How do you convince the Seattle Seahawks of the benefits of winning a de-facto playoff game when advancing to the postseason will assure scorn, ridicule and a really awkward distinction: the first NFL team to qualify for the playoffs with a losing record over a full, non-strike schedule?
What words of wisdom apply to statistical bottom-feeders whose only chance at a Top 10 category figures to be that list read by David Letterman?
I’m sure Pete Carroll will come up with something. He talks as fast as he thinks, and he thinks in a blur.
But in the improbable event the Seahawks coach finds himself at a loss for motivational words while preparing his team for its lose-and-go-home, win-and-serve-as-laughingstocks game Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, he can always refer to the Stanley Cup Trophy awarded in 1938.
That was the year the Chicago Blackhawks entered the NHL playoffs with a 14-25-9 record, and ended with a celebration. The Blackhawks’ destiny was so secure that in the opener of the finals – a 3-1 victory at Toronto – they fetched a goalie off the street to replace their injured starter just a few hours before game time.
Well, not exactly off the street. Alfie Moore was sitting on a barstool in a Toronto tavern. That’s the legend, anyway, and about this there is no dispute: NHL president Frank Calder regarded the Blackhawks’ chances of upsetting the Maple Leafs as so remote, he arranged for the Stanley Cup to be shipped from defending-champion Detroit to Toronto. When Chicago clinched at home, the Stanley Cup was still in Toronto.
While the Seahawks are hoping to defy history – as well as a porous defense, an unstable offensive line and a backup quarterback less inclined to harbor deeper thoughts than Billy Madison – they should remember that a team that once won 14 of 48 regular-season games is recognized on the oldest, most hallowed pro sports trophy in North America.
As far as the potential embarrassment of lugging a 7-9 record into the playoffs? It can’t be denied: Never has an NFL or MLB team qualified for a postseason berth after losing more games than it won. (I’m discounting the 1982 NFL season that was truncated by a strike.)
A handful of NFL teams have advanced at .500, most recently in 2004, when the Rams went 8-8 as a wild card and then beat the Seahawks in a first-round game at Qwest Field. The Padres set the low bar in baseball the following year, winning the NL West at 82-80.
But compared with some of the indoor-sport jalopies that have managed to participate in a playoff derby, the 2010 Seahawks are a juggernaut.
Let’s see, there were the NBA’s 1952-53 Baltimore Bullets, who finished with a winning percentage of .229 (16-54). Eight of ten teams qualified for the postseason in those days, which put a serious crimp in the legitimacy of the 70 games that preceded it. Within two years, the Bullets would become the last NBA team to completely fold operations.
Although the 1987-88 Toronto Maple Leafs weren’t quite as hapless – they went 21-49-10 – they defined the term of “backing into the playoffs.” The Leafs’ went into the last week of December with a record of 14-17-3. In the middle of February, it was 17-33-9. Between Feb. 25 and April 2 they won one game.
A league that awarded such ineptitude with a playoff berth inspired a typically acerbic gem from the late New York sports columnist Dick Young: “If World War II were a hockey season, Poland would have made the playoffs.”
You might remember when the NCAA basketball tournament’s most pressing problem was exclusivity: it didn’t expand to as many as 32 teams until 1975. You probably don’t remember that among the 24 teams earning a ticket to the not-so-big dance in 1961 was 9-16 George Washington, which won the Southern Conference Tournament.
If Carroll is disinclined to use basketball and hockey references in his pep talks at Seahawks headquarters, he can always rely on examples of postseason redemption drawn from that wacky Canadian Football League. Hamilton advanced to the CFL title game despite a 6-9-1 record in 1984, three years after the Ottawa Rough Riders, with a 5-11 mark, took Warren Moon and the 14-1-1 Edmonton Eskimos down the wire in the Grey Cup.
On that day, Edmonton was forced to overcome a 20-1 halftime deficit. (OK, the football scoring rules in Canada aren’t exactly the same as they are in the U.S. But the point, uh, stands: Ottawa didn’t allow its unimpressive record – six games below .500 – to impede its upset ambitions.)
No list of postseason overachievers (or were they regular-season underachievers?) would be complete without mentioning the Chicago Rush of the 2006 Arena Football League. The Rush got into the playoffs with a 7-9 record before stringing together the four victories necessary to claim the league championship.
Those four victories not only enabled Chicago to be crowned champion of Arena Bowl XX, but they also assured the Rush – 11-9 overall – of finishing with a winning season.
So enough with the cynics dismissing the 6-9 Seahawks as unworthy of the playoffs. I suspect there were cynics who dismissed the Rush in 2006, the Rough Riders in 1981, and the Blackhawks in 1938 – the year they won the Stanley Cup thanks to Alfie Moore’s yeoman effort in Game 1.
Just one question: Any chance Pete Carroll can find a quarterback who’s sitting on a barstool?