SEATTLE — Last summer, I wrote a letter to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll asking him to save the city’s sports reputation.
Seattle was reeling. It was the city that Sports Illustrated forgot and ESPN ignored. It was as if the lights were turned off in this city.
This was where reputations came to die: Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley. Aaron Curry and Deion Branch.
Who cared about Seattle sports?
Sure the Sounders have become the great success story of the burgeoning MLS, but soccer still is a soft hum in the cacophony of sports talk in this country.
This summer Seattle sports fans were desperate for heroes, a player or a team that could make this town relevant again. Where was the next Ken Griffey Jr.? The next Gary Payton? Cortez Kennedy?
It was the city of questions without answers. Are we getting a new arena? Is the NBA returning? Whatever happened to Justin Smoak?So I asked Carroll to give us a lift. Hoist us up with Sundays or Mondays or Thursdays, just some days to remember. Light a fire under the 12th Man, restore the voice of the hometown crowd.
I wasn’t asking for a Super Bowl. I was looking for the next step. Maybe a wild-card game.
Speaking presumptuously for Seattle’s sports fans, I asked Carroll for a winner. He never got back to me, but I think all of us have his answer.
The Seahawks have made the country take notice. It isn’t just winning eight of nine games entering Sunday’s NFC playoff game at Atlanta. It’s the way they’ve won.
It’s the Hail Mary pass from Russell Wilson to Golden Tate that beat Green Bay. It’s the fourth-quarter smackdown they gave Tom Brady in the win over New England.
It’s the fourth-quarter comeback and overtime win in Chicago and the avalanche of points that followed in victories over Arizona, Buffalo and San Francisco.
They’ve won with style, which just adds to their “Q” factor. The lights are shining on Seattle again.
The Hawks’ wild-card win over Washington on Sunday was the most-watched television program on any network since NBC’s Olympic coverage. According to Nielsen Media Research, 38.1 million people watched.
In the Seattle area, 76 percent of the televisions on were tuned to the game, a larger audience than last year’s Super Bowl.
From KJR to the water cooler, the air is crackling with chatter about the Seahawks. From the pulpit to ESPN you hear praises sung for Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman and Bobby Wagner.
This team believes, truly believes, in itself. And the city believes with it. The Hawks players believe in the notion of the next man up, whether it’s Frank Omiyale filling in for Russell Okung at tackle, or cornerback Jeremy Lane replacing Brandon Browner.
“Sports don’t build character. They reveal it,” John Wooden once said.
The Seahawks are loaded with character and a few amiable characters. (I’m talking about you, Richard Sherman.) Rookie quarterback Wilson has become the public face of that character.
For reasons I’ll never know, Carroll refused my sage suggestion that he start a veteran, Matt Flynn, at quarterback. I wrote that this season was too important to gamble on a rookie quarterback, even one with the eye-popping skills of Wilson.
But Carroll took the road less traveled, his usual route. He trusted his gut. He trusted his general manager John Schneider. And he believed that what he saw from Wilson in minicamps and training camp would translate to the field on game day.
Wilson does everything with a purpose. He doesn’t waste reps in practice. He makes every film session count. He often tells us that “separation comes from preparation.” And now, because of his preparation, Wilson has separated himself. He is the last rookie quarterback standing.
The country is talking about Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. Even as the winter gloom sits on Seattle like an immovable object, a light is shining on the city.
Seattle is relevant again. The Seahawks can’t be ignored.