Spotting a veteran Seattle pro sports fan has become even easier lately, no longer merely because of the basset-hound expressions.
He or she is the one with the crick in the neck from looking back so much.
First it was the reunion of the 2001 Mariners team of 116 wins. Then came the reunion party Friday night at Safeco for some premier figures in the Sonics 41 years, the first civic salute since the franchise was hijacked in 2008 to Oklahoma City.
On a more contemporary note, the past week saw players jettisoned who packed a quality local past.
Notable Mariners departures: Doug Fister, David Pauley, Erik Bedard.
Given the light legacy of championship success in these parts, its easy to mock any lust for a modest past. But that ignores a legit sentiment: Many fans dont necessarily have to have big-time winners to care big time.
Which the Mariners and Seahawks franchises are counting upon heavily these days. Looking forward instead of backward largely has been an unrewarding endeavor hereabouts.
Every team celebrates its past, because as players, managers and coaches come and go, sports history across the generations rests with fans. They are the keepers of the flame. Any team that fails to honor the bond risks losing it.
But the last three weeks of reunions and exits, made more intense by the unscheduled coincidence of the NFLs free agent period with MLBs non-waiver trade deadline, created quite the collision of emotions and logic.
Regarding the reunions, from Spencer Haywood, Seattles first pro sports superstar think LeBron James before LeBron James — through Lenny Wilkens, to Jack Sikma, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, through Lou Piniella, Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner . . . goodness, there was greatness lately in the house.
Then there was Ichiro, astride the timeline — once great in 2001 and now desperate to be good in 2011, perhaps wishing he could be among the returning retirees whose biggest worry is about tee times, not learning the names of six new teammates.
The Mariners acquired a half-dozen new players over the weekend, part of the annual end-of-July MLB ritual for the perpetually mediocre.
As they have done so many times before, the Mariners surrendered proven talent for the promise of talent. The early reviews from baseball people and media types who have seen the prospects acquired Sunday for Bedard and minor league relief pitcher Josh Fields say Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik did well. But thats what was said a couple of years ago when he engineered a deal with the Mets that brought starting pitcher Jason Vargas and centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez.
Well, Vargas lost his fifth consecutive game Sunday 8-1 to Tampa, another dreary effort that ballooned Vargas ERA to 6.84 over the last five games — and Gutierrez is hitting .194. Prospects are always suspects until they deliver consistently on the major league level, so Mariners fans can be excused if their eyebrows are slow to arch regarding the newbies.
At the least, the sudden vacancies in the starting rotation create a spot for Felix Hernandezs TV-commercial avatar, Larry Bernandez.
Over in Renton, the Seahawks have no alter egos, and perhaps no egos left at all. GM John Schneider insisted that linebacker and team captain Tatupu, one of the stalwarts of the locker room and a three-time Pro Bowler, take a significant pay cut to stay on. Tatupu refused, so he was cut.
Now more than ever, fans understand the NFL is a ruthless business. The oft-injured Tatupu was neither the first nor the last NFL player in decline to be subjected to such a humbling experience. Still, the pay cut and the roster cut is a double dip of pain for one who started in the Super Bowl his rookie season.
As it was for his teammates, including his replacement at middle linebacker, David Hawthorne.
We were just like, Oh my God — a tremendous leader and a great guy is leaving us, Hawthorne told reporters Sunday. So it was kind of hard.
Tatupus departure leaves just 16 players who were on the roster when Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll arrived in January 2010. Given what they discovered, it wasn’t as if they were tearing down the 1985 Chicago Bears. Still, seeing Tatupu leave right after the offense’s leader, Hasselbeck, was undeniably harsh.
Unfortunately, Carroll spent much of his time with reporters Sunday trying to explain that he and Tatupu, whom he coached at USC, were largely yippee-skippee about the whole thing.
“It’s a mutual agreement that we made that we both feel good about,” Carroll said with a straight face. “I think its a good thing for us. I dont know that anybody else sees it that way, but I know that Lofa and I do. We feel very good about the plan and Im wishing him the best, and hes wishing us the best.
Well, I suppose there’s someone on the planet who might be happy about going from $4.35 million in salary to zero, but I doubt it’s Tatupu. While Carroll would be wrong to be blunt about Tatupu’s decline and jeopardize his chances to get another NFL job, the fact was that Sunday was a brutal decision for a popular figure.
Anyone seasoned in sports knows that roster churn is as inevitable as it is cruel. Probably every athlete at the two big Safeco reunions felt he could still play beyond the time he was forced to end his career. Yet any team that isn’t churning its roster has zero hope.
Because they’ve been well-rewarded, none of the athletes deserves pity. Because the fans are invested in the team too, they don’t need to patronized with pap.
The last few weeks in pro sports here have whipsawed the emotions. But if it’s any salve to Tatupu and his legion of fans, they can rest assured that when it comes time to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Seahawks 2005 Super Bowl season, the Mariners will give him and his teammates a helluva pre-game reunion.