One of the things that most interested me about moving to Alaska was what teams people in the Last Frontier rooted for. Did they pull for "America's teams" — the Yankees, Lakers and Cowboys? Did they only go for whoever was winning, like the Patriots and Heat? Was I going to walk into a melting pot of random affiliations, or a town indifferent to professional sports?
After three months of frontier livin', I can say it's been a mixed bag — except in one case. There is one team that all of Ketchikan, Alaska embraces. There is one team that takes up half of the flat screens in sports bars and one team that everybody wants to talk about:
The Seattle Mariners.
More than the Seahawks. More than the Trail Blazers. More than the Canucks. Everybody in this town loves them some teal. So you can imagine what the atmosphere of the town was when Ichiro swapped dugouts during last week's series with the Yankees; shocked and somber. The 12-year vet was traded on the same day that I write my weekly column for the newspaper. As a sort of knee-jerk reaction, I wrote about how the trade was a good thing. It was a noble gesture to let the All-Star who hasn't played a playoff game since his rookie year to taste the postseason again, I said.
Since then I've thought more and more about what the trade has meant to the Seattle fanbase. It's not so much the loss of this year's .261 average and 15 stolen bases that has everyone so bummed. I mean, Ichiro is on pace to have his worst statistical season of his career and is not going to get any better at 38 years old. But that’s not it.
It's the realization that he deserves a shot at a title in the twilight of his career, and their city can't provide that.
That's a tough pill to swallow.
That’s when you as a fan climb out of denial, stop kidding yourself with offseason optimism and throw the half-full glass at a wall.
Your team sucks. There’s nothing you or your once league MVP can do about it. He has given all he’s got to your city, but it wasn’t enough. You have cheered for him and chanted his name for so long, that you want him to reach the pinnacle, no matter what — even if it means sending him to the Yankees.
That’s what I’m seeing now. Mariner fans are not booing Ichiro for his decision to ask for a trade, they are applauding him for the 12 years of memories he provided.
Accept reality and rebuild.
Bills fans can empathize. That’s why these past few weeks have given me a new perspective on this upcoming football season. Not from the personal standpoint of what I’m going to get out of the season, but what it could mean to the veterans on Buffalo’s roster.
I’m talking about the guys who have been through the really bad times. Not the guys who have only been here for the “Loveable Losers” seasons of 2010-11, but the guys who were also here for the downright pitiful years.
The guys who stuck around while Dick Jauron entrusted his faith in Trent Edwards. The guys who kept their mouths shut while Willis McGahee bad-mouthed an entire fanbase and then went off to find greener pastures.
The guys who played in “6-3” and watched the Steelers’ second unit run wild.
As excited as I am for Mario Williams, Stevie Johnson and Fred Jackson, I’m just as excited for Brian Moorman, Rian Lindell, Chris Kelsay and Terrence McGee. Most of the roster knows about losing, but these guys could write a War and Peace on the subject.
They have paid their dues. McGee has given up any chance of having normal-working knees for the rest of his life just for a chance to get back on the field. Kelsay learned an entire new position, been through six head coaches and still only has two victories over New England to show for it. All Moorman and Lindell do is combine to form one of the league’s most consistent kicking duos in one of the most inconsistent climates, and what do they get? A reserved spot on the sofa to watch the playoffs.
McGee and Kelsay will have drastically reduced roles this season, and Moorman and Lindell only play special teams, but that doesn’t mean they want to win any less. Every player with a decade of NFL experience on his resume deserves at least one playoff game. To work so hard and for so long only to tread water has to take its toll. These guys have paid that toll.
Like Mariner fans with Ichiro, I want nothing more than to see Kelsay, McGee, Moorman and Lindell reach the postseason.
I’m just not ready to hand them the pinstripes quite yet.
Alex is a Buffalo native and current Sports Editor of The Ketchikan Daily News. Follow him on Twitter here (twitter.com/alexjank).