All the talk of fans who feel it’s their right to act in a way that suits their own agenda, despite the aftermath of their actions, be they only perceived effects or as this tale will show become actual devastating consequences.
At the dawn of a new era of exciting and promising Seahawk football, that’s whipping the Twelve Man into a boisterous chest thumping lather, I’m reminded of another golden age in this franchise history. A time of equal promise and excitement, a time when once before fans used their First Amendment Rights to let their opinion be known rightly or wrongly.
A time before the Twelve Man had a name.
A time before some of us were even born.
The year is 1982, the Seahawks had survived their introduction into the NFL and had surpassed most everybody’s expectations in their short seven year existence. That year the NFL and the NFLPA had been locked in a heated collective bargaining battle throughout the entire offseason. They were at an impasse, the players were threatening to strike and for the first time in NFL history disrupt the regular season.
With the start of the season approaching and the cloud of labor unrest looming overhead, then GM John Thompson and coach Jack Patera traded popular WR and union representative Sam McCullum to Minnesota. The NFLPA promptly saw the trade as retaliation for his work with the players union and before the first game of the season against Cleveland handed out pamphlets expressing that opinion in no uncertain terms. A ploy, in part at least, to garner support for their cause from the fans.
Now Sam was a good receiver, not great, but a very nice complement to Steve Largent yet after the trade he only played for two more years, never matched the modest numbers he had at Seattle. These were the facts behind the debate for John and Jack to trade him, while he still had value. On the other hand the Seahawks didn’t have a WR that could or did match his production either, argued the other side. So whether his trade was truly retaliatory or not would never be known for sure, as both sides stood by their story, but it matters not. At the end of the second game of the ’82 season the players struck, the owners locked them out, and the infamous 57 days of no football happen. Magnified everyday on the sports news and every Sunday by the lack there of.
The Seahawk’s vociferous fans put that time to “good” use, inflamed by the NFLPA’s stand on McCullum or possibly from just the lack of football, they struck out at the only people they could reach, the owners, or in our case the Nordstrom’s clothing company. They used their First Amendment Right and picketed Nordstrom stores, they cut up their credit cards, they called for a ban of their products, they wrote letters to papers and they harassed their customers. Now whether it was the pressure of these protests or the two back to back seasons of sub .500 records that motivated his decision is hard to say, but on October 13th halfway through the strike, the Nordstroms announced the firing of John Thompson and Jack Patera and the elevation of Mike McCormack to GM/coach. On November 16th an agreement was reached and the players returned to play November 21st to finish a 9 game season.
Had that been the end of it perhaps everything would have returned to normal. Chuck Knox was hired as head coach, Mike McCormack remained GM/President of Player Operations and the Seahawks established winning seasons and post season playoff surprises.
But in ’82 the NFLPA had not pressed for free agency in favor of the “55% revenue sharing” and in ’87 they were determined to get it. Two weeks into that season the NFLPA went on strike, a week later the all ready prepared owners continued the season with replacement players and the Seahawk fans picketed Nordstroms once again.
The Nordstroms family were huge sports fans and supporters, but they were businessmen first and their business was selling high end clothing, which was now being threatened for the second time because of their association with the NFL. The family decided they could no longer have their business disrupted for things that happened on the football field. They went on a searched for a buyer of the hometown team and on August 30, 1988, John Nordstrom announced that the Seahawks had been sold to a used car salesman turned real estate mogul, the man whose name shall not be spoken.
At this point I could go on about the mismanagement, bad drafts, coaching hires, poor seasons, dwindling fan support, TV black outs, moving vans, and all the rest of the nine years of ineptness that became the “Dark Era”, but this is a cautionary tale about OUR actions and the unforeseen consequences they may cause.
Do I believe if we troll on opposing teams message boards and generally act like fools it will create a “butterfly effect” and Paul Allen will sell the Seahawks or somehow shutdown the internet? Of course not. Do I think if we get drunk and shout obscenities at an opposing team’s fan, be they man, woman, child or dog, someone will move our team to LA? No, that would be inane. Do I suppose if we vandalize someone’s car or attack them because they are wearing another team’s jersey we’ll spiral into an abyss of poor drafts and poorer seasons? No, that’s just silly. Do I profess if we act like asses in the name of our fandom somehow games will be blacked out? No and why should I?
But then, why should any of those fans, protesting in the front of those Nordstrom store doors way back in ’82 and ’87, believe their acts could explode into the maelstrom that would become the Dark Era? How could they foresee the chain of events that would lead to the lowest point in Seahawk history?
So as these accounts of fans pushing the limits of civility to the edge of chaos, in the guise of their rights to fandom and free speech, are being repeated at home games with Washington, San Francisco, New Orleans “Beast Quake” and others yet to be chronicled, I simply point out, how the actions of US the fans can and sometimes do have long term, undefined, and unforeseen devastating consequences.
Well that’s my cautionary tale, it’s how I remembered it. It’s a story of a passionate fan base, a perceived wrong, a constitutional right, and how they all collided to push Seattle football history to the brink of disaster.
Could the overwhelming desire to express our love and support for one team once again push us to the edge of some other unsuspected precipice? Does merely standing on the sidelines perpetuate a slide down a slippery slope to another unanticipated, yet eventual cataclysm?
Just how much are we willing to lose to prove our fandom?
I’ll leave each of you to decide for yourselves…