NEW YORK — In a land that contains more Lombardi Trophies than any other, where three Stanley Cup titles were delivered with the promise of more, where the Major League Baseball franchise and college football team hoisted their share of World Series and national championships, Pittsburgh cannot imagine how Seattle feels.
Here is how it feels: One major pro sports title in history, won in 1979 by the NBA Seattle Supersonics, who since have fled the city and operate as the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“We kind of have this woe-is-us thing going on anyway because we’re up in the corner, South Alaska,” quipped Clare Farnsworth, who has covered the Seattle Seahawks for 35 years, most recently for the team’s website.
Besides losing its NBA team, Seattle also lost its first MLB team, the Seattle Pilots, part of baseball expansion in 1969 who relocated after one season to become the Milwaukee Brewers. At least baseball returned to Seattle in the form of the Mariners, who have had their moments but no championship.
As you are trying to understand how Seattle feels, think Cleveland, which hasn’t won a pro sports title since the Browns were 1964 NFL champions, and also lost two pro franchises (the Browns and the NHL Cleveland Barons).
The Seahawks, born of NFL expansion in 1976, have reached the Super Bowl for the second time, searching for their first Lombardi. And you know who ripped their hearts out in that first try after the 2005 season in Detroit? The city with the championship glut.
“It was almost like the Seahawks lost that game rather than the Steelers won it,” Farnsworth says of the feeling in Seattle after the Steelers’ 21-10 victory in Super Bowl XL. “I got into trouble because I didn’t buy into that. I said if Jerramy Stevens catches one of the four passes he drops or if they stop one of those big plays by the Steelers … they would have won the game.
“There’s kind of been this chip on the shoulder since then.”
Pittsburgh fans may not understand what a Seahawks victory against the Denver Broncos Sunday would mean to Seattle and much of the Pacific Northwest territory, but one Pittsburgh native does.
ESPN’s John Clayton, born in Braddock, covered the Steelers dynasty in the 1970s and relocated to Seattle to cover the Seahawks in 1986. He has lived there ever since, joining ESPN in 1995.
“In some ways, it’s kind of like what the Steelers went through in the early ’70s,” Clayton said of the Seahawks’ upswing. “This area has been so blighted when it comes to success. Their baseball team hasn’t won, the Seahawks had some success, got to a Super Bowl and didn’t win. They lost their basketball team.
“It’s been a long drought. Winning a Super Bowl would mean everything.”
Like those Steelers of the early 1970s, the Seahawks have a good, young talented team (second youngest in Super Bowl history at an average age of 26.4) driven by a great defense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL with a young quarterback and good running game.
Although successful longevity is more difficult in this era of free agency and the salary cap, the Seahawks certainly are in position to be good for a number of years.
“It’s at a stage where they could maybe get two Super Bowls in a five-year period,” Clayton said. “They have a quarterback who is good enough and will get better. Right now, he’s kind of going through some of the stuff Ben Roethlisberger did his second year, those growing pains, but he works so hard and is that good.
“They have a chance like any real good top team to get two Super Bowls in five years.”
Seattle would settle for one championship at the moment, to end the long drought, to hold a parade.
“Oh, man, it would be huge for the city,” said Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson, who led Penn State to the 2005 Big Ten Conference championship as quarterback. “I always say Seattle fans are the closest to a college atmosphere in the National Football League I’ve ever seen.
“They’re behind us whether we’re winning or losing, and we need to reward them with a championship.”
That atmosphere was never more noticeable than Sunday when fans by the thousands lined SeaTac Airport roads to give the Seahawks a send-off to the Super Bowl. Since Pete Carroll arrived from Southern California to coach them in 2010, there’s been more frenzy around the Seahawks.
“There’s just been such a buildup,” Farnsworth said. “The fan base has always been good, but, since Pete showed up, especially the last two years with the 12th man thing, it’s gone crazy.
“It’s hard to put into words what a Super Bowl win would mean. You had to see the send-off Sunday, you get off Interstate 5 to get to the road to go to the airport, there were cars lining the off-ramp, people standing on their cars yelling and screaming.
“We make the turn, they were 4-5 deep and the closer we got to the airport, there were 8-10 deep. It looked like something you would film in a movie to show a team going to the Super Bowl. It was insane.”
What it looked like was January 1975 in Pittsburgh.
Said Seattle tight end Zach Miller, “We know how much they want us to bring back a championship. We definitely understand that, and they are deserving of it.”
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette.