That Just Happened

NFL: St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks are Super Bowl champions for the first time in franchise history.

But first, a note about Richard Sherman, anger, and the city of Seattle.

Richard Sherman stared at the camera and unleashed the rant heard ‘round the world.

It was performance art that launched a thousand “think pieces” and debates about race, thugs, class (in more ways than one), Compton, Stanford and Erin Andrews.

But what stood out to me was how angry Sherman appeared, even though the Seahawks had just won the NFC Championship Game. His anger was directed at Michael Crabtree but it meant so much more to me. I embraced his anger, his competiveness, his determination to show that he is the best. The vast majority of Seattle fans embraced Sherman as well, because our anger is just as intense and goes back decades.

***

Author’s note: It should be noted that the WNBA’s Storm have won two titles. It should also be noted that the MLS Seattle Sounders (who have not won a title) are very popular. The length of this paragraph should indicate how much I care.

There are three major professional sports leagues that most sports fans in America care about: the NFL, MLB and the NBA. That’s the focus here. There’s a fourth called the NHL if you’re from Chicago and recently became a fan because it’s cool and Patrick Sharp is so dreamy. There’s a fifth called the English Premier League if you’re the type of person who hates America.

In 1967, the NBA arrived in Seattle. The Seattle SuperSonics became the first major professional sports franchise to call Seattle home. They would enjoy pretty consistent success and popularity through the years, even winning a NBA title in 1979. The Sonics were the most stable sports franchise in Seattle, a consistent winner. They produced legendary players known around the country by their nicknames: Downtown, Slick, Mr. Sonic, The Glove, The Reign Man, Big Smooth and Aaron Morse’s Hero (Steve Scheffler).

In 2008, the NBA left Seattle and has yet to return. The cliff notes version of this sordid tale is as follows: local coffee baron betrays the people of Seattle by selling the Sonics to a shady businessman from Oklahoma City, a Triple-A town, who promises not to relocate the team, then does. Seattle politicians make no effort to prevent the move and the NBA’s commissioner helps facilitate the destruction of more than 40 years of basketball history because Key Arena is somewhat small and he’s a grade-A asshole. It’s enough material for a movie. The Seattle SuperSonics became the Oklahoma City Th$$$$$. They have yet to win a NBA title in their new city.

In 1969, MLB arrived in Seattle. The Seattle Pilots competed in the American League’s West Division.

In 1970, MLB left Seattle. A used car salesman by the name of Allan Huber “Bud” Selig stole the Pilots and moved them to Milwaukee, a city that is most known for lousy beer. The Milwaukee Brewers debuted in 1970 and have yet to win a World Series. Selig went on to become the Commissioner of Baseball and played a major role in attempting to destroy the game’s popularity in 1994.

The Pilots did achieve immortality though thanks to “Ball Four”, a book that cheerfully outlines how the major power brokers in sports don’t give a fuck about the fans or the players.

Not one, but two of the sitting league commissioners actively helped steal major professional sports franchises from the city of Seattle.

Angry yet?

Let’s talk about the Mariners. In 1977, MLB returned to Seattle under the threat of a lawsuit. The Mariners played in the Kingdome, a multi-purpose facility that stretched the boundaries of the word “ugly.” The M’s didn’t have a winning season until 1991. Of course, by the time they finally had a winning season, their owner, a reprehensible man by the name of Jeff Smulyan, was threatening to move the team to Tampa Bay, a city that is most known for absolutely nothing.

Luckily, in the short term, unluckily in the long term, the Mariners were sold to a group led by the late Hiroshi Yamauchi of Nintendo. While the new group kept the Mariners in Seattle and had a run of success from 1993-2003, the last decade has been an embarrassment of historic proportions. The 2008 Seattle Mariners managed to become the first team in MLB history to have a payroll of one-hundred million dollars and lose 100 games. Even during their run of success, the Mariners embarrassed themselves by setting the AL record for most wins in a season (116 in 2001) and then failing to get past the ALCS as they lost to the Yankees in five.

The Mariners and the Washington Nationals are the only two current MLB teams that have never participated in the World Series. It should be noted that the Mariners had Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Ichiro and an allegedly roided up Bret Boone in their primes…and never made it past the ALCS during their run of relative success. Damn Indians. Damn Yankees. Damn Orioles (oh, yes, I remember 1997).

At least the Mariners play in a beautiful ballpark that the public voted against, you guys. Also, Robinson Cano.

***

This brings us to the Seahawks and Richard Sherman.

In 1976, the NFL arrived in Seattle. The original Seahawks were terrible but they had the wildly entertaining Jim Zorn and future Hall-of-Famer Steve Largent, so they are remembered fondly. They were lovable losers, like the Cubs, but with some talent.

During the Chuck Knox era, the Seahawks made their presence felt, especially in 1983 and 1984 as they made the AFC Championship Game for the first time in ’83 and went 12-4 in 1984, beating their hated rival the Raiders in the playoffs before falling to the Dolphins.

The win over the Raiders would be their last playoff win until 21 years later.

The Seahawks have their own ugly history, nearly moving to Los Angeles in 1996. Ken Behring, the team’s owner, claimed a fear of earthquakes made him want to move the team from Seattle to LA, a city most known for, well, really big earthquakes. I wish I was making this up. He even managed to move the team’s operations to Anaheim before he was stopped at the last minute and Paul Allen bought the team, saving football in Seattle.

In 2005, 21 years after the ’84 season, the Seahawks finally made the Super Bowl.

Then this happened.

And for anyone who thinks the Seahawks and their fans have no right to complain, there’s this.

Seattle fans have suffered a lot through the years on the field. But off the field, the lack of respect nationally has been very noticeable. Seattle is isolated, up in the great northwest, so out-of-towners love to stereotype Seattleites as mild mannered coffee drinkers who live in a city that has lots of rain. Being on the west coast means all of Seattle’s home games in baseball start late, too late for the east coast to care.

The mild mannered stereotype is what the 12th Man and the Legion of Boom have worked so hard to dispel. Obviously, Sherman is not from Seattle, as we all know, he hails from Compton. It just seems like all-too-often, outsiders think they can push Seattle around. Starting with Bud Selig, continuing on to David Stern and Clay Bennett, to David Justice (two homers off Arthur Rhodes in 2000 ALCS) and Roger Clemens (brushed back pretty boy A-Rod in 2000) and Hines Ward (dirtiest player of all-time), these villains have waltzed in and made a mockery of what we Seattle sports fans love most dearly.

Well fuck them. That time is over. As embodied by Richard Sherman’s rant, a new era has risen in Seattle sports. We are no longer your punching bag. We’re the ones doing the punching. We’ll fight to the death to get our NBA team back. We’re taking the Yankees’ star player, not vice versa. We are the Super Bowl champions.

I repeat, WE are the Super Bowl champions. The 12th Man is real, it’s not because of acoustics. Just ask Peyton Manning. No one could hear him calling out the signals on the snap that went over his head for the safety in the Super Bowl, at a supposedly neutral stadium across the country. The 12th man travels. It’s because of the passion, the hidden anger that has built up in fans through years of injustices perpetrated by cold hearted capitalists and evil connivers who think they can come into our house and push us around. Don’t you ever disrespect us again. You know what you’re going to get.

LOB.

***

I decided to fly to Seattle to watch the Super Bowl with my friends. This game meant that much to me. My flight was slightly delayed. It was only a few minutes, really. But I found it very interesting that I landed in Seattle at exactly 12:12. Also, baggage claim for my flight was at carousel 12.

12’s were everywhere, on buildings, in ice cream shops, on tree stumps by Green Lake. An airplane even traced a giant 12 above the state of Washington. Laughably, some (49ers fans and other ignoramuses) have accused Seahawks’ fans of being bandwagon fans. Remember that part about people having no clue what goes on in Seattle? I give you: exhibit A. Seahawks fans have been creating the 12th man atmosphere at home games for years, but it took a second Super Bowl appearance for anyone to notice.

Very few people outside of the Pacific Northwest wanted the Seahawks to win on Sunday. The Seahawks were the villains. Marshawn Lynch didn’t talk enough. Richard Sherman talked too much. Russell Wilson wasn’t Peyton Manning. Pete Carroll is an evil robber baron. It rains. (Less than New York City, but…narrative!) Macklemore didn’t deserve those Grammys.

Whatever the case may be, it was very fun for me to root for the “bad” guys. For once, it was a team from Seattle that people around the country were actively rooting against. This is a big step up from “not caring.”

And then the Seahawks dominated the Broncos from start to finish. I almost felt bad for Peyton Manning until I remembered that when he was looking for a new team he refused to talk to the Seahawks. Another slight. Another little jab at Seattle sports.

I don’t really blame Manning for that, for years big-time players haven’t had any desire to play in Seattle because of the fact it’s isolated in the northwest. But now, thanks to the Legion of Boom and the first Super Bowl victory in franchise history, that is changing. Who wouldn’t want to play with this level of talent and swagger?

Before Sunday, our only prior major professional sports title was literally stolen from the 206, along with a franchise. None of my friends and I were alive to witness that title. We were alive to witness the hijacking. The younger generation had no idea what it’s like to celebrate a championship.

They do now.

After the game I was just in a state of elation. I really didn’t have a desire to take to the streets and celebrate politely or not-so-politely. That anger that had been accumulating for years was gone, swept away by the championship. I just wanted to sit down and soak it all in. There is still work to be done. The NBA must return. The Mariners must win a World Series. But the first step has been taken towards healing years of frustration, and it’s a big one.

I brought my friend to Seattle for her birthday. She has no connection to the city, had never been here before. But she too got caught up in the passion of the 12th man. She is a Bears fan so she is passionate about football but she had never witnessed anything like this. We took a redeye back to Chicago that night after the game. We sat down in our respective seats, exhausted. I looked up at the overhead bin and noticed what row we’d been assigned.

It was row 12.

Advertisements

An atheist’s case for Tim Tebow

Logically there is no reason why I should like Tim Tebow.

In fact, there is no reason why a lot of us should like Tim Tebow. I know Tim Tebow’s brand of Christianity very well. It’s not an easy one to digest when you know the facts. Tim Tebow’s brand of Christianity holds that if you do not accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior…you are going to hell. That’s right, even though Tim Tebow has never met me, he thinks I’m damned for eternity unless I accept Jesus Christ died for all of our sins.

That’s a rather radical perspective, isn’t it? No matter what kind of life I lead, it’s not good enough according to Tebow’s brand of Christianity. Tebow does a good job dressing up his religion but facts are facts. Tebow believes the Bible is the literal word of God. And as anyone who has read the Bible can attest, the literal word of God is not particularly pleasant.

Furthermore, I’m an atheist. It is my opinion that man created God, not vice versa. I’m a fan of Bill Maher, George Carlin, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and the many others throughout history who stepped up and said “religion is bullshit.”

But God help me I love Tim Tebow.

Perhaps some background information is in order. I spent the summer of 2007 in Fairbanks, Alaska with a baseball team called the Athletes in Action Fire. This is where I was introduced to Tim Tebow’s brand of Christianity. I spent the summer broadcasting their games and traveling with them throughout Alaska. At that time I was rather ignorant of the power Christianity had on people’s lives. Growing up in Seattle I had assumed fundamentalist religion in America was a thing of the past. Yes, some people went to church, but it was more a tradition than any actual belief in a higher power. I had known a few religious people, but they did not subscribe to this brand of Christianity, not even close. Politicians talked about their religious beliefs, but they were politicians, the best bet there was not to believe a word that came from their mouths.

Basically, religious fundamentalism was not something I experienced growing up, so it was not something I really comprehended as a reality in America.

Needless to say the summer of 2007 was a rather eye-opening experience for me.

These guys were the real deal. They also couldn’t have been nicer human beings. I think a few of them were thrilled to have an atheist in their mix to challenge their beliefs. And challenge them I did. I remember one particular discussion about dinosaurs. It’s a tenant of Tebow’s brand of Christianity that the earth was created in six literal days. Not metaphorical days. Literal, 24-hour days. Naturally this brings up the rather problematic issue of dinosaurs and well the entire fossil record. It’s been a few years now but I’ll never forget one of the guys coming up to me after the debate and saying in a quiet voice “hey man, I really think you were making a lot of sense in there.” I wish he’d came to my defense during the debate (30 against one is not easy), but I appreciate the sentiment.

To make a long story short, I couldn’t have had a better time with the AIA Fire. Their mission was to spread the word of Jesus Christ through baseball and that is Tebow’s mission when it comes to football.

And guess what? That’s fine by me.

Would I want some of the friends I made with the AIA Fire running our country? No. But in the context of sports, their religion, no matter how fanatical it may seem to me, is frankly, irrelevant.

What made that group special and what makes Tim Tebow special is that they kept prevailing despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

The Fire were a regular bottom dweller in the league before I arrived in 2007. It’s hard enough to recruit good talent to Fairbanks but when that talent has to be fundamentalist Christian to boot, it’s even harder. The other teams had an almost unlimited talent pool to choose from, not so much the Fire.

But they did it. Of all the players on that team only one that I know of (Kirk Nieuwenhuis) is still in affiliated baseball. A few others got drafted late but didn’t stick. Some of the team’s very best players in my opinion didn’t get drafted at all. They were going up against five other teams who had a number of future high draft picks and yet in the end, it was the Fire who won the title.

How did they do it? I don’t know. It had nothing to do with any higher power but was still one of the most thrilling summers of my life. Two years later I went back and called games for the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks. The Goldpanners ended up having nearly three times as many players drafted as the Fire but finished in the middle of the pack that season in the league.

The Fire were not the most talented team and Tim Tebow is not the most talented quarterback.

But they both embody what I absolutely love about sports. On Sunday Tebow went up against the vaunted defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers finished the season as the AFC’s number one defense. They were loaded with playoff experience and some fearsome talent on both sides of the ball.

Tim Tebow entered the game having completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes on the season. Naturally he carved up the Steel Curtain for 316 yards through the air and three total touchdowns.

All of this defies logic, just like Tebow’s religion.

It’s one of my (perhaps illogical) beliefs that in order to be the best at what you do, you must have more passion than anyone else. I chose baseball broadcasting as my career because I care more about calling baseball than I do anything else. I’m not a natural. I talk too fast at times and my voice isn’t exactly going to make people think of Vin Scully. But I’ll be damned if I let anyone else outwork me at pursuing my dream of becoming a major league baseball announcer.

When I see Tim Tebow screaming “LET’S GO” on the sideline like a madman, it inspires me. His inspiration for his passion may be a belief in a God I don’t believe in, but his passion is genuine. We live in a world of millionaire athletes who certainly want to win, but there are a few special ones who stand out for wanting it more. Their reasons may vary but the results are often the same. Michael Jordan wanted it more because he had an insatiable desire to prove every doubter wrong. Ichiro displayed more passion for winning the World Baseball Classic than he does the average MLB game because his country’s honor was on the line. These guys became the best at what they did through athletic ability AND a passion that was unmatched by their peers.

Being a highly skilled player simply isn’t enough. Tim Tebow has plenty of athletic ability but minimal throwing ability. Do I think he can succeed long-term thanks to his determination to be the best quarterback in the game? I don’t know. He will never be the best in the game but I do think there’s a chance he could develop in to a very solid starting quarterback. I know he’ll continue to outwork his peers.

Every time Tebow wins, it’s not a sign from God. But it is a sign that a fanatical dedication to success can outweigh talent. No one can teach what Tebow has and no one can explain it with statistics.

I asked my friends on Facebook and my followers on Twitter to weigh in why they did or did not like Tebow. The most negative responses related to him “throwing his religion in our faces” which is ironic considering Tebow’s throwing accuracy. (I couldn’t resist.) Look, I think all religious views are silly, it’s just a matter of degree. Tebow’s open displays of his religion don’t bother me because I just see it as part of the show. Sports are entertainment and what’s a better story line than a fundamentalist Christian QB who can’t throw helping his team to improbable victory after victory? Besides, on Sunday it certainly beat rooting for the alternative. Religion being “thrown in my face” is fine. We’re constantly bombarded with messages from the advertising industry every day. Religion is just another product being sold.

Some people take issue with ESPN’s overwhelming positive coverage of Tebow. They think the hype is excessive. Well, I ask you this. When Tebow plays the Patriots, will you be watching? I thought so.

That’s really it though. The only reasons people have for not liking Tim Tebow seem to be his religion and the media hype surrounding him. The former is a rather silly reason to dislike someone personally and the latter is not really his fault.

However, as I said at the start, the fact remains that if Tim Tebow is right about the nature of God, I’m most definitely going to hell.

But in the meantime I’m in heaven watching him defy the odds.