Circling Cincinatti

MEDIOCRITY HAS ITS PRIVILEGES in the NFL this year. Because they played with a modicum of ability and competence in their first eight games, the Seattle Seahawks now find themselves alone atop the AFC West at the halfway point of the season. Being barely good may be good enough in a division that lacks a great team.

Far from soaring into the sky, our boys in blue have treaded water for most of the season. The current standings don't reflect the Seahawks taking flight so much as they reflect the rest of the division sinking below the waves under the weight of their own ineptitude. Of course, it's all relative: From the bottom of the division, the 6-2 Seahawks look like a colossus.

After a 27-7 Monday night win at Green Bay, our local fans got a bit carried away, quitting their jobs and stocking up for a month-long party. Then came Tuesday and a little press conference announcing that Ken Griffey Jr. had asked to be traded. Celebration over. Back to work. Worse yet, back to reality.

At least one professional athlete has his priorities straight. Family comes first, and Griffey wants to be closer to his wife and kids. He's tired of commuting back and forth to Orlando, the city he bought last year. It has nothing to do with wanting to get out of Seattle. It's just a matter of reducing travel time. Griffey has provided the Mariners with a list of teams he is willing to be traded to. The list includes Cincinnati—only about 750 miles from Orlando.

Seattle got a little revenge on Cincinnati with a 37-20 win on Sunday that gave the team a three-game winning streak. The Seahawks managed their first rushing touchdown of the season, and they'd better keep working on that running game because not every team is as bad as the Bengals.

Former University of Washington star Corey Dillon celebrated his homecoming with 81 yards rushing and no touchdowns. Dillon left the UW a year early and made himself eligible for the draft in 1997 because he felt he was ready for the next level—the challenge of playing with real professionals on a great team—like Cincinnati.

Dillon's agent neglected to mention to Corey that the Bengals have been the team to beat for most of the 1990s. Cincinnati hasn't had a playoff appearance—or, for that matter, even a winning record—since 1990. The only team with a longer absence from postseason play is the Seahawks, though the Bengals have been spectacularly bad throughout this decade with a consistency no other franchise can match.

The entire week leading up to the Seattle/Green Bay game took on a playoff atmosphere for success-starved Seahawk fans. The 'Hawks appeared on Monday Night Football ("Are you ready for some turnovers?") for the first time since 1992, when the team featured Kelly Stouffer, Dan McGwire, and Stan Gelbaugh at quarterback. No wonder it took them so long to get another invitation.

Ricky Watters took advantage of a porous Green Bay defense, posting his first 100-yard rushing game of the year. Brett Favre played like the turnover-prone rookie (four interceptions, two fumbles) while Jon Kitna looked every bit the savvy veteran. He should be even more of a threat in the second half of the season, given the latest developments on the holdout front.

As this column was written Sunday, a highly placed source at Seahawk headquarters as well as every TV station in town told me that Joey Galloway (who still wants more money) will report to the Seahawks this week so as to meet the absolute minimum time commitment required to fulfill his current contract. Galloway's agent must plot tactics with Dillon's. The "let's hope the Seahawks suck early in the season and come crawling to us" strategy didn't quite pan out. Oh well, it only cost Galloway about a million bucks.

I remain confident that the Seahawks will not only reach the playoffs but also win one game before suffering elimination. Who needs Ken Griffey? The Huskies and Seahawks are going places in January, and the Sonics shot out of the gate in a hurry. The Dawgs have followed the same blueprint developed by the Seahawks: Don't let the fact you're not a great team get you down; you only have to be better than everybody else.

It's a versatile strategy that you can employ whether you're coaching a sports team, climbing the corporate ladder, or navigating the ivory towers of academia. Do a good job, though not too good of a job—that just creates unrealistic expectations. Try not to be noticed. Don't make eye contact. And when you get your big break, move to a city that pays better, has warmer weather, and is closer to home. But not Cincinnati.

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