BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 06/28/2011

Thiel: An unheard-of six months in local sports

The year is half over, and in Seattle it’s been half-glad, half-mad, half-sad; of course, it doesn’t add up, which is why we keep watching.

Marshawn Lynch's "Beastquake" touchdown in the playoff win over New Orleans was one of a series of jaw-droppers in Seattle sports in the first half of 2011. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Rarely is six months a sufficient sample size for any trend. But when one considers the usual local scene, the Seattle sports fan hangs his or her hat on whatever holds it.

The end of June marks a half-year in Seattle sports that has had a remarkable string of jaw-to-floor episodes, mostly good, some not. Not sure if there’s a record here, or a conclusion, or a crack between worlds. But as my favorite animated poultry, Foghorn Leghorn, would have put it, these were some of the most unheard of things I’ve ever heard of.

Speaking of whom  . . .

Chicken Hawk clobbers Foghorn Leghorn: I say . . . I say, it’s a joke, son – on the NFL.

Not only did the Seahawks stink up the sensitivities of the world’s most self-important sports organization (that is, after the International Olympic Committee retired the trophy), by rudely making the playoffs with a losing (7-9) record, on Jan. 8 they beat in the first round of the playoffs the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, 41-36.

That was a week after the Seahawks won the NFC West title with a 16-6 win over St. Louis behind Charlie Whitehurst and without injured starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Switching our cartoon references, that was the equivalent of Olive Oyl uppercutting Bluto out of his shoes instead of Popeye.

And that win was after the Seahawks’ nine losses were by 15 points or more, including five in the previous six games.

Rarely at a loss for words (except for explaining what was going on at USC), Seahawks coach Pete Carroll came into the post-game press conference after flummoxing the Saints with a grin and the perfect words:

“Was that fun or what?”

The grin went away the next weekend in Chicago – Bears 35, Seahawks 24 – but that was secondary to the fact that less than zero people foresaw the Saints outcome, the NFL’s upset of the year.

No wonder Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch felt compelled to grab his crotch as he scored his “Beastquake” touchdown. Post-Christmas package delivered.

The annoyance of Venoyance – Speaking of crotches, a few days after the Seahawks made the playoffs, the University of Washington basketball team was rocked by news that one of their teammates, who remained publicly unidentified for two months, was being investigated by Seattle police for sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl.

A bizarre cloud hung over the team, a rare circumstance more disruptive more than anyone has admitted publicly. Even though every student rowdy in the opponent stands figured out it was reserve guard Venoy Overton, the school and coach Lorenzo Romar could take no action until prosecutors decided what to do and ID’d the perp.

Ultimately, Overton was charged with a lesser misdeed, but Romar suspended him for the three games of the Pac-10 tournament, which the Huskies managed to win at least partly as an expression of relief.

A big part of the shock came because Romar’s teams until now avoided the scandals and intrigues that are a fixture of big-time college ball. Romar was criticized by some for going too light on Overton, allowing him to return for the two games of the NCAA tournament.

Hard to believe as the episode was, he made eyebrows go all St. Louis Arch this month. After the season and after he graduated, Overton was arrested on a charge of pimping when an 18-year-old girl accused him. When has that ever happened? Public records further disclosed in the Seattle Times a previous investigation of Overton in 2009 in which he sent profane text messages to a 15-year-old female cousin. He claimed they were intended to go to someone else, and no charges were filed.

After attempting to support Overton during the earlier foolishness, the recent news was a slap in the face to Romar. However the latest legal episode plays out, Overton’s disregard for the potentially lifelong value of trust and respect between player and coach is unforgivably stupid and destined to linger for years.

This is why they play the games – After unexpectedly firing one of their international stars, Blaise Nkufo, on the day of the opener, the Sounders lost the nationally televised match against the LA Galaxy, then proceeded to win only one of their first six MLS games.

Steve Zakuani was lost for the season on cheap hit, adding to a long list of injuries. Striker Fredy Montero has played a season mostly adrift. In the much-anticipated renewal of the rivalry, the Sounders suffered the indignity of a home draw against the traditionally despised Portland Timbers expansionists.

Then they closed June with three wins in eight days (Toronto, New York, New England), drew a record MLS crowd (46,065) Thursday and are second in the Western Conference (8-4-7).

These guys should be deader than the day after New Year’s. Yet they have more fizz than a Kasey Keller goal-mouth, foul-mouth tirade.

This is why they play the games (Part II) – The Mariners were dead this spring, according to everyone on the three planets closest to the sun. In fact, they are at least half-dead.

In the three-game backward series at Safeco against Florida with National League rules, Mariners pitchers outhit Mariners cleanup hitters 2-0, continuing the club’s broken-ox-cart wobble toward being the AL’s worst offensive team for a second season in a row.

Yet, after Monday’s 3-1 loss against Atlanta, the M’s are 39-40 and 2 games out of first place in the AL West. They have the second-best starting rotation in baseball, and won the recent series from the team with the best rotation, Philadelphia. And they won Sunday night against Florida with the weirdest walk-off win yet: A wild pitch on an intentional walk. That happens about that every Halley’s Comet or so.

The Fourth of July approaches, and the Mariners have hope, however perverse and preposterous. Knock me over with with a Chone Figgins OPS.

So there you have it. And I haven’t even attempted to explain how the defending WNBA champion Storm recently fell behind at the start of a game 22-0.

As the immortal Leghorn sagely observed: Unheard of.

Nevertheless, it’s been six months of compelling, scratch-a-divot-in-your-scalp sports theater.


  • Michael Kaiser

    ya, and I guess I was wrong about people piling on to Overton, although in the back of my mind I still wonder if the latest issue is everything it appears to be.  

  • Michael Kaiser

    ya, and I guess I was wrong about people piling on to Overton, although in the back of my mind I still wonder if the latest issue is everything it appears to be.