How to rank Seattle sports’ most gut-wrenching defeats
Jun 20, 2016, 10:31 AM | Updated: Jun 22, 2016, 2:01 pm
I was 10 when I first felt the full weight of a sports loss.
I wailed and cried for the better part of the 1985 NCAA Championship as Villanova laid waste to the Georgetown team I professed to love. I remember being told to take a bath before the game was over and my Mom pointing out that I was dying a thousand deaths over a team located three time zones away. I guess I was dramatic. Even at age 10 in Oregon.
I like to think that I’ve matured in the 31 years since. I’ve (mostly) stopped crying over the results of sporting events. That doesn’t mean they don’t sting, though, and watching the Golden State Warriors fail to score over the final four minutes and 39 seconds of their Game 7 loss at home to Cleveland was excruciating enough that my wife – who was doing business-school homework at the time – asked for no further clarification on the game after being told Golden State lost.
Related: Warriors join 2001 Mariners as record setters who came up short
Pain is part of being a sports fan. Specifically, it’s the worst part. But it is also the unavoidable counterbalance to the irrational joy and satisfaction that a victory can bring. You can not experience the same high without being vulnerable to the low, and if you’re going to watch sports as anything more than just a passionate observer you are eventually going to feel that pain.
Ross Richendrfer suggested on Twitter calibrating a scale for measuring the agony of sports defeats here in Seattle. It’s a gut-punch scale, something coined by Bill Simmons and unbelievably fitting given the propensity for a big loss to leave you doubled over and short of breath.
This is going to require some collaboration. After all, I have no idea where to include the Sonics’ loss to the Washington Bullets in the 1978 NBA Finals. So consider what follows to be suggestions of landmarks that are open for debate and discussion.
We start with the presumption that all losses hurt at least a little. Even if it’s a 100-loss baseball team losing for the 101st time in 2008 and again in 2010 or the 2013 Seahawks losing at home to Arizona in what turned out to be a meaningless blemish.
2013 divisional round: Seahawks heartbreaker in Atlanta
The Seahawks went 30 years without winning a playoff game on the road. They were less than a minute from winning their second in nine days to advance to the NFC Championship Game in January 2013 only to have Atlanta’s Matt Ryan complete two straight passes so the Falcons could kick the game-winner on the final play. The pain was tempered by the optimism of what lay ahead for a young Seattle team whose Russell Wilson had just finished his first season as Seahawks quarterback.
1996 NBA Finals: Sonics lose Game 6 to Bulls
It hurt, no doubt. But the Sonics were going up against the winningest regular-season team in NBA history. The Bulls went 72-10 in Michael Jordan’s first full season back from baseball. After winning back-to-back games in Chicago to start the series, the Bulls won Game 3 in Seattle 108-86. Seattle won two more, but that served to accomplish only two things: 1) Delayed the Bulls’ celebration until they got back to Chicago for Game 6; 2) Spawned what ifs for Seattle. What if Nate McMillan hadn’t been out the first three games because of back pain? What if coach George Karl had put Gary Payton on Michael Jordan sooner?
2008 Apple Cup
I watched very little of this Huskies’ season. It made me too mad. I mostly listened to it on the radio while doing home renovation, figuring my frustration could be funneled toward something productive like hitting my thumb with a hammer. Or sanding drywall. And as the winless Washington Huskies allowed a fourth-quarter drive to the one-win Washington State Cougars, I turned off the radio. I got in my car. I drove. I knew what was going to happen. Well, I didn’t know it was going to end in a 16-13 Cougs’ victory in double overtime, but I knew Washington was going to lose.
It’s the single angriest day I’ve ever had as a fan. I was so angry that I blamed Ty Willingham – then Washington’s coach – for my dog’s death less than a year later. Tai was one of the Shar-Peis my wife and I rescued. He had a hippo nose, a goofy personality and was an absolute sweetheart. He died of kidney failure in August 2009, and I’m convinced it’s because he shared a first-name pronunciation with the coach who let Washington roll over.
2000 American League Championship Series: Mariners drop Game 6 to Yankees
The Mariners won the first game of the series at Yankee Stadium and held a 7-5 lead there in Game 6 going into the seventh inning. David Justice’s three-run homer off Arthur Rhodes in the seventh ended Seattle’s ambitions for a Game 7. Rhodes allowed four runs on four hits in the inning and Seattle lost 9-7 in Alex Rodridguez’s final game in a Mariners uniform.
1994 first-round NBA playoffs: Denver upsets Sonics in Game 5
The Sonics won a franchise-record 63 games in the first year of Michael Jordan’s baseball sabbatical. They won the first two games of the best-of-five first-round series against Denver. The Nuggets came back to win three straight, the final two games going to overtime. After the Nuggets won Game 5, Dikembe Mutombo collapsed flat on his back holding the ball in both hands after grabbing the final rebound of the series is still a dagger to the heart of any Seattle basketball fan.
Super Bowl XL: Steelers steal win from Seahawks
It’s one thing to lose a game. It’s another to feel the game is taken away from you, and after the Seahawks were beaten by the Steelers in the Super Bowl, the city of Seattle felt as if it took one in the shorts. An offensive pass-interference penalty negated a Seahawks’ touchdown in the first half, and a phantom holding penalty kept Seattle from putting the ball at the goal line for what would have been a go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. Throw in a questionable touchdown given to Ben Roethlisberger in the first half and an absurd penalty against Matt Hasselbeck for a below-the-waist block on a play in which he was trying to make the tackle and it added up to a game that was officiated either extremely poorly or very suspiciously, and perhaps both.
2001 ALCS: Yankees kill Mariners hopes in Game 4
The Mariners won 116 games only to be pushed to the brink of elimination by Cleveland in the divisional series. The Yankees won the first two games of the series in Seattle, and had led for 20 of the first 22 innings before the Mariners scored 14 runs over the final five innings of Game 3 in New York to climb back into the series. Seattle was two innings from tying the series in Game 4, holding a 1-0 lead over New York going into the bottom of the eighth. Outfielder Bernie Williams tied it with a solo home run in the eighth, and Alphonso Soriano won it with a two-run homer of Kaz Sasaki in the bottom of the ninth.
2014 Super Bowl XLIX: Seahawks fall to Patriots
Dude. Not even going to explain this one. Too soon.
So that’s the starting point. Feel free to debate, discuss and add as we work toward a definitive scale.