When I think of the history of the Puget Sound region’s two football behemoths, the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the NCAA’s University of Washington Huskies, I can’t help but picture the screen of an oscilloscope.
An oscilloscope is a device used to analyze the waveform of electronic signals. A wave is displayed on a graph in a repeating up-and-down pattern, allowing a user to measure characteristics such as frequency and amplitude. When I was in college, I took a physics course that required us to use an oscilloscope, and one assignment had us manipulating the dials in an attempt to make two different waves align. I could never get it — the waves always remained out of phase. Which explains why I’m a sports writer and not a NASA scientist.
“Out of phase” seems an appropriate way to describe the standard state of big-time football in the region. When it comes to the Seahawks and Huskies, the arc of their success never seems to align. When one team is up the other team is down, and it appears we’re on the cusp of that hierarchy flipping once again.
With the 2018 football seasons about to begin, a national consensus has formed about the Seahawks and the Huskies, and that consensus has the programs headed in opposite directions.
Washington is considered a program on the rise. The Huskies have been rejuvenated by coach Chris Petersen, who was brought on board in 2014. Since then Washington has returned to national prominence, finishing the season ranked in the Associated Press top 25 each of the past two seasons, including earning a place in the College Football Playoff’s final four two years ago.
That trend should continue this year. Washington returns potential senior All-Americans at key skill positions in quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin, giving the Huskies a tremendous foundation to build upon. As a result the Dawgs were the runaway pick to win the Pac-12 in this year’s preseason media poll. Given Petersen proved his ability to win with lesser recruits at Boise State, Washington seems set for a lengthy spell atop the conference.
Contrast that with the Seahawks, who are seen as a team on the decline. From 2012-16 Seattle was one of the dominant franchises in the NFL. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl following the 2013 season, then came one play away from repeating a year later. Seattle, behind the legendary Legion of Boom secondary, led the league in scoring defense four straight seasons. The Seahawks were an NFC dynasty.
The run of success came to an end last season as Seattle missed the playoffs for the first time in six years. Then the offseason saw the dismantling of that once fearsome defense, with the likes of cornerback Richard Sherman, safety Kam Chancellor and defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril bidding adieu. Some pundits say the cable supporting Seattle’s elevator has been cut and are predicting a quick plummet into the basement.
If these prognostications hold true, it will be a wistful disappointment for local football fans, who were given a taste of a possible football golden age in 2016, when the Seahawks and Huskies won double-digit games and played deep into the postseason.
However, no local observer should be surprised by this possible development. These two teams have rarely been good at the same time.
Growing up in Seattle I first started paying close attention to football in the early 1980s, and not long into my awareness a pinnacle was reached. In 1984 the Seahawks had their breakout season going 12-4, while the Huskies went 11-1 and finished No. 2 in the AP poll. For the first time the Pacific Northwest was one of the centers of the football world.
Since then the teams’ waves have curved steadily away from one another. In the early 1990s the Don James-coached Huskies became an annual national championship contender, sharing the title with Miami in 1991. Meanwhile, the Seahawks wallowed in mediocrity, finally bottoming out in 1992 when they went 2-14 despite having the league’s most dominant defensive presence in the late Cortez Kennedy.
It wasn’t until the mid 2000s that the Seahawks finally got back on track. With Mike Holmgren at the helm Seattle made the playoffs five straight years from 2003-07, including a Super Bowl appearance in the 2005 season. However, that corresponded with the dreadful Tyrone Willingham years at Washington, when the Huskies reached a nadir in 2008 by finishing 0-12 as possibly the worst team in NCAA Division I.
The past two years brought brief hope that the the waves were about to get in sync, that the region may finally once again become one of football’s brightest lights at both the professional and collegiate levels.
History suggests the chances of that happening are slim. The Seahawks and Huskies seem destined to forever exist on different paths, and it will take something special this year to prevent their waves from diverging like they’ve always done.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.