The Top 11: Seattle sports heroes, #6-2

Heroes #11-7 can be found here. They are as follows: 11, 1995 Mariners supporting cast; 10, Ichiro Suzuki; 9, Brandon Roy; 8, Mike Holmgren; 7, Lenny Wilkens.

6. Steve Largent. The former Seahawks wide receiver was arguably this city’s first superstar athlete. He became Seattle’s first true Hall of Famer in 1992, after a thirteen-year career that saw him leave the game in 1989 as the NFL’s career leader in receptions (819), reception yards (13,089), and touchdown receptions (100).

Despite the national accolades Largent received at the back end of his career, he arrived in Seattle inconspicuously in 1976 after a trade with the Houston Oilers. A star wideout at the University of Tulsa, Largent wasn’t selected until the fourth round of the ’76 NFL draft. Prior to the start of the regular season the Oilers sent Largent to the Hawks in exchange for a 1977 eighth-round pick. There may never have been a better trade in Seattle history.

Following his football career, Largent turned his national stardom into a successful foray into politics. Beginning in 1994, Largent served in the U.S. House of Representatives as a member of Oklahoma’s first district, but resigned his seat in 2002 when he took an unsuccesful run for the office of governor.

In addition to his records and Hall of Fame selection, Largent was also a seven-time Pro Bowler and was chosen as a member of the NFL’s 1980’s All-Decade Team.

5. Lou Piniella. When Piniella came to Seattle in 1993, interest in his Mariners ballclub piqued, but expectations remained low. In 1992, behind manager Bill Plummer, the Mariners had put together one of their worst seasons in history, finishing 64-98, despite a roster brimming with talent. With younger versions of Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez (the 1992 American League batting champ), Jay Buhner, and Randy Johnson, the Mariners were on the verge of putting it all together but needed a leader to show them the way. Piniella became that leader.

Piniella’s impact on the team was immediate. The team put together their first winning season in seventeen years of existence with an 82-80 finish in 1993. They took a nosedive in the strike-shortened season of ’94, finishing 49-63, but were bailed out in a sense when playoffs were cancelled anyways. The 1995 season brought renewed hope, new players, and a new attitude to the Kingdome. Sweet Lou managed to get the most out of his team that year, sending the Mariners to the playoffs for the first time in their history and essentially saving baseball in Seattle.

When he wasn’t winning ballgames, Lou was winning over fans and players alike with his on-field tantrums. He would throw bases, kick dirt, toss his hat, yell and scream all in a futile effort to change a seemingly bad call. It was one of his finer points.

Lou stuck with the M’s for seven seasons after that miracle ’95 run, but departed following the 2002 campaign to move closer to his home in Florida. Upon returning to the Emerald City with his visiting Tampa Bay Devil Rays club shortly thereafter, Piniella was greeted with a standing ovation and even gave addressed the crowd in red carpet fashion before the game.

Piniella is the manager that all Mariners skippers have been and forever will be compared to. He may not have won it all with this team, but he won over the fans of the city and kept a Major League team entrenched here for years to come.

4. Don James. When Don James resigned as head coach of the Washington football team prior to the 1993 season, he left college football as one of the last men in a dying breed. James was the type of head coach you rarely see in today’s game. His intensity and passion was visibly reflected on the field by his players, who, despite an age gap between mentor and tutor, played the disciplined, hard-nosed style of football that their coach demanded of them. James was a man who could command both fear and respect, which allowed him the luxury of eighteen solid seasons on Montlake as the leader of the Dawgs.

The Dawgfather emerged as the man to replace another icon, head coach Jim Owens, in 1975 after four years at Kent State University. He wasn’t the biggest name, nor had the most impressive resume, but at the age of 43 was ready to make the leap to a major Division-I school and happened to be the right guy at the right time.

James’ first two seasons at Husky Stadium were the definition of average. He compiled an 11-11 overall record over the ’75 and ’76 campaigns and couldn’t find a way to a bowl game. That all changed in 1977 when the Huskies rose to prominence, going 10-2 and becoming Rose Bowl champions. Following that season, James would take the Dawgs to 13 more bowls in his fifteen remaining years as head coach. His career apexed in 1991 when the Huskies won a share of the national championship.

Though he’s been retired for over fifteen years, the Huskies are still searching for the man to replace Don James. The team is now searching for their fifth head coach since James’ departure and to hear people talk about the Dawgfather, one would assume he had just resigned last week. Like Lou Piniella with the Mariners, James will now and forever be the coach that all other Husky coaches are compared to.

3. Gary Payton. Most heroes complement their achievements with humility, affability, politeness, and a sense of respect for others. Not Payton. Built like the one and only foil to all that embodies heroism, GP was a loudmouth, trash-talking, in-your-face gamer who never took a play off. He built his reputation on attitude and intensity, and would eventually become arguably one of the greatest players in NBA history.

Big for a point guard, Payton, at 6’4″, was the second overall pick by the Sonics in the 1990 NBA Draft. Coming out of Oregon State University, the wiry Payton was expected to team up with power forward and 1989 first-round selection Shawn Kemp to form an inside-out, one-two punch. The duo would do just that over the course of the next seven years, taking the Sonics to the playoffs in the final five seasons they played together.

After Kemp’s departure in 1997, Payton would last almost six more years in Seattle before being traded for Ray Allen in the middle of the ’02-’03 season. To this day, Payton is among the top three in fourteen different major statistical categories in Sonics franchise history, including being the leader in points scored (18,207), steals (2107), assists (7384), and games played (999). Payton eventually went on to win an NBA championship with the Miami Heat in 2006, but still considers himself a Sonic at heart. He helped lead a rally this past year to keep the Sonics in Seattle, and continues to be a prominent figure in the Emerald City despite making his home in Las Vegas.

2. Edgar Martinez. Over the course of a professional career that began in 1982 and didn’t end until 2004, Edgar combined 22 years as a member of the Seattle Mariners organization with Hall of Fame numbers to become one of the most beloved sports figures in this city’s history.

He first appeared on the scene in 1987 as a pinch-runner, slender, with a mustache that resembled a small rodent. He wouldn’t crack the everyday lineup until 1990, after starting third baseman Jim Presley was traded to Atlanta. Over the course of the next fifteen seasons, Edgar would play in seven All-Star games, win five Silver Slugger awards, and collect two AL batting titles (1992 and 1995).

But even if you took away all the great years, the statistics, and the achievements, Edgar’s meaning to this city could simply be summed up in one moment. The Double.

The Double stands as one of the greatest moments in Seattle sports history. Like Joe Carter’s walk-off home run to win the 1993 World Series, Michael Jordan’s push-off jumper over Bryon Russell in the 1998 NBA Finals, or Dwight Clark’s “The Catch” in 1982, The Double was a once-in-a-lifetime play that came to define an entire team’s season in one instant.

1995. Game 5. American League Division Series. Bottom of the 11th inning. Down 5-4. Runners on first and second. The opponent was the hated New York Yankees. The pitcher was Yankee ace Jack McDowell, brought in out of the bullpen to close the door and send New York to the ALCS. Mariner second baseman Joey Cora stood on second, Ken Griffey, Jr. on first. Cora could score to tie the game on a single. Junior, with his speed, could possibly score on a double. Edgar emerged in the batter’s box and assumed his stance, hands held high, the head of the bat pointing towards the pitcher’s mound, left foot raised up from the ground, weight back, neck cocked, squinting. McDowell came set, checked the runners, and delivered. As if in slow motion, Edgar uncoiled from his statuesque pose and released his bat through the zone. Smoothly, effortlessly he connected with McDowell’s fastball. A line drive down the left field line. Cora scored easily. Here was Griffey, now, steaming around third base, being waved in by a frantic Sam Perlozzo. Yankee catcher Jim Leyritz positioned himself in front of the plate, awaiting a throw that would arrive too late. Edgar Martinez of all people had won the game and the series.

Our #1 hero will appear in tomorrow’s updates.

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