BY Bob Sherwin 05:11PM 01/26/2011

Sports Star scene: Musings and meetings

Sportspress Northwest’s Bob Sherwin with news, notes and quotes from the big night

Apolo Ohno and Gary Payton chat prior to the 76th Annual Sports Star of the Year awards show at Benaroya Hall in Seattle Wednesday / Scott Eklund, Red Box Pictures

Another gathering of the Seattle sporting clan drew athletes, coaches and fans to the 76th renewal Wednesday night at Benaroya Hall of the Sports Star of the Year.

The event’s godfather is Royal Brougham, longtime sports writer/editor for the now defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper. He started the Man of the Year banquet in 1935 and is now the longest running event of its kind in the nation.

Brougham died in 1978 but his idea continued to grow, becoming more diverse with pro teams as well as women’s sports.

With the P-I demise in March 2009, the tradition was in jeopardy. But with the help of the Seattle Sports Commission and this year’s sponsors Root Sports (the new name for FSN) , the event has endured in a new venue that drew almost 1,400 attendees.

The evening, emceed by longtime Seattle comedian Pat Cashman, began with a reception whose first big-name arrivals were former Washington football coach Don James and retired broadcaster Keith Jackson, the voice of God in college football. James received an award and Jackson gave one.

The Dawgfather

James, winningest coach in University of Washington history, was honored with the Royal Brougham Legend Award, chosen by the Seattle Sports Commission committee. He took the Huskies to six Rose Bowls, winning four, and won the national title in 1991.

Don’t start with the Miami Hurricanes stuff.

Jackson, also retired, but will on rare occasion pop up behind a microphone, presented the Media Award named after him to the family of  Dave Niehaus, longtime Mariners broadcaster who died in November.  Jackson’s powerful words and the video tribute to Niehaus was the evening’s most powerful moment.

Other award winners as selected by committee prior to the event:

Sports Citizen of the Year – Paul Allen, owner of the Seattle Seahawks. He’s also the Sounders FC co-owner as well as that professional basketball team south of the state line. He is said to be one of the world’s most generous philanthropists, having donated more than $1 billion of his Microsoft fortune. Too much of that might have gone to Charlie Whitehurst, however.

Sports Executive of the Year – Karen Bryant, President and CEO of the Seattle Storm. The Storm won the WNBA championship this season. She has been the Storm’s guiding force since their inception under the Ackerley family in 1999.

Seattle Children’s Inspirational Youth Award – Ike Ditzenberger, Snohomish High football. Ike, a junior with Down Syndrome, became a national inspiration when his touchdown run topped 2.5 million hits on YouTube.

The 44th Annual Hutch Award – Tim Hudson, Atlanta Braves. Hudson, who was honored earlier in the day at the Hutch’s annual luncheon at Safeco, was chosen for his charitable work. The baseball player who wins this award is one who exemplifies the honor, courage and dedication of Fred Hutchinson, the former Seattle Rainiers and Cincinnati Reds pitcher. His brother helped establish the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Payton’s Place
GP is in the house. Former Sonics guard Gary Payton, the Sports Star in 1997 during the Sonics’ glory years, came in from his home in Las Vegas for the event.

Gary Payton / Scott Eklund, Red Box Pictures

“This is like the ESPYs,” he said. “There are some great athletes who deserve these awards.”

Payton has been doing a number of interviews this week trying to drum up support – and hope – for a return of the Sonics to the city. Oklahoma City stole them two years ago and the Kevin Durant-led team has the makings of a competitive team.

“I was drafted here. I spent 13 years here. I love it,” Payton said. “I still love it. I told my friends I am going to come back here and move here. They said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ And I say, ‘I’ve been thinking about it because I really do miss it.’ ”

That’s not going to happen unless the city gets an NBA team. He’s not going to come to Seattle without a promise that the city will get a team because he wants to be part of it.

What if, I asked, we pool our resources together and bring a team here?

“You want to do that. Just us? No more people?” he said. “I guess we don’t need more than that. I think that’ll be a good thing. Shawn (Kemp) would like to get into it, too.”

Payton still has a couple anchors here. He’s the owner of Seastar Restaurant in Bellevue and part-owner of El Gaucho in Belltown.

Careful, it’s Slick
Another former Sonics guard, Slick Watts, who preceded Payton in the hearts of Sonics fans, was among the dignitaries who walked the red carpet.

Slick Watts attends to the fans at the Sports Star of the Year banquet / Scott Eklund, Red Box Pictures

Watts isn’t so optimistic about an NBA resurgence here.

“Right now, personally, it’s just a lot of talk because until an arena is built, face it, David (Stern, NBA Commissioner) ain’t even going to look this way.”

And many Seattle fans, burned by Stern, ain’t lookin’ his way.

Watts said he talked to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer a couple weeks ago “and his thing is he wants it (arena) to stay out of Bellevue/Redmond. He doesn’t want nothing to intrude on his territory. He wasn’t going to help out if it’s over there.

“Fred Brown keeps saying he’s getting something going but he said that three years ago, too. We have to cross our fingers and hope some team is losing so much money, that they say let’s give Seattle a chance.”

Then it’ll be Seattle’s turn once again to lose so much money.

“We have reputation as the most millionaires in the country and people say, ‘How did you all let that happen?’ How did you let Oklahoma take it?”

All it took was one oily millionaire.

Following the right path
So, Don James, weren’t you a legend years ago? How come it took so long to officially recognize you?

“The older you get,” he mused, “the more they forget about the losses.”

James said Steve Sarkisian has his old program on the right track.

“I think they are right on,” he said. “The hardest thing about a program is that when it’s down to turn it (around). To get the late wins, then the (Holiday) bowl bid and then to win it was great. They even had a better recruiting class. You have to back it up with good recruiting classes.”

James, who spends much of his time in Palm Springs, used to be a pretty decent golfer. But one of the disappointments with getting older is he’s getting shorter.

“I’m not near the golfer I used to be,” he said. “It’s yardage. Skip Hall, who used to be one of my coaches, his daughter was down a few weeks ago and I played with her. She hits it 210. I can’t get there anymore.”

You’ll always have Hope
Hope Solo, the former UW keeper, U.S. Women’s National Team member and former Sports Star (2008) winner, is a woman on the mend.

Former star winner Hope Solo was a presenter at this year's awards / Scott Eklund, Red Box Pictures

She had shoulder surgery six months ago and has not been able to play with the national team, which just beat China two days ago.

Dr. James Andrews, the renowned Birmingham, AL, orthopedic surgeon who has operated on Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Albert Pujols, among others, operated on her.

“Now I got to get better and get ready for the World Cup (in 2012),” she said.

Was does she think of the banquet now?

“It gets better every year. It’s one of my favorite events to attend,” she said. “There is something about Seattle Sports Star of the Year. It’s kind of that hometown thing. My father loved it for years and years. So it’s always been special to me.”

Whoa, Nellie!
Broadcaster Keith Jackson, the definition of a legend, attended the event. One of the awards is the Keith Jackson Award, this year going to the late Dave Niehaus.

Jackson, a Washington State grad and former KOMO reporter, has retired from his job as America’s premier college football broadcaster. He has no interest in any broadcast gigs, even as a passerby in the Mariners booth.

“I did the Rainiers,” he said. “That was enough.”

For those who remember him for so much other than baseball, that’s a surprise. But he didn’t enjoy baseball.

“Too many games. I like the ‘Wide World of Sports’ concept,” he said of the ABC anthology show than began in the 1960s. “You get to see a bunch of funky places and get yourself locked up in plenty of jails.” He’s kidding.

With all the teams he covered week after week, how did he keep up? He hardly ever slipped up. He knew all the names. He remembered so much background information.

“I kept my files up so I had a file on every team and every coach and all statistics,” Jackson said. “You got so you just knew it.”

He said his memory “used to be pretty good. Now I have a severe case of short-term memory loss sometimes.”

Legend to legend

Jackson presented the Keith Jackson Award posthumously to Niehaus.

“Good lord, the passion that must be running through their veins,” Jackson said of baseball announcers. “Imagine 162 games with the same people. I can’t imagine any more passion than Dave Niehaus.”

The gathering was shown a five-minute video of Niehaus calls and images. Afterward, the crowd applauded vigorously.

“Did you hear that, Dave?” Jackson said. “They love you.”

Backstage after presenting the award, Jackson said that Niehaus “was my kind of guy.”

He related the story of a young Niehaus trying to get into the business in L.A. He would go to all the meetings, meet all the right people and beat the bushes to get in the business.

“You get in this business, you have to work,” Jackson said. “It’s no fun sometimes. When it’s done, and you’ve done a good job, it’s rewarding. I don’t know Dave’s parents, but someone raised him very well.”

Jackson has not been to a stadium to see a game of any sort since he retired a couple years ago. He did serve as the honorary coin-tosser at the Rose Bowl last year.

“I flipped that coin, went straight out the gate, got in that Town Car and 22 minutes later sat down at my dinner table,” he said.

We like Ike

Ike Ditzenberger received the Seattle Children's Inspirational Youth Award / Scott Eklund, Red Box Pictures

Ike Ditzenberger gave the most emotional speech of the evening after winning the Seattle Children’s Inspirational Youth Award.

Ditzenberger, who has Down Syndrome, was a sensation on YouTube after he scored a 51-yard touchdown last year.

He wrote his own speech. Speaking deliberately with his words superimposed on the auditorium’s big screen, he made a plea to give people like him “a place on your team, a place in your school and a place in your community” to allow their dreams come true.

His video has been seen by more than 2.5 million viewers. As one family friend with him said, “At school the kids call him ‘Hollywood.’ ”

A right-hand man for kids
Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson, who was a Mariners killer when he pitched for Oakland earlier this decade, was recognized for winning the 46th Annual Hutch Award. The award, in honor of former Rainiers pitcher Fred Hutchinson, is presented to a baseball player who exemplifies the honor, courage and dedication of the Seattle-born pitcher.

“I didn’t know much about the award but I talked to Jason Giambi, who has won the award, and he said it’s such as an honor,” Hudson said. “He was telling me how great it was and it’s such a great thing. I’m just excited to be associated with the award.”

Hudson also won another national award, Comeback Player of the Year. He went 17-9 with a 2.83 ERA with the Braves a year after Tommy John elbow surgery.

“If you win it, it’s a good thing, but obviously you don’t want to be in the position to win it,” he said. “Fortunately, I was able to come back for a Tommy John surgery and have a good year. Hopefully, that’s the last Comeback of the Year award for me.”

Hudson added that Mariners starter Felix Hernandez “is a tremendous pitcher already, so young (24). It’s weird to think he’s only going to get better. But he is. He’s going to be an exciting guy to watch for a lot of years.”

Sports Star of the Year Winners (1935-2011)


YourThoughts

  • mary farmen

    THANK YOU FOR ALL OF YOUR COVERAGE OF HE SEATTLE SPORTS NIGHT – IT HAS

    BEEN A PLEASURE TO WATCH YOUR NEWS, ESPECIALLY WHEN SOME PEOPLE ARE NOT

    ABLE TO ATTEND.

    KEEP UP THE GREAT SITE!

  • Anonymous

    That was a half-hearted apology from Wedge. How could nobody on the coaching staff, no player, not even the pitcher charting the game, not caught that?

    Sure, the umpires blew it. But that’s embarrassing for Wedge, too.