Ten Years Ago, Seahawks Almost Moved South
SEATTLE (AP) _ As a Californian, Ken Behring never felt welcomed in the Pacific Northwest. And that was even before he tried moving the Seattle Seahawks to Southern California.
A decade after Behring announced his plans, the Seahawks are about to play in their first Super Bowl.
``I don’t believe my father ever felt embraced,″ David Behring, Ken’s son and Seahawks team president from 1993-97, said in a phone interview this week. ``From the beginning there was an outpouring of negative articles from the media and a lot of backlash.″
On Feb. 2, 1996, Ken Behring made public his intentions of moving the Seahawks to Southern California, believing the chances for a new stadium in Seattle or a remodel of the drab Kingdome had reached an impasse.
Behring asked for $150 million in improvements to the Kingdome. He claimed the facility was unsafe, and that King County had misled him about its vulnerability to earthquakes.
Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, then the county executive, believes Behring just wanted out of Seattle.
``What they were raising was high-in-the-sky things that simply could not happen and there were no assurances that they would keep the team here even if we could do those things,″ Locke said. ``He was just tired of Seattle and felt like he wasn’t being treated right. He made it clear he felt he could make a lot more money in Los Angeles.″
Unable to make progress with county officials, Behring locked up the team’s training facility in suburban Kirkland and stationed guards at the front door. He ordered a moving van to be loaded with equipment and sent it south to Rams Park in Anaheim, Calif.
Seahawks fullback Mack Strong, the only current Seattle player on the roster back then, heard about the shift from his girlfriend.
``It was very surreal,″ Strong said. ``I came home one day and she said, ‘You’re moving.’ I said, ‘No, we’re not moving.’ Then about a day later I call a call from a coach and he said, ’Pack your bags,‴
``That was a weird time in our history.″
While the announcement came in early 1996, David Behring believes his father soured on owning an NFL franchise after the 1992 season. Seattle was 2-14 that year _ tied with New England for the worst record in the league.
David Behring came on as team president the following season and tried to phase his father out of the spotlight. He became more of the public face of the Seahawks organization as the backlash against his father increased.
``I had tremendous passion for the game. I felt that I was getting along with many of the people and I was trying to push my father into background so as not to be a target,″ said David Behring, who opposed his father’s decision to move the franchise. ``But the ’92 season really turned him off from football. When you’re 2-14 you’re criticized daily.″
Behring’s attempt at moving the franchise came as the NFL became short-tempered with franchise relocation. In the previous years, the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore, the Los Angeles Rams to St. Louis and the Houston Oilers to Nashville, Tenn.
With NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue against the proposed move, Locke and the county won a brief restraining order that prevented the team from playing its home games anywhere but the Kingdome. At the time, the Seahawks’ lease agreement with the Kingdome ran through the 2005 season.
Locke remembers being in a meeting with Behring and telling his lawyers to file the suit. At the same time, Behring’s lawyers were filing a lawsuit against the county.
``It’s ironic that we were having these meetings and each side was commencing these lawsuits,″ Locke said. ``Fortunately we filed ours a few minutes before he did.″
And while workout equipment sat idly in California, Locke and billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen held secret meetings about purchasing the franchise from Behring. Allen put a $20 million down payment on the franchise and completed the transaction after taxpayers approved a financing package to replace the Kingdome.
Today, the Behrings stay far away from the professional sports realm. Ken Behring has become a widely regarded philanthropist, donating hundreds of millions of dollars to various charitable organizations. In 1997 he donated $20 million to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and in 2000 donated another $80 million to the National Museum of American History.
In June 2000, Behring started the nonprofit Wheelchair Foundation, delivering wheelchairs to needy people in more than 125 countries. He was out of the country this week, working for the organization, and unavailable for comment.
David is the foundation’s president. He happened to be in Seattle and attended the NFC title game, and will be cheering for the Seahawks on Sunday.
``It was one of the best experiences of my life,″ David Behring said. ``I wish we could have gone to the playoffs and achieved more during my four years.″