No asterisks needed as championships still deserved

COVID-19 has changed many things in the sports world.

Major League Baseball didn’t get off the ground until late July, the NHL, NBA and WNBA all ended up in “bubbles” and played in empty arenas in centralized locations, and the MLS and the NWSL both played league-wide cup tournaments. Only the NFL, barring a COVID-related setback, has the chance to get through its 2020-21 schedule unscathed.

These are unprecedented times, demanding creative solutions to both offset revenue losses and draw fan interest. And over the next few weeks, some of these leagues will crown a champion. So if I may ask one thing of sports fans everywhere, let us please dismiss any talk of asterisks.

I understand that MLB only played 60 regular-season games and is holding an unprecedented 16-team playoff. Yes, that means the Seattle Mariners, with a 24-30 record with six games remaining, were still in contention for a spot. Yes, that leaves open the possibility that a team with a record below .500 could squeak into the postseason and then going on to win the Commissioner’s Trophy.

But the notion that any championship “doesn’t count” is silly. Leagues have often had to make adjustments because of unforeseen circumstances. The MLB strike in the mid-1990s forced them to play 111 games rather than 162. The NHL has twice had to shorten its season to 48 games because of labor disputes between players and owners. The NFL had two different strikes in the 1980s, both necessitating a reduction in games; the NBA also has twice had lockouts that cost the league several weeks of regular seasons.

And each time, the beat went on. Championships may have been won under these unusual circumstances, but we quickly forget about that part; the memory of triumphant players holding up their championship trophies is usually all that remains.

Few outside of NBA diehards remember that LeBron James’s first championship came after a lockout-shortened season, though old Sonics fans were likely tickled that it came at the expense of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Remember when the NFL did the unthinkable and actually used replacement players in 1987? The spectacle went on for three weeks until the players union voted to end its strike, and all of the games counted. But rarely do you hear anyone question the legitimacy of the Washington Football Team’s 42-10 win over the Denver Broncos, nor QB Doug Williams’ then-Super Bowl record of 340 passing yards and four first-half touchdowns.

Besides, you really can’t blame individual teams — they can only play the schedule in front of them. It’s one thing for a college football team to avoid scheduling difficult non-conference games in order to preserve its record for qualification into the college football playoffs, but in the pros, the leagues themselves control the schedule; there’s no way for the Mariners to duck teams like the Astros or the Oakland A’s. If they could, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind facing Mike Trout a few less times each year.

The next few weeks will be manna from heaven for sports fans. MLB, the NHL and the NBA will crown champions and the NFL will continue full steam ahead. Let’s not worry about asterisks, records and tradition. Let us relish what we have in front of us — an opportunity to decompress from the daily stress of living during a pandemic. Let’s enjoy the games.

Odds and Ends

• We’re two games into the NFL season and Washington State alum Gardner Minshew has looked better than anyone anticipated when he was drafted in the sixth round in 2019.The mustachioed former Cougar nearly willed the Jaguars to a win over Tennessee on Sunday with a 329-yard, three-touchdown performance. Minshew also completed a staggering 95 percent of his passes in Jacksonville’s week one win over the Colts.

• The Seahawks escaped with a victory at CenturyLink field Sunday, beating the Patriots 35-30. Russell Wilson is certainly “cooking,” though the Seahawks continue to have a balanced offensive attack. Seattle is giving up passing yards by the bushel so far — Matt Ryan threw for 450 yards against them in week one and Cam Newton nearly cracked 400 yards in week two. The defense stiffened up when it needed to, though. The Hawks were able to stop the 230-pound Newton short of the end zone on the final play of a very entertaining game on Sunday Night Football. It seems running the ball at the goal line doesn’t guarantee a touchdown, either.

• It seems the PAC-12 is going to try to play football after all this fall. Just one week after the Big Ten reversed course and decided to begin play on Oct. 24, PAC-12 chancellors are apparently scrambling to see if they too can put together a season. The PAC-12 is currently the only Power Five conference that isn’t scheduled to play, but the presidents and chancellors were scheduled to meet Thursday, after the Review’s press deadline, to vote on a season. Time is running out.

• The Washington sports community has lost some great coaches over the past weeks. As reported in the Review last week, longtime North Kitsap head baseball coach and assistant football coach Virgil Taylor passed away in early September at age 80. Kitsap lost another extraordinary coach last week when track coach Earl Sincere passed away at age 64 due to complications related to COVID-19. Sincere had been a coach for the Bremerton Jaguars Track and Field Club. Ed Pepple, who spent 42 years coaching basketball on Mercer Island, also died this month at age 88. All three men impacted countless young athletes and will be missed.