Which Comes First: Dome or Team?
Seattle had long obsessed about joining the “big leagues” in sports. It had some experience thanks to the Seattle Metropolitans hockey team, which won the Stanley Cup in 1917, and the later Totems, a minor league franchise that played in the Western Hockey League from 1957-1974. The Seattle SuperSonics made their National Basketball Association debut in 1966 (and won the NBA championship in 1979) and the Seattle Sounders would make a big but brief splash in national soccer play, but what city leaders and fans really coveted were major league baseball and football teams.
Seattle had to overcome several obstacles, including the lack of adequate venues. The aging Sicks' Stadium had served the Pacific Coast League Rainiers long and well, but the days of both were numbered. Husky Stadium was fine for rough and ready college football and its hardy fans, but lacked the amenities needed to attract a professional team and upscale followers.
The first serious proposal for major new “domed” stadium to serve both baseball and football was floated by Seattle restaurateur Dave Cohn in 1959. The Seattle City Council rushed a $15 million bond issue onto the 1960 ballot, but voters were not quite ready to pay the ticket price -- especially with no guarantees that Seattle would win a major league franchise in either sport.
The idea for a domed stadium was revived in 1966, and this time the National Football League strongly hinted that Seattle was an early contender for an “expansion” franchise. Talks were also well advanced with the American League for a baseball team. This time King County took the lead and placed a bond issue on the November ballot, but it failed again.
Stadium boosters quickly reorganized and joined forces with the “Forward Thrust” regional improvement effort just launched by civic leader James Ellis. Voters approved $40 million in bonds for a new “King County Multipurpose Domed Stadium” -- better known as the Kingdome -- on February 13, 1968.
Build It and They Will Come
With the encouragement of local elected officials, the business community, and an eager public, clothing and shoe magnate Lloyd W. Nordstrom took the lead in organizing a bidding consortium, “Seattle Professional Football,” including industrialist D. E. “Ned” Skinner, contractor Howard S. Wright, retailer M. Lamont Bean, and entrepreneur Herman Sarkowsky as chief operating officer. When the NFL set the price of an expansion franchise at $16 million (not counting operating cash and capitalization), a competing local group, the “Seattle Kings,” endorsed SPF’s bid.
At a New York City press conference on December 5, 1974, NFL Commissioner Pete Roselle announced the approval of the Seattle bid and that of Tampa. Former UW Husky executive John Thompson was hired as general manager on March 5, 1975. After a contest that drew more than 20,000 entries, the name “Seahawks” was selected on June 17, 1975. Thompson then recruited Jack Patera to build and coach the new team, bravely predicting that the Hawks would play a Super Bowl game within four years.
As the finishing touches were being put on the Kingdome, the news arrived from Mexico that Lloyd Nordstrom had suddenly died on January 20, 1976. Brother Elmer Nordstrom assumed his ownership role in the family’s behalf. The Kingdome itself opened on March 27 of that year to record crowds and rave reviews despite its rather Spartan amenities and Stalinist utilitarianism.
The Seahawks took to the Dome’s Astroturf for the first time on August 1, 1976, to face the San Francisco 49ers in an exhibition game. They lost, as they did in their first regular season face-off against the St. Louis Cardinals on September 12 (not to mention the next four games). Inspired by the skills of exciting new players such as Jim Zorn and Steve Largent, no one seemed to care much. Seattle was in the “big-leagues” at last.
Post Script: The Seahawks passed through several ownerships before being acquired by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen (b. 1953) in 1996. The multipurpose cohabitation of the Seahawks and Mariners in the Dome proved economically infeasible and each demanded their own stadium in the 1990s. The Kingdome was imploded on March 26, 2000, to make way for the Seahawks' new home in Qwest Field (later renamed CenturyLink Field), funded by Paul Allen and by Washington State bonds. It opened on July 20, 2002.