John McGrath: Still plenty to talk about in a Seahawks-less sports world

Staff WriterOctober 28, 2013 

Bum Phillips, the folksy Houston Oilers coach who died Oct. 18, always said he would have lived longer if he “hadn’t faced the Steelers three times a year.”

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE, 1979

After a second consecutive Sunday afternoon without a Seattle Seahawks game to watch, I counted the days on the calendar since the Hawks were in action. That would be 10, and by the time they visit the Rams for a Monday Night Football contest, the lull will have reached 11.

Which is not forever, it only seems that way.

Since the Seahawks last played Oct. 17, the San Francisco 49ers have beaten the Titans in Tennessee and the Jacksonville Jaguars in London. The 49ers ran for 223 yards Sunday. They’re back.

Since the Seahawks last played, Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland retired, former Mariners pitching coach Bryan Price was hired to replace Dusty Baker in Cincinnati, and Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly almost – but finally didn’t – quit because he wanted the team to guarantee his job beyond 2014. (Too bad for the Mariners. As a tactician, Mattingly still is raw, but his mere candidacy in Seattle would have provided an uninspired managerial search with buzz.)

Since the Seahawks last played, the Washington Huskies did nothing more notable than show up on time at Arizona State, then rebounded Saturday night to roll up 642 yards in a 41-17 thumping of hapless California. Conclusions? Steve Sarkisian has put together still another team headed for seven regular-season victories and a bowl game on the cluttered bowl-game schedule between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Since the Seahawks last played, Oregon Ducks defensive

coordinator Nick Aliotti called Washington State coach Mike Leach “low class” for having the nerve to pass the ball during the waning moments of a blowout. Except it was the Cougars who were the victims of the Oct. 19 blowout. A pair of late touchdowns made the score 62-38, instead of 62-24.

Aliotti apologized for histrionics that were both hysterical and historic: Can you recall another incident of a team criticized for running up the score on an opponent it was trailing by 38 points?

Since the Seahawks last played, the Phoenix Coyotes, whose possible relocation to Seattle for the 2013-14 NHL season was scuttled over the summer, have won three, lost once in regulation and lost an overtime shootout. That’s right, five games in 10 days.

I’m convinced the Seattle-Tacoma area has terrific potential for an NHL franchise, but a sudden move to the Pacific Northwest – during the middle of what’s looking like a special season for the Seahawks – could have been fraught with trouble.

Since the Seahawks last played, the death of former Washington football coach Don James has found Huskies fans mourning the architect of a program that sent seven teams to major bowls (six Rose, one Orange) between 1977 and 1992.

Other subjects of obituaries since Oct. 17 have included ex-UW defensive lineman Reggie Rogers, who never was able to tame demons with tragic consequences, and Bill Sharman, one of the three Basketball Hall of Famers voted into the shrine as both a player and a coach. (The other two? John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens.)

Bum Phillips, who as coach of some almost-great Houston Oilers teams was known to crack wise in a Texas drawl, died on Oct. 18, three days before Bud Adams, the American Football League icon who hired him. It was Phillips’ misfortune to coach the Oilers during Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain dynasty.

Proposing his own tombstone epitaph, Bum once suggested: “He’d have lived a lot longer if he hadn’t faced the Steelers three times a year.”

Another Bum Phillips story: When informed that star running back Earl Campbell was too gassed to finish a one-mile run in training camp, the coach feigned concern.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said, “next time we’re facing third-down-and-a-mile.”

Where does Campbell, who was 5-foot-11 and 244 pounds – his thighs were measured at 34 inches, rank on the power list of the all-time NFL power backs? Bill Mazer would have volunteered an astutely educated guess.

Mazer, who died last week, was a natural conversationalist whose knowledge of sports qualified as encyclopedic. He put both talents to work on the radio. On March 30, 1964, Mazer, took a call from a teenager listening to his new afternoon drive-time show in New York City.

The kid posed a question: “Who’s better, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle?”

Mazer replied Mays, emphasizing the comprehensive talents of the Giants’ center fielder and Mantle’s multitude of injuries with the Yankees. At least, that’s how I assume Mazer replied. I am paraphrasing it from his “Sports Answer Book,” given to me as a childhood birthday gift. It’s still on the bookshelf, with my name, address and telephone number inscribed on the first blank page.

Mazer’s conclusion that Mays had more left in his tank than Mantle, though prescient, is not what made that phone call on March 30, 1964 important. What made it important is that it was the first engagement between an audience of sports fans and somebody in a radio studio.

The sports-radio talk show essentially was born from that question.

Since the Seahawks last played, two Seattle radio stations with specific formats have combined to offer several minutes, a billion or so, toward the discussion of sports in general and football in particular. Debates have been waged about worst-case scenarios, about injuries that haven’t happened to players who’ve never been hurt because, well, it’s been 10 days between kickoffs and going on 11, and what else is there to fear but fear itself?

Rest in peace, Bill Mazer, the radio pioneer who realized how opinions can fascinate and infuriate sports fans during the down time.

This has been a down time, but the key to reboot is right on our fingertips. The Seahawks and Rams kick off Monday afternoon at 5:40.

Let the game begin. Please.

In the meantime, as I page through my beloved “Sports Answer Book,” I read Mazer’s introductory sentence to Chapter 16 and chuckle.

“What do you say about pro football that hasn’t been said already?”

Those words were written in 1966, a few months before the first Super Bowl.

john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com

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