If Washington can upset Alabama in next Saturday’s Peach Bowl, it will be a feat that will rank among the greatest surprises in Seattle sports history.
Would it be the greatest? It would certainly be in the conversation.
So let’s take a look at the competition. Here is one person’s list of the 10 greatest team-sports upsets in Seattle history, from oldest to most recent.
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1936: UW crew defeats Germany in the Berlin Olympics
The Husky victory, in which they rallied late in the race to defeat Italy and Germany with Adolf Hitler in the crowd, is world-famous even 80 years later thanks to the best-selling book “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown.
Just getting to the Olympics was an upset. The team needed $5,000 to get to Berlin, and got that with donations from around the state. What happened in Germany was the stuff of legend, with legendary sports writer Grantland Rice calling it the “high spot” of the Berlin Olympics.
1952: Seattle University beats the Globetrotters
Growing up in Seattle, I was often told that this was the greatest game ever played in our city. Despite the game being arranged only a few days earlier, there was a sold-out crowd of 12,500 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion to see Seattle U, led by twins Johnny and Eddie O’Brien, take on the legendary Harlem Globetrotters.
The Globetrotters were highly paid professionals who were not used to losing, and this was in an era before they played staged games against staged opponents.
Once they built big leads, they would ham it up, but if they thought this matchup with Seattle U was going to be all fun and games, they quickly learned otherwise.
Led by 5-foot-9 Johnny O’Brien, who scored 43 points, Seattle U hung on to defeat the Globetrotters 84-81. According to a Seattle P-I story recalling the game on its 50th anniversary, fans stormed the court after the game. “It took 20 minutes to get off the floor and into that locker room,” Johnny O’Brien told the P-I.
1960: UW defeats Wisconsin 44-8 in the Rose Bowl
Washington vs. Alabama, ESPN, Dec. 31, noon
The Huskies had the better record at 9-1, but the Badgers (7-2) were higher ranked (No. 6 to No. 8) and were favored by about a touchdown. And who could argue with that, with the Big Ten having won 12 of the previous 13 Rose Bowls.
Washington had never won a Rose Bowl, with its only previous bowl win coming 23 years earlier in the Pineapple Bowl in Hawaii.
But this game was never a contest. Quarterback Bob Schloredt was the game’s co-MVP (sharing it with halfback/kicker George Fleming) and was MVP the next year in UW’s 17-7 win over No. 1 Minnesota, becoming the first player to win the honor twice.
1966: Seattle University defeats historic Texas Western team 74-72
A month before the Miners made history by beating Kentucky for the national basketball title and becoming the first team to win the championship with five black starters, they were in Seattle to face a 15-9 Seattle U team they had beaten by 12 points earlier in the season.
Texas Western (now called Texas El Paso) was 22-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation, but Blanchet High graduate Tom Workman gave Seattle U a 74-72 lead in the final minute. The Miners came up empty on three shots and a free throw, and Seattle U held on for the win.
1975: Huskies give John Wooden his final loss
It was the type of score that legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden was used to seeing: 103-81.
But Wooden, who retired after the season, was not used to being on the wrong end of a score like that. In a game that defies logic, the Huskies blew out the Bruins, handing Wooden the final loss of his career and his worst defeat in 10 years. The Wizard of Westwood got his team back on track, with the Bruins winning their next eight en route to their 10th national title in 12 years.
UW finished that season 6-8 in the Pac-8, but with many of the same players back the next year, the Huskies were 22-6 and made it to the NCAA tournament.
1978: Washington stuns Michigan 27-20 in the Rose Bowl
Just getting to the Rose Bowl was a major upset for a Husky team that started the season 1-3 and had fans rumbling about whether coach Don James was the right man for the job. But the Huskies won five of their next six games to make it to Pasadena.
Awaiting the unranked Huskies was No. 4 Michigan, which still harbored hopes of a national title if it could get an impressive win. UW was a double-digit underdog, yet it took a 24-0 lead in the third quarter behind quarterback Warren Moon, who is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But Michigan came storming back and UW didn’t have the victory wrapped up until a late interception by Michael Jackson, a future Seahawk, stopped a possible game-tying drive.
It was the first bowl win for the Huskies in 17 years and the beginning of the James-led glory years for UW football.
1983: Seahawks upset Dan Marino-led Dolphins in playoffs, 27-20
S eattle sneaked into the playoffs for the first time after finishing 9-7 and getting a wild-card spot, but it sure made a lot of noise once it got there. After defeating Denver at home, a meeting in Miami against the heavily favored Dolphins and rookie sensation quarterback Dan Marino awaited.
But the Seahawks kept Marino in check, and Seahawks rookie star Curt Warner rushed for 113 yards, leading the Seahawks to a 27-20 win and into the AFC Championship game, which they lost to Oakland.
The great memories from the week earlier in Florida remain.
“The silence of the fans in Miami — that was great,” Seahawks running Dan Doornink said at a 2013 reunion of that 1983 team.
1995: Mariners defeat Yankees 6-5 in Game 5 of ALDS
Despite the teams having almost the same records (New York was a half-game better in the regular season), this was a series matching a team in its first postseason series against the most legendary franchise in sports.
After the Mariners fell behind 2-1, the series returned to Seattle. Edgar Martinez’s double to score Ken Griffey Jr. with the winning run in Game 5 is still the biggest hit in franchise history. The bigger upset was the Mariners just getting into the playoffs after trailing AL West leader California by 13 games in early August.
2011: Seahawks upset defending-champion Saints 41-36 in playoffs
Seattle found itself the best of the bad in the NFC West in the 2010 season, winning the division with a 7-9 record, with critics around the country saying the team did not belong in the playoffs.
The Seahawks’ opponent in the wild-card game was New Orleans, which the year before had beat Indianapolis in the Super Bowl and had easily beaten Seattle 34-19 in the regular season.
Quarterback Drew Brees led the Saints to a 10-0 lead, but Seattle rallied and led 34-30 late in the fourth quarter. With the Seahawks facing second-and-10, the Saints desperately needed a stop. But Marshawn Lynch made sure that didn’t happen, breaking tackle after tackle on his 67-yard game-clinching Beast Quake run, the first of many postseason victories for new Seattle coach Pete Carroll.
2016: Sounders conclude improbable run with upset in MLS Cup
Seattle looked dead at midseason, firing coach Sigi Schmid, then losing star Clint Dempsey to an irregular heartbeat.
But new coach Brian Schmetzer helped lead a remarkable run. Because getting to the playoffs was an upset, it was only fitting that host Toronto was a big favorite in the MLS Cup.
And for a team that didn’t do things the easy way all season, it was also fitting that the Sounders won in sudden-death penalty kicks, earning their spot onto this list.
Five others that deserve mention: UW rowers’ 1958 victory over host Russia; the UW football team’s 38-20 win over Miami in 1994, snapping the Hurricanes’ 58-game home winning streak; the Sonics beating top-seed and defending champ Portland in the 1977 Western Conference semifinals; Bellevue High snapping De La Salle’s 151-game winning streak in 2004; and UW men’s basketball defeating undefeated and top-ranked Stanford (26-0) in 2004.