As we did last year we will adding some pages on the history of the teams coming to London for the International Series. This year we continue with the birth of the Seattle Seahawks.
In the very early days of the NFL, starting a franchise was usually having the money to support a team as most pro football team appear to lose money. After the Second World War when the USA economy was expanding, and fans began to have money to spend on entertainment, the teams began to turn in a profit. More cashed flowed into the coffers when television paid for the rights to show football confirming the potential of owning a football franchise as a genuine investment.
The merger of the AFL with the NFL in 1970 saw 26 teams divided into two conferences. After the fractious unification that saw three teams forced to move conferences to even the structure, the NFL needed time to settle down and just play football.
There were cities interested in joining the league, but the most likely scenario was a franchise to move cities. At that time, the New England Patriots were feeling hurt and neglected and there was talk of moving the team. “The feeling around the organisation toward moving the franchise is the strongest it has ever been,” said one Boston official. “We have only made a commitment to the city of Boston for 1969. In 1970, we may very well be somewhere else.” One of the suggested destinations for a move was Seattle.
The city of Seattle was interested in joining the NFL, but at the time was struggling to keep its National League baseball team the Pilots, so the chance of landing a new football franchise was minimal. The Bills who were disgruntled with their facilities in Buffalo were also mentioned as potential suitors to relocate to Seattle.
Two groups vied for the rights to put a football franchise in Seattle. The Sea Lions were formed in February 1969 and in December 1971 hired ex-NFL star Hugh McElhenny to spearhead the organisation’s quest. McElhenny realised the key to their entry was having a stadium big enough to showcase pro-football.
Seattle had lost their Major League baseball team after just one season because their baseball stadium was the smallest in the league and drew the lowest number of fans. Despite King County voters authorising a $40 million bond in 1963 to build a dual sports stadium, legal wrangles ensured no work started until November 1972.
Having changed their name to the Seattle Kings, the organisation faced a rival syndicate from Seattle Professional Football formed in June 1972. The new organisation’s stated selling point, “We feel the composition of Seattle professional football is in line with the NFL preference for local ownership of its franchises.”
On August 12, 1972 the Kings sponsored a game between the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers to gauge what support an NFL team would command in the city. The game was played at the University of Washington’s stadium which held 58,000 and McElhenny set a target of 50,000, believing anything less than 40,000 would be a disaster.
Fortunately, 44,038 football fans turned out to see the Steelers win 22-3 as kicker Roy Gerela set a franchise record kicking five field goals. It was the largest attendance of the three exhibition games held in the state over fifteen years. McElhenny’s gamble not only rewarded his organisation handsomely, they also came away with the names and addresses of a large number of potential season ticket holders.
The proposed stadium was designed to seat 65,000 fans for football and 60,000 for baseball. With a dome 660 feet in diameter, it was the largest self-supporting concrete dome built at the time and was expected to take two years to build. As the stadium neared completion, locals began to refer to it as the “Kingdome” because King County owned the facility and it was covered with a concrete dome.
At their April 1973 owners meeting, the NFL agreed that the climate for expansion was healthy and instructed Commissioner Pete Rozelle to appoint a committee to explore the situation. The committee had the mandate to decide whether to expand, if so, by how many teams and when. Three delegations were present from Seattle as the competition increased to establish an NFL team in Washington State.
Having seen the mock-up of Seattle’s new stadium, Rozelle acknowledged, “If you’d had this building six years ago, Seattle would be in the NFL now.” At the same meeting, the owners rejected a proposal from Raiders owner Al Davis that the Super Bowl would be decided on a best two-out-of-three series to select the top team.
Tampa was granted a franchise in April 1974 with a price tag of $16 million and two months later the NFL voted to expand the league to include Seattle for the 1976 season. The one remaining question – which organisation would win the franchise?
In October before the franchise award was made public, the dissolution of the Kings syndicate was announced, leaving the way for Seattle Professional Football to receive the decision. The Kings’ McElhenny cited the worsening economic situation nationally as part of the reason for his organisation’s withdrawal.
These were challenging times in pro football with the World Football League jousting for players and fans while the new Seattle franchise had to prepare itself by putting together their backroom staff and selecting coaches for football in the NFL without even knowing what conference, let alone division, they would be playing in.
The final question for the new franchise was the team’s name. More than 3,000 entries were received in a competition to name the new team before they agreed on “Seahawks,” a name that had not been used in pro football since the early ‘50s when the Miami entry in the All-America Conference carried the name.
On December 5 1974, the new franchise was announced and the operations manager for Seattle Professional Football said, “We think it’s viable, it’s desirable and will do very well in the city of Seattle.” From a 2-12 record in their first season of 1976, the Seahawks went on eventually to play in three Super Bowls and win one.
MLB returned to Seattle in 1977.