Loserville, USA? Sonics, Seahawks, Mariners


Titles won: 1 (1979).

Finals appearances: 3 (1978, 1979, 1996).

What's gone wrong: The Sonics might have repeated as Western Conference champs in 1980 if Magic Johnson hadn't joined the Lakers that season. His arrival, combined with Dennis Johnson's growing unhappiness, essentially spelled the end for that Sonics group. The Sonics had another nice run in the mid-1990s, getting fortunate with draft picks that turned into Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton as well as making a few nice trades (Benoit Benjamin for Sam Perkins, etc.). Sonics probably should have won the NBA title in 1994 with Michael Jordan momentarily retired, but blew it with a first-round loss to Denver. The 1996 team then ran into Jordan's Bulls team that was just too good. The Sonics couldn't sustain that run either, as, again, one player (Kemp) grew unhappy and the Lakers again picked up a superstar (Shaquille O'Neal).

Outlook: With the Gary Payton era over and the team officially rebuilding, the Sonics appear the furthest away of any of the Seattle teams from winning a title anytime soon, especially considering the strength of the Western Conference.


1. Trading Dennis Johnson for Paul Westphal. This 1980 trade was the beginning of the end of the Sonics' '78-80 run, the most successful in terms of postseason success for any team in Seattle sports history. By all accounts, Johnson had grown hard to deal with and maybe had to be moved. But getting just Westphal — who was at the end of his career by then — was the wrong way to go. Westphal played just 36 games for the Sonics, who began a quick decline.

2. Signing Jim McIlvaine. Almost everything bad that has happened to the Sonics since the 1996 run to the Finals can be traced back to this 1996 signing, which occurred roughly a month after the end of that season. McIlvaine's signing hacked off Shawn Kemp, which led to Vin Baker, which led to chaos. McIlvaine averaged 3.5 points in two seasons before moving on.

3. Demoting, then trading, Lenny Wilkens. Easy to forget now, but the 1971-72 Sonics were on the verge of something good — after winning 12 of 13, they were 45-26 in early March — before Spencer Haywood got hurt and the team sputtered to the finish line. Management's solution was to force Wilkens — then a player-coach — to do one or the other. When Wilkens chose playing, the Sonics, fearing he might not co-exist with new coach Tom Nissalke, traded him to Cleveland for Butch Beard, a disastrous move that set the franchise back years.


Titles won: None.

Closest they've come: 1983, advanced to AFC title game (lost to Raiders, 30-14).

What's gone wrong? Mostly bad ownership (Ken Behring) and bad quarterbacks (Rick Mirer, Dan McGwire, Kelly Stouffer). The Seahawks were one of the NFL's model franchises from their inception in 1976 through the mid-'80s before the 1987 strike — which splintered the team's locker room — and the sale of the team to Behring the next year unraveled everything. The franchise is still trying to recover from the eight-year Behring era, which not only turned the team into a loser on the field but also cooled the incredible fever that gripped Seattle fans during the team's early years.

Outlook: Believe it or not, the Seahawks might be the closest of the three Seattle teams to winning it all, given the current NFL parity. If QB Matt Hasselbeck can pick up where he left off last season and the draft and free agency provide some defense, the Seahawks should be contenders next season. The move from the wide-open AFC to the suddenly stronger NFC, however, isn't a help. 


1. Selling the team to Ken Behring. People who have arrived in Seattle since 1988 might find it hard to believe that the Seahawks once owned Seattle. Behring's meddling ways changed all that and began a spiral that the franchise is still trying to reverse. Still hard to figure if Behring's worst move was hiring Tom Flores, drafting Dan McGwire or attempting to move the team to Los Angeles.

2. Drafting Larry, Curly and Moe. Or as we know them, Kelly (Stouffer), Dan (McGwire) and Rick (Mirer). OK, so Stouffer was technically acquired in a trade (for Kenny Easley). Still, few teams, if any, have had as many high first-round draft pick QBs — Stouffer was the No. 6 pick in 1987, McGwire No. 16 in 1991 and Mirer No. 2 in 1993 — in as short a period of time turn into complete busts. The three combined to throw for 48 touchdowns against 79 interceptions with the Seahawks.

3. Beating New England in 1992. In the third week of the 1992 season, the Seahawks rose up and for some hard-to-fathom reason, beat the Patriots, 10-6. That might have been the most costly win in team history. When the season ended, the two were tied with 2-14 records, the worst in the NFL. Thanks to that win, however, Seattle got the No. 2 draft pick with the Pats getting No. 1. And that was the difference between getting Drew Bledsoe or Mirer. With Bledsoe still throwing for huge yards in Buffalo, it's painful to think about what might have been.


Titles won: None.

Closest they've come: 1995, 2000, 2001 (lost in ALCS each time).

What's gone wrong? This team has had the worst ownership and management of any of Seattle's franchises. Ownership doomed this team from its birth in 1977 until 1992. Since the current owners took over, however, the Mariners have generally been competitive, highlighted by the 300 wins of the past three seasons. Still, the Mariners haven't won it all, and the main criticism of current management is that it hasn't made the late-season moves that might have put the team over the top.

Outlook: Seattle's most successful team of late also appears at something of a crossroads with an aging unit that is heading into its first season in a decade without manager Lou Piniella. And the sudden strength of the AL West will make the task that much tougher. If things begin to fall apart this season, the ugly specter of rebuilding could be in the air, and just how deeply the team's popularity really runs could get its first significant test.


1. Blowing it on deadline day in 1997. The Mariners might have had a chance to win it all in 1997, and set a good foundation for the future, had they pulled off the right moves at the trade deadline. Instead, deals sending Jose Cruz Jr., Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe to Toronto and Boston for Mike Timlin, Paul Spoljaric and Heathcliff Slocumb didn't solve the bullpen mess, and cost the organization three of its best young prospects.

2. Selling the team to George Argyros. The first Mariners ownership group (Danny Kaye, etc.) simply didn't have the money. The third owner, Jeff Smulyan, didn't either. Before Smulyan, Argyros — who owned the team from 1981-89 — had the money, but simply didn't want to spend it. Instead, he seemed to revel in trying to prove that baseball wouldn't work in Seattle.

3. Getting cheap after the 1995 season. After the fabulous ride in 1995 that saved baseball in Seattle, Mariners management decided to trade Tino Martinez to the New York Yankees (throwing in Jeff Nelson and Jim Mecir) instead of giving him a new contract. They also let third baseman Mike Blowers go.