place in the Western Table. Dispatching Kansas City, the 2016 Supporter’s Shield Champion FC Dallas, and finally the second ranked Colorado, they got their first MLS Western title, punching their ticket to the MLS Cup Final.
While the Final was a defensive gem, Seattle’s offense was not much of a show. In the end they did everything right (save for any shots on goals) and with Stefan Frei putting on an MVP performance as keeper, the match first went into extra time and then it was on to penalties where Seattle’s title would be claimed.
This MLS Cup is just the latest to be placed in an already full trophy case that has slowly been filling up over the decades through several Seattle Sounders incarnations. Many non-soccer sports fans will cry foul with this assessment of them being the most successful team in Seattle. Partly because it’s soccer and while the Sounders have a vast fan base there are still many who do not like the beautiful game. Another reason is because they cannot accept the fact that major championships can come from beyond the confines of a single league season. I’m sorry, but just because your favorite sport(s) only has one competition a year, it cannot take away from the Sounders’ achievements. In fact, that could be part of the problem your team has none or only a few championships themselves.
1 MLS Cup
1 Supporters Shield
4 U.S. Open Cup titles
0 CONCACAF Champions League titles
2 APSL (A-League) titles
2 USL D-1 titles
1 Commissioner’s Shield
Total titles: 11
I am quickly adding this last piece because I left out another team. I apologize the Seattle Reign for this initial oversight.
The Reign play in a newer league following the heels of several other professional women’s soccer leagues. The USWNT is the best in the world and most of those women play in the NWSL. Seattle has or had several of these National stars the last few years as well as a few international stars. Sydney Leroux (USA), Rachel Corsie (Scotland), Jess Fishlock (Wales), Rumi Utsugi (Japan), Nahomi Kawasumi (Japan), Megan Rapino (USA), and home grown girl Hope Solo, the greatest female keeper in the game. I hope this league grows and is long lasting.
0 NWSL Titles
2 NWSL Shields
The criteria is only top league and national titles in their respective sports and leagues are considered. No regional or divisional titles such as NFC West, AL West, Pacific or Northwest divisions, Cascadia Cup, Heritage Cup, etc.