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HistoryLink.org Essay 10217
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The Seattle Seahawks professional football team was born in 1974. A group of Seattle businessmen led by the Nordstrom family was awarded one of two new franchises added that year by the National Football League. The Seahawks began playing in 1976 and became known for scrappiness and daring, but never made the playoffs under original head coach Jack Patera (b. 1933). Chuck Knox (b. 1932) arrived in 1983 and led the team to the American Football Conference (AFC) championship game in his first season. Two years later the team entered a 20-year year stretch without a playoff victory, spanning the tenures of three owners and four head coaches. Fans' patience was rewarded in the 2005 season. With Mike Holmgren (b. 1948) coaching, the Seahawks made their first Super Bowl appearance. The team won four consecutive division titles but suffered a losing season in 2008, Holmgren's final year. In 2011, his first season, Pete Carroll (b. 1951), led the team to an improbable division championship and a playoff victory that was literally seismic. The drafting of Russell Wilson (b. 1988) in 2012 gave the Seahawks a championship-caliber quarterback. A last-second loss in that season's division playoffs led to a dominating 2013 season, capped by a one-sided Super Bowl victory. The ensuing parade was considered the biggest gathering in Seattle's history. In a drama-filled 2014 season, the Seahawks' attempt to repeat their Super Bowl triumph ended one yard short.
Landing a Franchise
On June 15, 1972, a group calling itself Seattle Professional Football announced its intention of gaining a National Football League team. Its members were among the city’s most prominent businessmen and sportsmen, including Herman Sarkowsky (b. 1925), owner of the National Basketball Association (NBA) Portland Trail Blazers, who acted as their spokesman. They were in competition with the Seattle Kings, a group headed by Minneapolis businessman Wayne Field (1921-2009) and former University of Washington and San Francisco Forty-Niners star Hugh McElhenny (b. 1928). On June 4, 1974, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle (1926-1996) announced that Seattle would be joining the league in 1976 (along with Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida, a franchise called Tampa Bay) and would play in the Kingdome, a King County-owned stadium being built on the south edge of Pioneer Square. Six months later, the league’s owners awarded the franchise to Seattle Professional Football with Lloyd W. Nordstrom (1911-1976) identified as majority owner. Fifty-one percent of the team was owned by the Nordstrom family. The family had begun selling shoes in Seattle in 1901 and had built its business into a prosperous chain of upscale clothing stores. The NFL franchise cost $16 million.
There was pent-up enthusiasm for professional football in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Entries in a contest to name the team topped 20,300. When general manager John Thompson (b. 1927) revealed the winning selection on June 17, 1975, along with the team logo and uniform colors of blue, green, and silver gray, The Seattle Times heralded the news on page one. The coverage included a half page-wide line drawing of a helmet with the logo: a hooked-beak bird’s head drawn in a style reminiscent of Northwest native art. "The helmet design utilizes the region’s great Indian culture," Thompson said (Lyons, June 17, 1975). Season ticket applications were mailed six weeks later. More than 24,000 were accepted on the first day allowed, setting an NFL record. In less than a month, the team reached its target of 59,000, another record, and stopped selling season tickets. The idea was to save room for single-game admissions to the Kingdome, which was expected to seat about 65,000.
On January 3, 1976, Jack Patera, the defensive line coach of the Minnesota Vikings and a former NFL linebacker, was introduced as head coach. Signing players was the next order of business.
Fielding a Team
As new franchises, Seattle and Tampa Bay would stock their rosters with players from the 26 established NFL teams through a veteran allocation draft. The available talent pool was not deep, since each established team could protect its top 32 players. The Seahawks took 39 veterans, notably young cornerback Dave Brown (1953-2006) from Pittsburgh and veteran middle linebacker Mike Curtis (b. 1943) from Baltimore. In the college draft, the team added 35 college players, including first-round choice Steve Niehaus (b. 1954), a defensive tackle from Notre Dame. The Seahawks also added talent by signing free agents -- players who had been with other NFL teams but were not under contract. One of the biggest, in terms of future performance, was 22-year-old left-handed quarterback Jim Zorn (b. 1953), who played college football at little Cal Poly-Pomona and had tried out unsuccessfully with the Dallas Cowboys. The Seahawks also made what still stands as the biggest trade in their history, sending a future eighth-round draft choice to Houston in exchange for rookie receiver Steve Largent (b. 1954). In 1995, he became the first Seahawk to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The team’s first headquarters and practice facilities were in Kirkland, on Lake Washington waterfront property owned by D. E. "Ned" Skinner (1920-1988), one of their minority owners. (The property was later developed into a retail and residential complex called Carillon Point, after the team had moved to land next to nearby Northwest College.) The first training camp was at Eastern Washington College, which was renamed Eastern Washington University the following year.
Building a Reputation
A Kingdome crowd of 60,825 showed up on August 1, 1976, for the Seahawks’ first preseason game. The San Francisco 49ers prevailed 27-20, but only after tackling Zorn just two yards short of the touchdown on the final play. The first regular season game in the Kingdome, on September 12, 1976, set a tone for the Seahawks: they wouldn’t win much at first -- in fact, they lost their first five games -- but they would make things interesting. Facing the St. Louis Cardinals, and with 10 new players added in the previous week, they were trailing 23-3 late in the third quarter before Zorn led a late rally. He threw two touchdown passes and ran for another touchdown before his game-ending pass was intercepted at the St. Louis goal line. The Cardinals escaped with a 30-24 win that was much closer than anyone expected.
That season the Seahawks allowed more points than any other NFL team and managed to win only two of their 14 games. And one of the victories came against their expansion siblings, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Zorn’s performance reflected the ups and downs of his and the team’s first season. He threw twice as many interceptions as touchdown passes, but he set a league record for passing yardage and was named the National Football Conference’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
The Seahawks broke through with a winning record (9-7) in their third season and Patera was named NFL Coach of the Year by the Associated Press, but few outside the Pacific Northwest paid much attention.
They made their first appearance on prime-time national television on October 29, 1979 -- during their fourth season -- on ABC’s Monday Night Football, and opened eyes coast to coast. The Seahawks used an assortment of trick plays against the Atlanta Falcons, in Atlanta. Punter Herman Weaver (b. 1948) completed a pass. Chunky kicker Efren Herrera (b. 1951) caught a pass. The result was a wild 31-28 victory that wowed ABC’s legendary commentator Howard Cosell (1918-1995). "You’ve got to love those Seahawks!" he said during the broadcast (Wittenmyer). They were giving "the nation a lesson in entertaining football," he added (Johnson, November 14, 2011).
Riding a Rollercoaster
It was a defining moment for the young franchise, branding it as spunky and innovative. But the good times didn’t last for long. Six days later, in the Kingdome, the Seahawks set an NFL record for ineptitude, netting minus-7 yards in a 24-0 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Although the Seahawks finished that year with another 9-7 record, two losing seasons followed. Patera’s teams had yet to make the playoffs after six seasons. Fans, and apparently the owners, were getting restless. Mike McCormack (1930-2013), a Hall of Fame inductee as a player and former head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Colts, was brought in as Director of Football Operations in March 1982. The next season started with two losses, then was interrupted by a league-wide players’ strike. Adding to his woes, Patera was arrested and subsequently convicted of driving while intoxicated. On October 13, 1982, John Nordstrom (b. 1937) announced the firing of Patera and Thompson, the general manager. McCormack finished the abbreviated season as interim head coach, and then began looking for a successor.
He found a proven winner in Chuck Knox, who had taken his previous two teams, the Los Angeles Rams and the Buffalo Bills, to the playoffs seven times in 10 years. The Seahawks introduced Knox as their head coach on January 26, 1983.
Making the playoffs
The franchise’s next big step was a trade with Houston that gave Seattle the third pick in the college draft. The Seahawks used it to select Penn State’s Curt Warner (b. 1961), a running back with exceptional speed and moves. The first time he carried the ball in a regular season game, he gained 60 yards. He went on to set the team record for rushing, lead the AFC in touchdowns, and be named the conference Rookie of the Year. A critical move by Knox -- a symbolic passing of the torch -- was his mid-season decision to replace Zorn, hero of the early years, with Dave Krieg (b. 1958), an undrafted player from tiny, defunct Milton College. Krieg was less flashy but steadier. The Seahawks finished with a 9-7 record, their first winning season in four years. More important, they made the playoffs for the first time.
The Seahawks beat division champion Denver 31-7 at the Kingdome in the first postseason game, and then went to Miami to play the defending AFC champion Dolphins. Miami, coached by Don Shula (b. 1930) and quarterbacked by Dan Marino (b. 1961), was a big favorite but the Seahawks kept the game close. They trailed 20-17 late in the fourth quarter, then shocked the Dolphins in the final 3-1/2 minutes. Krieg passed to Largent for a 40-yard gain, setting up a two-yard touchdown run by Warner, and the Dolphins fumbled two kickoffs, one of those fumbles leading to a Seahawk field goal. Final score: Seattle 27, Miami 20. A team that had won only 14 games in the previous three seasons would be playing the next week for the conference championship.
Players hoisted Knox on their shoulders and carried him off the field. In the locker room, they chanted "Chuck, Chuck, Chuck" and the coach began to cry. "Only then did I realize what this win represented," veteran guard Reggie McKenzie (b. 1950) said. "He had taken a terrible losing team and placed them on the threshold of greatness in one season. Imagine that. One season" (Knox and Plaschke, 234).
Riding High, Changing Owners
A crowd estimated at between 10,000 and 15,000 met the team plane when it returned from Miami that night. Even though Seattle lost the next week to the eventual Super Bowl champion, the Raiders, in Los Angeles, expectations were sky high for the following season. Then, in the first half of the first game in 1984, Warner tripped on the Kingdome’s artificial turf and tore a knee ligament. The injury cost him the rest of the season, and required the Seahawks to change directions on offense and pick up the slack on defense, kickoffs, and kick returns. The result was a 12-4 season record, best in franchise history up to then -- and for the next 20 years. Krieg threw for 32 touchdowns. The defense led the league with 28 interceptions, and safety Kenny Easley (b. 1959) was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Knox won NFL Coach of the Year honors for the second straight season. In the playoffs, the Seahawks gained some revenge by beating the Raiders in the Kingdome, but were eliminated in a rematch with the Dolphins in Miami.
The team continued to have success under Knox, including a 10-6 season in 1986 when the Seahawks were the only team to beat both Super Bowl teams (the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos) and a 1988 season when they won their first division championship. But meanwhile, trouble was brewing.
In 1987, Seattle beat 37-to-1 odds in a lottery to gain the first pick in a supplemental draft and used it to select Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth (b. 1965). McCormack and the Seahawks coaches celebrated with high fives when they landed that pick. Bosworth signed the biggest contract in team history -- 10 years for $10 million -- and played well as a rookie. But he also was a self-promoting spectacle in the form of The Boz, a marketing persona constantly seeking the spotlight. A players’ strike in mid-September led to more disruption. The NFL cancelled one week’s games, and then resumed its schedule using replacement players. When the regulars returned, there were hard feelings between them and management and toward teammates who crossed the picket lines. Knox called it "a year of total distraction" (Knox and Plaschke, 256).
The strike made the Nordstroms uneasy as owners. They were image conscious and their first loyalty was to their stores. They hated being in a position where customers would direct hostility toward their business because of things happening with the football team. The franchise’s founding family began looking for someone to buy the team. On August 30, 1988, John Nordstrom announced that the Seahawks had been sold to Ken Behring (b. 1928), a real-estate developer from Danville, California, and a minority partner, Ken Hofmann (b. 1923). The price was about $80 million -- a $64 million increase (400 percent over the original purchase price) in 14 years.
Changing for the Worse
The hometown Nordstroms had been popular owners. Behring was an out-of-towner with unknown intentions. The product on the field seemed unaffected by the ownership change, at least initially. In their first season under Behring, with Knox still the head coach, the Seahawks won their first division championship. They managed a 9-7 record even though Krieg missed seven games because of a shoulder injury. He threw for 410 yards and four touchdowns in the final game, a 43-37 victory over the Raiders in Los Angeles that clinched the title.
The new regime began to assert itself the following February when Tom Flores (b. 1937), who had coached the Raiders to two Super Bowl victories, replaced McCormack as team president and general manager. The Seahawks finished fourth in the five-team AFC West division with a 7-9 record in 1989. It was a season most memorable for being Largent’s last. The franchise’s best player from its inception, he retired as the league record-holder for all major pass-receiving records and was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995, the first year he was eligible.
Knox coached the Seahawks to a 9-7 season in 1990, but he and Behring collided in the spring of 1991 over how to use the team’s first-round draft choice. The coach wanted to pick Bret Favre (b. 1969), who would become one of the league’s all-time elite quarterbacks. The owner insisted on taking Dan McGwire (b. 1967), a 6-foot-8 quarterback from San Diego State who would play in only 12 games and throw only two touchdown passes in the next four years before being released. Knox silently seethed. He finished that season -- another 7-9, fourth-place campaign -- and five days later the team announced that, by mutual agreement, he was leaving. Flores replaced him on January 6, 1992, assuming the title of President/Head Coach.
Thus began the worst stretch of Seahawks football since the early 1980s. Krieg was not re-signed. In 1992, the team went through three quarterbacks and lost 14 out of 16 games, despite having a league-leading defense. The star of that defense was tackle Cortez Kennedy (b. 1968), a 306-pounder with astounding quickness and strength. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year, an honor rarely going to a player on a losing team, and in 2012 became the second Seahawk (after Largent) to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Over the next six seasons, the Seahawks would have eight consecutive years without a winning record, extending their streak of not making the playoffs to a full two decades.
Behring Takes the Team South
Dreary as things were on the field, there was bigger trouble above and off it. On July 19, 1994, while players were warming up for a Mariners baseball game in the Kingdome, several 26-pound tiles fell from the ceiling and crashed onto empty seats. The building was closed for the rest of the baseball season and into the football season while $57 million in repairs were made. The Seahawks played two preseason and three regular-season home games at the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium before the Kingdome re-opened.
The Kingdome had never been lavish. At nearly 20 years old, it also seemed outdated. Both Major League Baseball and the National Football League were moving out of multi-purpose stadiums, like the Kingdome, and into buildings designed specifically for their sports and with revenue-producing features such as luxury suites.
Behring already had complained about the Kingdome. But once the ceiling tiles fell, he got bumped to second in line by the Mariners, who were campaigning for a stadium of their own. King County voters said no to taxes that would build a baseball stadium on September 19, 1995. The Mariners owners threatened to sell the team. The state legislature responded by approving new taxes for a stadium, which was completed in 1999 and was named Safeco Field. While the Mariners were getting their stadium approved, Behring was getting nowhere. King County officials were unwilling to help finance yet another stadium and were adamant about holding Behring to his Kingdome lease, which ran through 2005. Frustrated by lack of public support, Behring announced on February 2, 1996, that he was moving the team to Southern California.
It was a stunning development, especially since Behring was acting without league approval. Seahawks executive Gary Wright (b. 1944) got the word while coordinating media relations for the NFL at the Super Bowl in Phoenix. "I was absolutely shocked. For the next two or three hours, I’m driving around in total disbelief," said Wright, one of the team’s first hires. "I could understand it, but the franchise belonged here (in Seattle). It belonged to the city" (Wright interview).
Behring established a practice facility in Anaheim, California, with team offices at a nearby hotel. The reaction in Seattle was outrage. King County officials sued Behring for breaking his lease. Behring counter-sued, arguing that the Kingdome was not a first-class facility and would not be safe in a major earthquake. The legal battle cooled when NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue (b. 1940) ordered Behring to return the team to Seattle and the owner, faced with daily fines, complied. The Seahawks went back to their Kirkland headquarters, but it was clear that their owner didn’t want to be there. Nor was he welcome.
New Owner, New Stadium
Even before he retreated from Anaheim, Behring was negotiating a potential sale of the team. The would-be buyer was Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen (b. 1953), a Seattle native who was one of the nation’s richest men and a sports fan. He already owned the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. Representing him in talks with Behring was Bob Whitsitt (b. 1956), the Trail Blazers’ president and general manager. On April 20, 1996, they announced a tentative sale. Allen gained an exclusive 14-month option to buy the Seahawks, by then worth an estimated $170 million, and keep them in Seattle. The deal was contingent on King County helping him build a new stadium. Although county officials had been unwilling to help Behring toward that goal, Allen had the local connections and wealth to make a more palatable deal. He pledged to spend $100 million on a new stadium and also financed a statewide election on the issue of public funding.
The question put to voters was whether to approve $300 million for a new stadium. Voters passed the referendum by a narrow margin, 51.1 percent to 48.9, on June 17, 1997. One week later the King County Council voted 9-3 in favor of a new stadium. On June 30, one day before Allen’s option to purchase the team would have expired, he became the Seahawks owner. Whitsitt added president of Football Northwest to his Trail Blazer titles.
The Kingdome was imploded on March 26, 2000, dramatically creating a mountain of concrete rubble and clearing the way for Seahawks Stadium to be constructed on the site – between Pioneer Square and the Mariners’ new stadium, Safeco Field, which had opened in July 1999. Part of the deal was that the new facility be built to accommodate soccer, in the hopes of attracting a Major League Soccer franchise. (It did. Seattle Sounders FC joined the league as an expansion franchise in 2007.) The resulting 67,000 seat stadium opened for public tours on July 20, 2002. After two seasons of having Husky Stadium as their home field, the Seahawks moved into the new stadium in time for the 2002 preseason. Their first regular season game there was September 15, 2002, a 24-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Seahawks Stadium was renamed Qwest Field on June 2, 2004, and became CenturyLink Field on June 23, 2011.
Holmgren to the Rescue
While the long drama of changing owners and stadiums played out, Seahawks fans endured an era of frustration on the field. Flores, Behring’s pick as head coach, lasted only three seasons and left with a 14-34 record. His successor, Dennis Erickson (b. 1947), lasted four seasons -- the final two with Allen as the owner -- and was fired with a 31-33 record. During their combined seven seasons the team used eight different quarterbacks, including 1993 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Rick Mirer (b. 1970) and future Hall of Famer Warren Moon (b. 1956), and never posted a winning record. By then, Seattle had gone 10 years without making the playoffs.
The man hired to stop the losing was Green Bay head coach Mike Holmgren, who had taken the Packers to two Super Bowls and won one. He was so popular in Green Bay that a street was named for him. Holmgren was willing to leave there in pursuit of more authority. He wanted to control personnel decisions as well as be head coach. Seattle offered that. On January 8, 1999, Whitsitt introduced Holmgren as Executive Vice President of Football Operations, General Manager, and Head Coach. Covering the announcement, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran on its front page a photo not of Holmgren’s face but of his hand, with a Super Bowl championship ring.
In Holmgren’s first season, the Seahawks surged to an 8-2 start but lost five of their last six regular-season games. That was good enough to break their streak of losing seasons, win their first division title since 1988, and return to the playoffs. Even though they lost that playoff game (20-17 to Miami), there was a sense they were on the right track. Enthusiasm was tempered by a 6-10 record and fourth-place finish in 2000. Holmgren responded by trading for quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (b. 1975), who had been stuck on the bench behind Favre at Green Bay.
As part of league realignment, the Seahawks moved back to the National Football Conference West, their original division, before the 2001 season. By the end of the 2003 season, Hasselbeck was fully established as the team’s quarterback. Running back Shaun Alexander (b. 1977), aided by standout offensive linemen Walter Jones (b. 1974) and Steve Hutchinson (b. 1977), was on his way to becoming the franchise record-holder in rushing yards and touchdowns. The team had just won 10 games, its most since 1986.
But a power struggle was developing in the front office. Two days after the 2002 season ended with a 7-9 record, Whitsitt stripped Holmgren of his general manager title, taking away part of the reason he had accepted the Seahawks job. At the time Holmgren had a four-year record of 31-33, the same as Erickson when he was fired. Holmgren had solid credentials as a coach, but had made some questionable decisions in his role as general manager, so Whitsitt’s move was not without justification. Still, Holmgren was not pleased.
Before the 2003 season, Allen installed Tod Leiweke (b. 1960) as chief executive officer in charge of all Seahawks business and administrative operations. Whitsitt, whose sport of expertise was basketball, was put in charge of football operations. Three top executives, all Holmgren boosters, chose to leave the team over the next two years, as tension between Whitsitt and Holmgren increased.
After the 2004 season, when the Seahawks won the division championship, Holmgren went to Allen and said he was thinking about leaving. On January 5, 2005, the owner fired Whitsitt, and on February 23, Tim Ruskell (b. 1956) was introduced as president of football operations. With Holmgren appeased and a solid team in place, the scene was set for unprecedented success.
Reaching the Super Bowl
The 2005 season started slowly for Seattle. An overtime loss at Washington left the Seahawks with a record of 2-2. But then they won 11 straight games, the longest victory streak in team history. It included routs of 42-0 at Philadelphia and 41-3 against San Francisco on back-to-back weeks in December. The team lost its regular-season finale at Green Bay, but by then already had clinched another division championship and broke the franchise record for most victories. The Seahawks offense was the league’s best. Alexander led the league in rushing yards (1,880) and touchdowns (28). He was named NFL Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year.
The playoffs started for Seattle on January 14, 2006. Before a roaring Qwest Field crowd of 67,551, the Seahawks beat Washington 20-10. It was their first playoff victory since December 22, 1984, a span of 20 long years. They followed that with a 34-14 victory over Carolina before an even bigger Qwest Field crowd (68,206). The Seahawks had captured their first conference championship. For the first time in the franchise’s 30 years, they would be in the Super Bowl, playing for the NFL championship.
Super Bowl XL (No. 40; the league traditionally uses Roman numerals to identify its title games) was played in Detroit’s covered stadium, Ford Field, on February 5, 2006. Seattle’s opponent was the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had won four Super Bowls to Seattle’s none. In a matchup of storied franchise vs. upstart franchise, the Seahawks made too many mistakes and the Steelers made three big plays. Combined with some disputed calls by the officials, that added up to a 21-10 Pittsburgh victory.
Falling and Relocating
The loss was disheartening for the Seahawks and their fans, but reaching the championship game marked a high point in franchise history. What followed were two more winning seasons under Holmgren. He broke Knox’s team record for most coaching victories on December 9, 2007, the same day the Seahawks clinched their fourth consecutive division title. Still hoping to land a job that gave him total control of a franchise, he was getting ready to move on.
On February 6, the team announced that assistant head coach Jim Mora (b. 1961) would become head coach after the 2008 season, when Holmgren’s contract expired. As if to signal the end of an era, the Seahawks moved their headquarters out of Kirkland for the first time (except for Behring’s short-lived fling with Southern California). On August 18, they began practicing at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, their new headquarters on Lake Washington in Renton. Built on 19 acres owned by Allen’s Vulcan real estate company, the new complex had three outdoor practice fields, an indoor field, 15,000 square field of player meeting space, and 48,000 square feet for administrative offices.
Neither the season nor the team lived up to the level of the new surroundings. Holmgren’s last Seahawks team won four games and lost 12. Mora, a former head coach of the Atlanta Falcons who had played football at the University of Washington, struggled through a 5-11 campaign. Ruskell, the president of football operations, resigned before it was over. On January 8, 2010, Mora was fired.
Rocking the Stadium
Mora’s successor was Pete Carroll, who had been head coach of the New York Jets (1994) and New England Patriots (1997-99) before becoming one of the nation’s top college coaches. In nine seasons at the University of Southern California, his teams won seven conference and two national championships. He was hired by the Seahawks as executive vice president of football operations and head coach on January 11, 2010, and then was involved in the hiring of a new general manager, John Schneider (b. 1971), director of football operations for the Green Bay Packers.
Carroll and Schneider set out to rebuild the Seahawks’ aging roster. Besides adding players through the draft, they constantly watched for talent let loose by other teams -- signing free agents and making trades. In the week before the season started, they added six players. On the day of the first game, slightly more than half of the 53-man roster was new. From February 2010 to the end of the season in January 2011, they added and subtracted a total of 284 players, more than any other team in the league. The turnover had mixed results. On the minus side, the team had seven wins and nine losses. On the plus side, that record was good enough to top the weak NFC West, making Seattle the first team ever to make the playoffs with a losing record.
The Seahawks grabbed the opportunity. On January 8, 2011, they pulled a stunning upset, beating the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints 41-36. Hasselbeck set a team playoff record by throwing four touchdown passes. Marshawn Lynch (b. 1986), who was acquired in an October trade, had an unforgettable 67-yard touchdown run. Seemingly stopped near the line of scrimmage, Lynch broke tackle after tackle -- about eight altogether -- before somersaulting into the end zone. The crowd’s reaction was so loud at Qwest Field that it registered as seismic activity outside the stadium.
Boosted by Their Fans
Although the Seahawks were eliminated from the playoffs the following week and the 2011 season produced another 7-9 record, the team was clearly developing a strong defense and a potent rushing offense. A new crop of young stars -- along with Carroll’s tireless optimism and enthusiasm -- had raised expectations again. Not that their fans needed much convincing. From the beginning, the Seahawks had a special relationship with the people who watched and cheered for them.
It started in 1975, before any games were played, when the team adopted a name suggested by fans. After Seattle’s big 1983 playoff victory at Miami, Knox said "this team does not play alone, we play with an extra man, a twelfth man -- our fans" (Knox and Plaschke, 235). Before the final game of the 1984 season, the Seahawks retired the number 12, meaning it could never be worn by any players; it was a symbolic act unprecedented in professional sports.
In 2002, fans voted that the team’s traditional silver helmets be replaced by blue ones, marking the first time an NFL team had allowed any part of its uniform to be picked by the public.
Kingdome crowds were so loud that visiting teams couldn’t hear their quarterbacks’ signals, prompting a 1989 league rule saying such disruptions would cost the home team a 5-yard penalty and a time out. (The rule proved to be too vague and was rarely enforced.) That crowd noise followed the Seahawks into their new stadium in 2002. In recognition of the home field advantage fans helped create, the Seahawks installed a flagpole above the south end zone in 2003 and made the raising of a 12th Man flag part of every pregame ritual.
As the team got better, the noise got louder. In 2005, Seattle’s Super Bowl season, the visiting New York Giants were penalized for 11 false-starts, the product of their offensive linemen being unable to hear their quarterback calling signals just a few feet away. That prompted NFL scrutiny in 2006, with league officials monitoring the noise. The suspicion was that no uncovered stadium could be so loud without being enhanced electronically. But apparently it was. Heading into the 2012 season, the Seahawks had 75 consecutive sellouts, and the fans were still on their feet, roaring.
Finding a Bargain
On April 27, 2012, the second day of the annual NFL player draft, the Seahawks selected quarterback Russell Wilson from the University of Wisconsin. It was a controversial pick. Wilson was clearly a gifted athlete and natural leader, but at 5 feet, 10-5/8 inches, he was at least several inches shorter than ideal. Seventy-four players were drafted ahead of him. Schneider, who had scouted Wilson at Wisconsin, was convinced he was a special talent, however, and talked Carroll into making him Seattle's third-round pick.
Besides Wilson being short, the selection was curious because just five weeks earlier the Seahawks had signed another quarterback, free agent Matt Flynn, to a three-year, $26 million contract. Presumably they considered Flynn their man, with Wilson slated for the role of understudy.
It didn't work out that way. Wilson immediately impressed the coaches with how hard he studied to learn the team's offense and how he connected with teammates. He was uncommonly poised, focused, and confident. He ended every interview with "Go Hawks!," a dose of college enthusiasm rare among professional players and a sign of his leadership, even as a rookie.
In three preseason games Wilson showed -- passing and running -- that he could ignite the offense in ways Flynn had not. Two weeks before the 2012 season opener, Carroll announced the rookie would be Seattle's starting quarterback.
A Big Catch and a Near Miss
The Seahawks had a 1-1 record when they hosted the Green Bay Packers in a nationally televised Monday night game. Because of a labor dispute with the regular on-field officials, the league was using replacement referees. The game came down to the final play, a longshot pass by Wilson into the end zone. A Packer defender caught the ball high in the air, but Seattle receiver Golden Tate (b. 1988) got both hands on it before either he or the defender hit the ground. The referee called the play a Seattle touchdown, good for a 14-12 Seattle victory. Much disputed by viewers around the country, that call was widely credited with ending the labor dispute. The regular officials returned before any more games were played.
Despite Wilson's stellar performance in the first half of the season, the coaches tried to keep things simple for their rookie quarterback, limiting what they asked him to do. In that mode, the Seahawks were an average team. They had five losses in their first eleven games. But Wilson earned the coaches' trust in a dramatic overtime victory at Chicago, and from there the offense took off. Seattle averaged 50 or more points in back-to-back games, something no NFL team had done since 1950. The Seahawks followed that with 48 points in their next game. They ended the season with a five-game winning streak and a wildcard playoff berth.
Wilson's season was historic. He tied the NFL record for most touchdown passes by a rookie (26). He was the first rookie ever to lead his team to an undefeated home record. His 100.0 passer rating -- a combination of accuracy, yards gained, touchdowns, and avoiding interceptions -- was a team record.
The Seahawks entered the playoffs as one of the league's hottest teams, but because they finished second in their division, they had to play their post-season games on the road. They won at Washington 24-14 with Marshawn Lynch (b. 1986) tying the team post-season record with 132 yards rushing. And despite trailing 20-0 at halftime the next week in Atlanta, they appeared headed for victory there after Lynch scored a go-ahead touchdown with 31 seconds remaining. Instead they lost. With a conference-championship-game berth on the line, the Falcons completed two quick passes and kicked a winning field goal as time expired. Suddenly knocked out of the playoffs, the Seahawks were stunned and disheartened. Wilson, however, once again showed he was different. As he walked off the field with Carroll, the rookie already was saying he was excited by the team's prospects for 2013.
Back to the Super Bowl
While Wilson was proving to be a difference-maker on offense, it was the defense that was the Seahawks' true strength. Its leaders were in the secondary -- safeties Earl Thomas (b. 1989) and Kam Chancellor (b. 1988), and cornerback Richard Sherman (b. 1988) -- stars of the so-called Legion of Boom. After the last-second loss at Atlanta, Carroll identified Seattle's pass rush as an area of need. Schneider addressed that in the off-season by signing two top free agents -- versatile defensive linemen Michael Bennett (b. 1985) and Cliff Avril (b. 1986).
From the beginning of his tenure as head coach, Carroll wanted a team built around defense and a tough running game, with a quarterback who could avoid mistakes and hurt opponents with unexpected long passes. Entering the 2013 season, the Seahawks had all that and were considered by many to be a top Super Bowl contender.
They proved they were, shrugging off injuries and suspensions -- to defenders Bruce Irvin (b. 1987), Brandon Browner (b. 1984), and Walter Thurmond (b. 1987) for violations of the league's drug policy -- and storming to the division championship with 13 victories. That was the best record in the conference, which guaranteed that Seattle's playoff games leading to the Super Bowl would be at home in CenturyLink Field, where they were practically unbeatable.
In a divisional playoff, the Seahawks defeated New Orleans 23-15 in wind and rain with Lynch rushing for 140 yards, a franchise post-season record. Their next opponent was archrival San Francisco, with a Super Bowl berth at stake. The game went down to the wire, and was settled only when Sherman leaped high in the end zone to tip a pass away from a 49ers receiver and to teammate Malcolm Smith (b. 1989). That interception, with 22 seconds remaining, sealed a 23-17 Seattle victory. For the first time in eight years and only the second time in the franchise's 37-year history, the Seahawks were headed to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLVIII was played in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on February 2, 2014. Seattle's opponent was the American Football Conference champion Denver Broncos. It was a classic matchup: Those teams had led the NFL with 13 regular-season victories each; Seattle had the league's top-rated defense; and Denver had the top offense. In fact, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning (b. 1976) had set league records for both touchdown passes and passing yards. Odds makers considered Denver a slight favorite.
On the very first play, the Broncos center hiked the ball before Manning was ready, and it went over his shoulder and into the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 Seattle lead. What quickly followed were a Seahawks field goal by Steven Hauschka (b. 1985) and a one-yard touchdown run by Lynch. Seattle was ahead 15-0 before Denver managed to gain a first down. The Broncos offense finally got rolling in the second quarter, but Avril hit Manning's arm has he tried to pass and the ball fluttered to Smith, who intercepted it and ran 63 yards for a Seahawks touchdown. That gave Seattle a 22-0 lead at halftime, an astonishing development for what was expected to be a close game.
It got even more one-sided in an instant. Percy Harvin (b. 1988) returned the second-half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown that effectively put the game out of Denver's reach. Only 12 seconds had elapsed since halftime, and the Seahawks were on top 29-0. Trying to catch up, Manning threw enough passes to set Super Bowl records for completions and passing yards, but the Broncos never came close. Wilson added touchdown passes to receivers Jermaine Kerse (b. 1990) and Doug Baldwin (b. 1988), and the final score was Seattle 43, Denver 8 -- one of the most lopsided outcomes in Super Bowl history.
The victory gave Seattle its first professional sports championship since the Seattle Storm won a second Women's National Basketball Association title in 2010, and was the first by a men's team since the Sonics captured the NBA crown in 1979. Celebrations broke out in Pioneer Square, Capitol Hill, and other Seattle neighborhoods. The following Wednesday, February 5, 2014, Seahawks players, coaches, staff, executives, and owner Paul Allen rode from Seattle Center down Fourth Avenue to CenturyLink Field, showing the championship trophy to cheering fans packing the two-mile parade route in sub-freezing temperatures. The crowd was initially estimated at 700,000, a figure later revised downward, but still considered the biggest gathering in the city's history.
About 50,000 were in CenturyLink Field, with another 27,000 in adjacent Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners baseball team, watching live television coverage of the parade on giant video screens. A post-parade rally at the football stadium included video highlights from the Super Bowl, player introductions, and speeches by team officials and key players. Both Carroll and Wilson praised the fans for their support and, because of the team being uncommonly young for a Super Bowl winner, raised the prospect of future championships. "We'll be back again. ... We are just getting warmed up, if you know what I'm talking about," Carroll said ("Victory Parade").
Early Struggles, Then
a Big Surge
Returning to the Super Bowl is difficult in the NFL. No team
had done it in 10 years. The Seahawks seemed capable, but nonetheless had
problems. They started the 2014 season with a nationally televised 36-16 win
over the Green Bay Packers, but then lost three of their next five games, and
abruptly traded Harvin, their highest paid wide receiver, for reasons never
officially explained. Three straight victories followed, but then a humbling defeat
at Kansas City left the Seahawks with a 6-4 record and doubts that they could repeat
as division champions.
A meeting of team leaders that Carroll called following the
Kansas City loss seemed to refocus the team. Relying on Lynch's powerful running
and a once-again dominating defense, the Seahawks won their remaining six
regular-season games to finish with a 12-4 record, another division title, and
home-field advantage for the playoffs. Their offense broke the franchise record
for most yards per game, and their defense was statistically the league's best
in 43 years. Collectively, the Seahawks looked ready to defend their league championship.
Beating the Carolina Panthers in the first playoff game was
relatively easy. Beating Green Bay in the conference championship game required
a historic comeback. The Packers took a 16-0 lead. Wilson threw four
interceptions, just three fewer than he had thrown all season. The Packers were
ahead 19-7 with less than four minutes remaining and a loss seemed likely, if
not inevitable. But Wilson led the Seahawks to a touchdown, scoring on a
one-yard run; Seattle's Chris Matthews (b.1989) recovered an onside kick; Lynch
scored on a 24-yard run; and the Seahawks made a desperation two-point
conversion for a 22-19 lead. Green Bay had time to kick a field goal, forcing the
game into overtime, but the Seahawks got the ball first and quickly scored the winning
touchdown on a 35-yard pass from Wilson to Jermaine Kearse (b. 1990). The 28-22
victory was the biggest comeback in Seahawks post-season history and the
biggest in NFL championship game history, and it put Seattle back in the Super
Bowl XLIX was played February 1, 2015, in Glendale, Arizona, against the New
England Patriots. The Seahawks were ahead by 10 points going into the fourth
quarter, but Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (b. 1977) completed 13 of 15 passes
in two long drives for touchdowns, giving New England a 28-24 lead with just
two minutes remaining. The scene was set for another dramatic finish. Wilson
connected with Lynch on a 31-yard pass and run and Kearse made a seemingly
impossible catch for a gain of 33 yards. A Lynch run moved the ball to the
Patriots 1 with 26 seconds to play. A Seahawks victory seemed all but assured. But
then came a fateful decision. With the Patriots lined up to stop another run,
Seattle's coaches called for a pass. Wilson threw toward Ricardo Lockette (b.
1986) at the goal line, but Patriot Malcolm Butler (b. 1990) intercepted. The
Seahawks and their fans were stunned. Many questioned the decision to pass
instead of giving the ball one more time to Lynch. But there was no undoing the
outcome. Seattle's quest for another Lombardi Trophy had ended, 20 seconds
early and one yard short.
2011 Media Guide, ed. by Lane Gammel (Seattle: Seattle Seahawks, 2011); Hy Zimmerman, "2nd Group Seeks Grid Franchise," The Seattle Times, June 15, 1972, p. G-1; Gil Lyons, "Seattle Awarded N.F.L. Franchise," Ibid., June 4, 1974, p. A-1; Lyons, "Seattle's NFL-Team Owner Named," Ibid., December 5, 1974, p. A-1; John Owen, "NFL Kickoff Here in 1976," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 6, 1974, p. A-1; "Introducing the... Seattle Seahawks," The Seattle Times, June 17, 1975, p. A-1; Lyons, "‘Seahawks:’ Seattle Pro-Football Team Has Name," Ibid., June 17, 1975, p. D-1; Don Fair, "It’s the Seahawks," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 18, 1975, pp. A-1 and F-1; Lyons, "Seahawks Halt Ticket Sales at 59,000," The Seattle Times, August 24, 1975, p. C-6; Fair, "Patera Named Seahawk Coach," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 4, 1976, p. A-1; Lyons, "Way Cleared for Seahawks in 1976," The Seattle Times, February 20, 1976, p. A-1; Dave Eskenazi, "Wayback Machine: Birth of the Seahawks," Sports Press Northwest website accessed September 13, 2011 (http://sportspressnw.com); Fair, "Miracle Monday For Hawks," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 30, 1979, p. C-1; Gordon Wittenmyer, "Even When the Seahawks Didn’t Win, They Entertained," The Seattle Times, February 4, 1996; Fair, "Hawks: A Record in Futility," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 5, 1979, P. C-1; Scott M. Johnson, "The Original Seahawks Star," Everett Herald, November 14, 2011 (www.heraldnet.com); Bill Knight, "‘Go Get ‘Em’ Says New Seahawks Coach," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 27, 1983, p. A-1; Chuck Knox and Bill Plaschke, Hard Knox (Orlando, Florida.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988), pp. 224-226; Chris Cluff, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Seattle Seahawks (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2007); Knight, "The Seahawk Tears Were, At Last, For Joy," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 2, 1984, p. B-1; Jerry E. Carson, "Seahawks Get Jubilant Welcome Home," The Seattle Times, January 1, 1984, p. A-4; Lyons, "Nordstrom Calls Seahawks Buyer ‘A Solid Person,’" Ibid., August 29, 1988, p. A-1; Owen, "Will Behring See Greener Pastures in His Hometown?," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 30, 1988, p. D-1; Barbara Kingsley, "An Owner on Shaky Ground," Orange County Register, February 25, 1996, p C-1; Bob Condotta, "Ten Years After the Kingdome Tiles Fell," The Seattle Times, July 19, 2004, p. C-1; Glenn Drosendahl interview with Gary Wright, June 21, 2012, Renton; T. J. Simers, "Allen Has Option to Buy Seahawks," Los Angeles Times, April 21, 1996, p. A-1; Clare Farnsworth, "Holmgren -- Name Has a Ring to It," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 9, 1999, p. A-1; Mike Sando, "All Eyes on the Northwest: Time for the Biggest Home Game in Franchise History," Tacoma News Tribune, January 22, 2006, p. 5; Danny O’Neil, "Bitter End: Mistakes, Penalties Send Hawks to Super Disappointment," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 6, 2006, p. D-1; Art Thiel, "Carroll Hiring Brings Hope to Franchise in Disarray," seattlepi.com, January 12, 2010; Thiel, "Leiweke Emerges Intact, and With a Clean Slate," Ibid., January 28, 2010; Jerry Brewer, "Fanatomy Part 1: The Seahawks’ Rabid Fans," The Seattle Times, December 27, 2009, p. C-1; 2013 Media Guide ed. by Lane Gammel (Seattle: Seattle Seahawks, 2013); John Boyle, "QB of the Future?" Everett Herald (heraldnet.com), March 19, 2012; Danny O'Neil, "For Now and Later," The Seattle Times, April 28, 2012, p. C-1; O'Neil, "Carroll Just Excited Over His Newest Quarterback," Ibid., April 28, 2012, p. C-9; Boyle, "Wilson Wants 'To Be Great'," Everett Herald (heraldnet.com), August 28, 2012; O'Neil, "Wilson Gets Call As Starter," The Seattle Times, Aug. 27, 2012, p. C-1; Jerry Brewer, "Hawks Win Classic With a Little Luck and a Lot of Fight," Ibid., September 25, 2012, p. C-7; Greg Bishop, "Control Crisis," New York Times, September 26, 2012, p. B-11; Judy Battista, "N.F.L. Reaches Labor Accord With Referees," Ibid., September 27, 2012, p. A-1; Brewer, "Rookie Quarterback Saves the Day, Not Once, But Twice for Seattle," The Seattle Times, December 3, 2012, p. C-1; O'Neil, "That Hurts -- Seahawks' Dream Comeback Turns into Heartbreaking Exit," Ibid., January 14, 2012, p. C-1; Brewer, "No Looking Back," Ibid., January 15, 2013, p. C-1; O'Neil, "A Week That Will Fan Those Flames of Expectation," Ibid., March 17, 2013, p. C-1; Boyle, "Incredibly Intriguing: Free-Agent Signings, Draft Picks, Give Seattle More Versatility," Everett Herald (heraldnet.com), April 29, 2013; Larry Stone, "A Fab Four," The Seattle Times, September 5, 2013, p. C-3; Bob Condotta, "Seahawks Not Looking," Ibid., Sept. 8, 2013, p. C-4; Boyle, "Start Dreaming Big," Everett Herald (heraldnet.com), October 2, 2013; Condotta, "Give the Defense An 'A' for the Last Four Games," The Seattle Times, January 5, 2014, p. C-4; Boyle, "'Beastquake' Marked Start of Seahawks' Rise to Power," Everett Herald (heraldnet.com), January 11, 2014; Condotta, "A Step Closer," The Seattle Times, January 12, 2014, p. C-1; Condotta, "Super Tip! Sherman's Defensive Play Wins NFC, Sets Up a Super Bowl vs. Denver," Ibid., January 20, 2014, p. C-1; Condotta, "Magnificent Misfits -- Defensive Triumph: Seahawks Say This Unit Should Be Considered Among the Best Ever," Ibid., February 3, 2014, p. C-7; "A City Salutes Its Super Heroes; 700,000 Brave Cold, Gridlock to Be Part of the Party," Ibid., February 6, 2014, p. A-1; Condotta, "Victory Parade," Ibid., February 6, 2014, p. C-1; Stone, "Seahawks Stunner: Harvin Jettisoned to
New York," Ibid.,
October 18, 2014, p. A-1; Condotta, "Statistics Show Hawks Defense Among
the Best," Ibid.,
December 30, 2014, p. C-1; Condotta, "Record-Setting Offense," Ibid., January 1, 2015, p. C-1; Brewer, "So
Much More," Ibid., January 27,
2015, p. C-1; Condotta, "Together Again," Ibid., January 10, 2015, p. F-2; Condotta, "Once Is Just
Enough," Ibid., January 19, 2015, p. C-2; Brewer, "Seahawks' Grit and
Resolve Put on Display for All to See," lbid., January 19, 2005, p. C-6; Condotta, "Gain, Then Pain,"
Ibid., February 2, 2015, p. C-2; Brewer,
"Maddening Play Call Leads to Seahawks' Most Painful Loss," Ibid., February 2, 2015, p. C-10.
Note: This essay was expanded and updated on February 17, 2014, and on March 10, 2015.
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Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck with NFC championship trophy, Qwest Field, Seattle, January 22, 2006
Photo by Corky Trewin, Courtesy Seattle Seahawks
Seattle Seahawks name announced, June 17, 1975
Courtesy The Seattle Times
Seattle Seahawks name announced, June 17, 1975
Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Seattle Seahawks original logo, used on program for Man of the Year Sports Award Banquet (later renamed Sports Star of the Year Banquet), 1976
Courtesy Dave Eskenazi
Kingdome construction, 1975
Courtesy King County
Seattle Seahawks game inside the Kingdome, 1970s
Jack Patera, Seattle Seahawks first head coach, 1979
Photo by Corky Trewin, Courtesy Seattle Seahawks
Seattle Seahawk quarterback Jim Zorn (number 10) in a typical scramble, first season, 1976
Courtesy Dave Eskenazi
Wide receiver Steve Largent, first Seahawk to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in the trading card issued during his rookie year, 1976
Courtesy Dave Eskenazi
Seahawks offensive linemen sit dejectedly on the bench during a game that set a national record for lowest total offense, Seattle, November 4, 1979
Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer/Lawrence Steagall
Seahawk quarterback Jim Zorn, left, and wide receiver Steve Largent, in publicity poster for Seattle Home Show, 1980
Courtesy Dave Eskenazi
Seahawks running back Curt Warner, AFC Rookie of the Year, 1983
Photo by Corky Trewin, Courtesy Seattle Seahawks
Players congratulate Seahawks coach Chuck Knox after a playoff victory in Miami, December 31, 1983
Photo by Corky Trewin, Courtesy Seattle Seahawks
Safety Kenny Easley, in front, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 1984
Photo by Corky Trewin, Courtesy Seattle Seahawks
Paul Allen celebrates victory in special election for Seahawks Stadium, June 18, 1997
Photo by Elaine Thompson, Courtesy Associated Press
Implosion of Kingdome in progress, Seattle, March 26, 2000
Photo by Chris Goodman
Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, 1999
Photo by Corky Trewin, Courtesy Seattle Seahawks
Qwest Field (later CenturyLink Field), Seattle, ca. 2004
Courtesy Seattle Seahawks
Seahawk quarterback Matt Hasselbeck with fan, Elizabeth Delaney, at Sports Star of the Year banquet, Seattle, January 19, 2005
HistoryLink.org photo by Glenn Drosendahl
From left, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, broadcaster Terry Bradshaw, owner Paul Allen (holding NFC trophy), and team president Mike McCormack, Qwest Field, Seattle, January 22, 2006
Photo by Corky Trewin, Courtesy Seattle Seahawks
PEMCO's Seattle Seahawk 12th Man airplane banner above CenturyLink Field, Seattle, February 5, 2014
Photo by Jon Osterberg
Seahawks players with Lombardi Trophy, Super Bowl victory parade, Fourth Avenue, Seattle, February 5, 2014
Photo by Colleen E. O'Connor