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Originally published Friday, March 20, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

It's a new day for Seattle sports

Huskies, Sounders FC almost enough to make us forget Seattle's disastrous 2008 sports year.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Call this day a harbinger, like the crocuses you see pushing through the mud.

This last day of winter was the day Seattle sports fans have been waiting for. The sign that things were getting better. That the city's sports were recovering from the worst stretch since the Pilots left town.

Thursday was the most important sports day in Seattle since the Seahawks played in Super Bowl XL on Feb. 5, 2006. This was a day to say good riddance to all the irritants that have made sports in Seattle as much fun as banking.

The cruelty of 2008 was being replaced by the promise of '09. The city was entering a new and better dimension.

We could forget about the Mariners' 101 losses last season. And the Seahawks' busted-up season. And Husky football's perfectly imperfect 0-12 year.

We could even, for a few hours, ignore the lingering pain of losing the Sonics to Oklahoma City.

After suffering through a year that included Matt Hasselbeck's bad back, Tyrone Willingham's bad decisions, Erik Bedard's bum shoulder, Nate Burleson's torn knee, Richie Sexson's swing, Jake Locker's thumb, the U-Dub's pass defense, Carlos Silva's girth and Howard Schultz's greed, we could celebrate a new beginning.

Seattle had been waiting for this day to remove the stain from a year in which every team in the city seemed to play like the Washington Generals.

The Huskies were playing their first NCAA tournament game in three years. Sounders FC was beginning its first season in MLS.

Even Ken Griffey Jr. played left field for the first time in a Cactus League game Thursday night, another sign as hopeful as daylight-saving time.

On this day and night that dripped with optimism, Washington smothered Mississippi State, 71-58, and went after the Bulldogs with a hunger you would expect from a team that hadn't danced since its crushing loss to UConn in 2006.

The high-energy Huskies played with such defensive ferocity you would have thought they were trying, by themselves, to erase all of the bad memories of 2008.

Washington wore down the dead-on-their feet Bulldogs. Quincy Pondexter's ascendancy continued. He finished with 23 points and seven assists, while Jon Brockman and Venoy Overton were relentlessly intimidating at both ends.

Meanwhile, in front of a sellout house at Qwest Field, in a European-like atmosphere, Sounders FC, the soccer team Seattle began to embrace before the first roster spot was filled, won its first game over last year's MLS finalist New York Red Bulls, 3-0.

From the Drew Carey-led march into the stadium, to the franchise's first goal from Fredy Montero, the city's newest superstar-in-waiting, the night was full of magic.

For two hours, the green-garbed fans danced and sang as if they thought they were from Manchester.

Riding that wave of noise, the Sounders forced the pace, leading in the 25th minute, to Brad Evans' textbook run and finish that gave them their second goal.

They attacked for 90 minutes and when they needed a stop, homeboy Kasey Keller made a couple of acrobatic saves while the crowd chanted, "Ka-sey-Kel-ler."

In stoppage time, coach Sigi Schmid pulled Montero from the game and Montero was cheered as if he were Hasselbeck or Kenny Easley, Gary Payton, Lenny Wilkens, Edgar Martinez or Jamie Moyer.

This was the perfect beginning for a franchise that is doing everything right.

With a roster that is a rich mix of youth and experience, supported by a powerful ownership group, Sounders FC looks more like a championship contender than an expansion team.

Remember this day because it is the beginning of something much better. A slow reawakening. An exorcism.

This was a homecoming for Seattle sports. All of the bad signings and dropped passes, the blown assignments and blown saves, the swings and the misses could be forgotten.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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