Metaphorical Downpour

America's sportswriters compare and contrast Seattle rain with just about everything.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Art Thiel often refers to his fellow sportswriters, upon watching them download free food and drink in the press box, as "America's guests." Not that hospitality has much to do with it. Take the writers visiting Seattle the past two weeks. "Here's the news unfiltered: The Seahawks smell like coffee. Grind 'em up," wrote Tony Kornheiser, a Washington Post columnist. In just a few sentences, he touched on most of the Seattle clichés: caffeine, Microsoft, and music. "How terrifying can anything with 'soft' in its name be? Don't even talk to me about Pearl Jam." Jim Murray spun in his legendary grave as Kornheiser inelegantly added: "Here is their all-time playoff record: 3-7. That stinks. Here is the last time the Seahawks won a playoff game: 1984! Hahaha."

As sports journalist Robert Lipsyte, then of The New York Times, once recalled being told when he stood up at a boxing match: "Sit down! You're nothin' but a sportswriter."

But, forever unbowed, visiting scribes teamed up on the mother of all Seattle clichés—weather. "Every day is dismal," the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. "In weather like this, the Seattle Seahawks have had to reconcile themselves to the clouds and the unrelenting rain or go crazy." USA Today concluded that Hawk fans were "caffeine-addled, rain-soaked, championship-starved loyalists." A reporter for WCNC-TV in Charlotte, comparing the North Carolina city to Seattle, asked, "Who has better weather?" and answered: "Come on, no contest—they get rain almost every day." The Houston Chronicle: "It's dark and dreary in Seattle, but for once the same cannot be said about the Seattle Seahawks' postseason performances." The Boston Globe: "For Seahawks fans, the closest thing to sunshine will be watching NFL MVP Shaun Alexander in the starting backfield." The Orange County Register: "Seattle had not won a playoff game since 1984 when it put on its galoshes last Saturday. . . . " The Detroit Free Press: "From a football standpoint, it has been a steady, weepy mist for the Pacific Northwest since the Seahawks' first season in 1976." The New York Times: "The drought ended on the 27th consecutive day of rain here." The International Herald Tribune in Paris headlined it: "Dry spell is over in rain-soggy Seattle." Even Fox TV's Terry Bradshaw, in presenting the NFC trophy on Sunday, Jan. 22, to Seahawks owner Paul Allen, pointed out that "the sun has never shone more brightly" than now, in Seattle, at 7 p.m.

The Charlotte Observer did a whole story on rain and football at Qwest Field and ended it with the likelihood that it wouldn't rain Sunday. And it didn't. "In Seattle right now, that's a victory," said the writer. Actually, the victory was the Seahawks' 34-14 win over the Carolina Panthers and a trip to the Super Bowl, which happens to Seattle every 30 or so years.

Yet nobody here should have been too surprised by the national media's drive-by reporting. We're often accused of being rainy when they mean we're cloudy (200 days a year). We drink too much Starbucks, wear too much Gore-Tex, and apparently should be ashamed of our reputed politeness. (Right, in the place that spawned Ted Bundy, Gary Ridgway, and that crowd under the Interstate 5 Ship Canal Bridge that urged a suicidal woman to jump.) Writers often refer to our "ocean" out there—Puget Sound—and draw maps of us, like the Los Angeles Times once did, placing Seattle in Oregon.

Of course, it's easier to be superficial. Chicago is windy, L.A. is smoggy, New York is dirty, and Seattle is rainy. And, indeed, it rains here, as it did recently for 27 days. That in part provoked Seahawks newcomer Joe Jurevicius to tell visiting writers that Seattle's a place where it is "rainy, cloudy, and they drink a lot of coffee." But even Seattleites were surprised at a month of downpour that caused flooding and mudslides. And, truly laid back about nature we can't control, we take it in stride. As Seahawks defensive end Bryce Fisher, a Renton native, explained: "This is Seattle. It takes a lot to get people moved emotionally around here. Heck, we had 27 days of rain here and we didn't even notice it as much as the rest of the country did."

Certainly not as much as Kornheiser did, along with fellow sports meteorologists dispatched by The Washington Post. They thought they'd landed in the rain forest with the assignment: If it beads, it leads. The "Seahawks won a playoff game? What's next? Sunlight in this gray, dank corner of the world?" asked Post columnist Mike Wise. He brought up weather eight more times in the same column. The Post's Leonard Shapiro wrote that "the Washington Redskins' season came to a close in the mist and gloom of the Pacific Northwest," and Post writer Sally Jenkins had weather all over her lead paragraph: "The sky was a low, dismal gray and under it, the Washington Redskins looked limited. Dulled by the weather, they lost their supernatural glow. You could say their mystique got washed away. . . . " And, finally, from knock king Kornheiser: "What's Seattle got going for it anyway? It rains all the time there. Stay more than three days and mold begins to form on your feet. Either that, or Mount St. Helens spews all over you."

Maybe he was confusing nearby Mount Rainier with far-away Mount St. Helens, which spewed here once, a quarter-century back. And though Seattleites themselves like to perpetuate negative myths of year-round monsoons in hopes of dissuading Californicators and other tourists from moving here, Kornheiser is almost right about the rain. At something like 38 average inches a year, Seattle is one of America's wettest. But, by far, it is not the rainiest. That's likely Ketchikan, Alaska, at 13 feet a year. Hilo, Hawaii, records 11 feet annually. In the contiguous U.S., New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., rank at the top with around 58 inches apiece. Seattle is the 45th-rainiest among 100 sizable U.S. cities. If you want more rain than Seattle, go to Boston, New York, and Miami. Or, for that matter, go to Charlotte or Washington, D.C. The capital averages 39 inches a year, not counting 16 inches of snow. That's the thing about our weather: We don't have to shovel it.

But they're just sportswriters. So get ready for the next round of civic clichés: abandoned cars, burned-out neighborhoods, and a rotting city center. Our intrepid band of investigators is en route to Super Bowl Detroit. By the way, it rains there more than in Seattle, too. I'm sure they'll mention it.

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