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NFL: SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA GETS BACK IN THE GAME

They're Not Sleepless Over This Loss

Reaction: Seattle never embraced Seahawk owner Ken Behring, who was considered a rich California land developer.

February 03, 1996|KIM MURPHY and DOUG CONNER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SEATTLE — The late afternoon ferry from downtown Seattle pulled out of the dock near the Kingdome, and an announcement came over the loudspeaker. "I've got some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that the Seahawks are probably leaving town."

The normally raucous commuter crowd fell silent. "The good news," the announcement went on, "is that Ken Behring is leaving town."

Applause broke out all over the boat. Seattle, which has always considered itself a football town, is wounded and furious that the Seahawks are leaving. But Behring, the Seahawk owner--that's different.

No one has missed a chance in recent days to take a vengeful swipe at Behring and the California plane he very occasionally flies in on.

Behring is the three things Seattleites hate most: He's rich, he's from California, and he's a land developer. Need anyone say more?

"They can't fill the stadium anymore because people in this town can't stand Ken Behring. The man is obnoxious," said Mark Collins, head of Save Our Seahawks, the fan group mobilized to block the team's seemingly imminent departure. "Behring, he's the worst person to ever set foot in this state."

Seattle Times sports columnist Blaine Newnham said it this way Friday: "Behring is a rogue and a bum."

The Seahawks came of age when Seattle really was a football town. Under the ownership of the Nordstrom family, the Seahawks played to sell-out crowds and occasionally had winning seasons.

Enter Behring in 1988, when the Nordstroms bowed out of sports franchises. Behring recruited mediocre talent, he installed his son as team president, he pushed out popular Coach Tom Flores and jacked up ticket prices. The sell-out crowds disappeared, thousands of season-ticket holders didn't show up, and big Seattle companies such as Boeing declined to take corporate suites.

Still, people say they would have stood by Behring if he had stood by them. The Seahawks were miffed when their baseball roommates at the Kingdome, the Mariners, got state funding for a new stadium last year. But Seattle officials say Behring didn't even endorse the local tax measure that would have provided $90 million for improvements at the Kingdome.

Then there was this whole question about whether Behring really wanted to stay. Behring said he loved Seattle, didn't see any reason why he and the Seahawks wouldn't be around for 30 or 40 more years. Behring said about moving: "The fans would kill you if you did, and I don't blame them."

Behring complained over the years he was never welcomed into Seattle's top-flight social establishment, a clique of old families and charities and clubs that is notoriously standoffish to outsiders.

To Seattle's mind, Behring never gave it a chance. He flew up from Northern California for games, joined a local charity group, presented major plans for what people here call "California-style" land development around King County that fell, in this region of controlled growth and environmental protection, with a dead thud.

So it came as no surprise to anyone when the theme song of King County's defiance of the Seahawks' move was that the team ought to be sold to a local owner, somebody who knows the Northwest, somebody, in a word, not from California.

"The key to keeping a sports franchise in the region is through local ownership that is committed to its fans, and that shares our Northwest values," King County Executive Gary Locke said Friday. "There cannot be a negotiated grace in breaking one's commitment to the people of the Northwest."

Jordan Dey, spokesman for Gov. Mike Lowry, said, "There's been a big difference here between the Mariner and the Seahawk approach. The Mariner leadership made it very clear they wanted to stay in Seattle. They put up the money to stay in Seattle. They made it very clear this was a hometown team and they had hometown support. The Seahawks take a different approach. They're interested in leaving."

The town's angry, but it's not weeping. Maybe that's because of the emotional turmoil experienced last year when the Mariners threatened to split.

"I used to be a huge Seahawks fan, but for me, and I think for the people I talk to, there's a feeling of 'Who cares?' " said Terry Lambrecht, who remembers a time when the streets of Seattle used to be empty on a Sunday, because everybody was at the Seahawk game or home watching it. "I mean, you care, but now that we've saved the Mariners, it's almost like everyone is out of breath. It's like, here comes another one."

Maybe it's just that, in this day of free agents and mobile teams, nobody has a spare heart ready to give to a football team.

"It's just the sad state of the NFL. It's a joke. There's no loyalty to fans, and it's kind of hard to build fan loyalty with all the teams moving around," said Kevin McCluskey, manager of a sports paraphernalia shop in Seattle's Pioneer Square.

Ramon Black, sitting this week at a restaurant across from the Kingdome, shrugged. "You don't fall in love with a team like you used to," he said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Where Are They Now?

There have been 11 moves or pending moves in the history of the NFL, five of which have occurred in the last year.

1982: Oakland Raiders to L.A.

1984: Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis

1988: St. Louis Cardinals to Phoenix

1995: Cleveland Browns to Baltimore

1995: L.A. Raiders to Oakland

1995: Houston Oilers to Nashville

1995: L.A. Rams to St. Louis

1996: Seattle Seahawks to L.A.

Other Teams

1946: Cleveland Rams to L.A.

1949: Boston Yanks to New York

1960: Chicago Cardinals to St. Louis

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