Lots of teeth-gnashing this morning about the Seahawks and their “bid” for an NFC West division championship next weekend when they take on the St. Louis Rams. Some fans here are saying they’d rather not have the Seahawks win and risk the embarrassment of them getting blown out on a national stage in the first playoff round.
Look, I hear you. I’ve watched my share of good football teams over the years and this Seahawks squad doesn’t immediately trigger comparisons.
And no, I’m not trying to say they’re going to win a Super Bowl. They just don’t have the playmakers, the offensive line, or the “don’t break” kind of defense for that. We won’t get into the whole quarterback thing.
But hey, this is professional sports. No jokes inserted. In pro sports, strange things can happen. And the first step towards winning anything that matters is to get into the playoffs.
We as Mariners observers experienced a lot of similar feelings during the late summer of 2007. A lot of fans writing in to this blog kept stating that, although the Mariners were in the midst of a surprising 88-win season, they’d have rather not seen Seattle make the post-season because they were not a playoff-caliber team.
True, they weren’t playoff caliber. A rotation of Felix Hernandez, Miguel Batista, Jarrod Washburn and Jeff Weaver (photo above) was not going to inspire fear in too many people. But you can’t win if you don’t play.
And as it turned out, that 2007 team was the closest chance the M’s had of making the post-season in nearly a decade since 2003 ended. Think about it: in three seasons since, the M’s have had two 101-loss campaigns and an 87-win, third place season in which their playoff dreams died in late July.
Think what you want about the 2007 M’s and their playoff worthiness. But they were in the playoff discussion right up until early September of that year. That was a time when Hernandez waltzed into Yankee Stadium — his team’s wild-card hopes still flickering — and shut down the Bronx Bombers. Of course, Washburn and the bullpen were both shelled the next night and Seattle pretty much fell off the playoff wagon for good. But what a thrill it was watching Hernandez that night, when you could dream of the playoff possibilities.
And for now, the Seahawks, bad as they are, still have that dream.
Photo Credit: Jim Bates/Seattle Times
And the thing is, no matter how “right” they rebuild things down the road, they might not get as close to this dream again for years to come. What happens if some NFC West team — don’t laugh — goes 12-4 next year? Stranger things have happened one year to the next in the NFL. Chances are, it won’t be the Seahawks doing it, but what if the 49ers — with loads of talent and a new incoming coach — finally put it all together? Or, what if Sam Bradford leads the revived Rams to a stunning romp over the rest of the NFC West and gets that squad to a dozen wins?
Well then, it won’t matter if the Seahawks improve to 8-8 or 9-7. They still might not have a shot at the post-season, just as some current .500 or better NFL teams won’t be going to the playoffs. The Patriots were 11-5 a couple of years ago and missed out on post-season action. Baltimore is 11-4 this year and — until yesterday — didn’t know whether they’d be playoff-bound.
You just never know.
It’s a lesson we learned in baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006 and the San Francisco Giants this past season. In sports, you can’t win if you don’t play. Nobody expected those two teams to be able to topple anybody in a best-of-five or best-of-seven.
Growing up in Montreal, I watched a pretty bad Canadiens hockey team make it to the final four in 1984 (ask 710 ESPN Seattle’s Mike Salk what they did to his first-place Bruins) and come within a missed penalty shot of going to the finals, then a couple of half-decent clubs win a Stanley Cup by fluke in 1986 and especially in 1993. Again, those were long series.
In the NFL, it’s a best-of-one. Have a bad day — which all teams do from time to time — and you’re out. Yeah, I know, football is about the cream of the crop rising to the top. The good teams usually win out in the post-season. Except for when they don’t.
Some of you may have already forgotten Jim Plunkett and his 1980 Oakland Raiders winning every game on the road and beating the heavily-favored Eagles in the Super Bowl. And I know most of you remember the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers going on the road, knocking off a Bengals team that had beaten them at home a few weeks before and a Colts team that had demolished them on Monday Night Football. The Steelers then blew out the Broncos in Denver and handled the Hawks in the Super Bowl.
Yes, those Steelers were more talented than these Hawks. But was the quality of opposition tougher than what Seattle would face this time? I’d say, yes it was. This is the year of parity in the NFL, especially in the NFC. Don’t forget, the Hawks have already seen three teams they might face in the post-season. That always makes a difference in terms of preparation. The best NFC team right now just might be the Eagles and honestly, I doubt anyone in Philadelphia expects a smooth playoff ride.
I’m not telling you who to cheer for or to let the Hawks off the hook for this second half collapse in their season.
All I’m saying is, never spit in the mouth of a playoff gift horse.
Just ask the Mariners. As much as we’ve all mocked the Horacio Ramirez-led M’s from 2007, they will probably wind up being Seattle’s best post-season baseball shot for the years 2004-2011. In the end, getting there is important. There are no style points awarded for how “playoff like” a team looks.
Please note, I’m not counting the football Huskies in this. First off, they are amateur football players in college, not pros. Second, they aren’t playing for a championship. They are a .500 team playing in one of countless bowl games. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. It will be fun to watch and see how this rebuilding team does, but even if they do upset Nebraska in a third-rate bowl game, not too many people around the country will care.
The NFL playoffs are the premier stage, just as the MLB post-season is. Make it there, you have a shot at the whole thing.
That’s why, whether it’s baseball or football, you can’t sneeze at the second season. Because the truth is, if the Hawks do get in at 7-9 and pull off just one upset win, it kind of erases any relevance for their regular season record. If they somehow do make it to the second round, they will be on equal footing with all those 12-4 and 11-5 teams.
That’s how pro sports operate.
Never laugh it off. Just ask Mariners fans today whether they’d like to be in a wild-card and divisional race on Sept. 1. Just three years ago, they were, but most failed to appreciate it.
As bad as sports have been in this town of late, try to savor the possibilities today when you still have some. There will be plenty of time to gnash teeth in the long winter ahead.
Here’s a Christmas greeting for my buddy, Crypticsailor. Do I look unhappy to you? This is before the final regular season game two years ago. Just trying to spread a little good cheer here for Seahawks fans. Hey, and if you still want to be miserable, now I just gave you all a good reason to be.