Rocky Mountain Sigh: the tormented history of Denver/Seattle sports

Seattle and Denver side-by-side

The best thing about sports is winning. The second-best thing about sports is the schadenfreude of watching the other fanbase suffer at the hands of you winning.

Seattle and Denver had had a habit recently of clashing in significant sports events, with every encounter intensifying the emotional pain accumulated from past experiences. The lingering sting of a Super Bowl loss never fully fades, and it’s exacerbated by a devastating trade, only to be amplified further by a playoff series defeat against an expansion team.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.

1983 AFC Wild Card: Seattle Seahawks make the playoffs for the first time — and beat the Denver Broncos

It’s Christmas Eve in Seattle, 1983. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” just became the best-selling album of all-time. Cabbage Patch Kids were the must-have toy of the season. The M*A*S*H finale just drew 106 million viewers.

The Seattle Seahawks were led by rookie running back Curt Warner and quarterback Dave Kreig that season, leading them to a 9-7 record and their first-ever playoff appearance and an appointment with the Denver Broncos, quarterbacked by Steve DeBerg.

Denver. Got. Trounced.

It started out close and Seattle led at halftime only 10-7 (Seattle scored first, natch). Here’s how the game script went:

  • Seahawks touchdown (7-0)
  • Broncos touchdown (7-7)
  • Seahawks field goal (10-7)
  • Seahawks touchdown (17-7)
  • Seahawks touchdown (24-7)
  • Seahawks touchdown (31-7)

For good measure, the Broncos put in rookie QB John Elway in the fourth quarter and he threw his first career playoff interception.

1988 Broncos/Seahawks series: Largent gets his revenge on Harden

Seahawks wide receiver Steve Largent’s first-ballot Hall of Fame career had one last tentpole moment before he retired. In the 1988 season opener, Seattle quarterback Dave Krieg threw a pass over the middle, and Broncos safety Mike Harden hit Steve Largent in the face with his forearm, cracking two of Largent’s teeth and knocking him unconscious.

In week 15, the teams met again, this time in Seattle. Kreig’s pass was intercepted by Mike Harden in the endzone and as Harden is running the ball back toward the endzone, someone comes up from behind and hits him, knocking the ball out of his hands and recovering the fumble for Seattle.

It was Steve Largent.

1994 NBA playoffs: Nuggets upset the Supersonics

The 1994 Seattle Supersonics were a machine. Led by Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and Deflef Schrempf, the George Karl-coached team went 63-19 in the regular season, good for the best record in the NBA. The Denver Nuggets squeaked into the playoffs as the 8th seed with a 42-40 record. Back then, the first round of the playoffs was best-of-five.

Seattle was expected to dominate Denver, and that’s exactly what happened in the first two games, winning 106-82 and 97-87. Sonics in 3, baby.

Game 3, with the series in Denver, the Nuggets slowed down the pace that Seattle liked to play at. Center Dikembe Mutombo was a shot-blocking monster. You might recognize him from the Geico commercial. Blocking shots was his thing:

The Nuggets had Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who was the closest thing we had to Steph Curry in the 90s. (He was also Colin Kaepernick before Colin Kaepernick, but that’s an entirely separate thing.)

The Nuggets pounded Seattle in game 3 winning 110-93. Game 4 went to overtime…and Denver won that one as well.

But the deciding game 5 was in Seattle, where they had gone 39-4. No #8 seed had ever beaten a #1 seed in the NBA playoffs before. Sure, they won two games at home, but winning in Seattle? At Climate Pledge Seattle Center Coliseum?

Mutombo’s long, storied career as a defensive beast was never more on display, with eight blocked shots in game 5. The Sonics forced overtime with a last-second layup, but Seattle fell short and Mutombo, who blocked a record thirty-one shots in five games, grabbed the final rebound to win the game and collapsed to the floor in tears, one of the most iconic celebrations in NBA history.

Super Bowl XLVIII: The Legion Booms the Broncos

The 2013 Seattle Seahawks and their record-setting defense led by Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor were tasked with the Super Bowl matchup against the record-setting Denver Broncos offense, led by Peyton Manning. The Broncos scored over 600 points in the regular season, still the only team to ever do so, and Manning broke every major single-season passing record that year en route to winning the MVP.

And sure enough, the Broncos scored points on their very first play from scrimmage.

…it just wasn’t for Denver.

The first play of the game was an early snap that went over Manning’s head and into the endzone for a Seattle safety, and before you could blink, the Seahawks led 2-0. Denver’s offense was completely smothered. With Denver down 22-0 at halftime, there was some chance they could come back, but when Percy Harvin ran the second-half kickoff for a touchdown, the game was over. By the time the Broncos scored, it was 36-0 Seattle.

Final score: Seahawks win, 43-8 for their first Super Bowl title.

2022: The Russell Wilson trade

There had been some rumors for years about Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson being unhappy with the Seahawks front office, and it finally came to a head when the Seahawks dealt their franchise quarterback (and the one who led them to their Super Bowl title) to the Denver Broncos, who were just One Quarterback Away from being a contender.

It was a messy divorce, and the NFL schedule-makers had fun by putting the Denver season opener in Seattle, Wilson’s first game as a Denver Bronco. Wilson, who had been previously beloved, was booed mercilessly with intense vitriol. Denver head coach Nathaniel Hackett in his first game as a head coach seemed completely unprepared to run an NFL team as the Broncos, down 17-16, attempted a 64-yard field goal at the end of the game which was no good, an extraordinarily bizarre decision.

Denver’s first-round draft pick belonged to Seattle. The Broncos’ season was a disaster, giving Seattle the #5 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft.

There’s still time for this to age well in Denver’s favor, but even if the Broncos do turn it around (they fired Hackett after one season and hired an actual adult at head coach), they didn’t do it the year the Seahawks held the Broncos’ first-round pick. That #5 pick is banked and spent.

2023 NHL Western Conference quarterfinals: Kraken defeat the Cup Champs

We all know what happened, so there’s no need to recap it.

But we’re obviously going to anyway because I don’t hate fun.

The 2022 Seattle Kraken were one of the worst teams in the league in their inaugural year, going 27-49-6 for 60 points and last in the division. The 2023 Kraken had the largest first-to-second-year improvement in NHL history, going 46-28-8 for 100 points and making the playoffs.

Their opponent for their first-ever playoff appearance was the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. The consensus was Avs in 4 or 5, but the Kraken didn’t get the memo, as the series went back and forth and went the full 7 games. Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer cosplayed as a brick wall all series, and he stopped 33 of 34 shots in game 7 to give the Kraken the stunning victory over the Avalanche.

Seattle’s tormented the Denver sports fans for decades. Sure, Denver fans can bring up things like “who has more championships” and “who still has an NBA team” but nobody cares about those things. We express our culture by being passive-aggressive.

It is the Seattle way.