There are many of us who still remember the lead news story on one fateful evening in February of 1996. As families turned on television sets across the region, we were informed that a caravan of moving trucks bound for Southern California had hit the road that day, packed to the gills with two decades’ worth of Seattle Seahawks history. Unceremoniously, our football team and all its belongings were gone, destined to become the Los Angeles Seahawks of Anaheim.
Owner Ken Behring, a festering pimple of a human being, was to blame for the heist. A real estate developer by way of the Bay Area, Behring had acquired ownership of the Seahawks in 1988 and proceeded to spend eight miserable years running the ballclub through the turf, beneath the concrete, and well below the surface of the ground.
While Behring, the real-life personification of a bumbling Scooby-Doo villain, acted quickly in shuttling the team out of town, the NFL and King County reacted with even speedier precision to halt the vans and return them to the Pacific Northwest. The shoddy relocation attempt was thwarted, and a humiliated Behring was forced to sell.
Almost immediately, a white knight emerged. He had built his fortune in the software industry, but his passion lay in sports, music, and later, philanthropy. He already controlled one major sports franchise – the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers – but had the bank account to afford another. Unlike his basketball team, this organization would be rooted in his hometown, rather than 173 miles south. With the stroke of a pen and a boatload of cash, Paul Allen committed to buying – and saving – the Seattle Seahawks.
He became an overnight hero, this bearded, bespectacled native son of the Emerald City. Once upon a time, he had launched Microsoft with his childhood pal Bill Gates; now, he launched a new era of professional football in a region rife with sports fans desperate to root for a winner.
Under Allen’s watchful eye, the Seahawks rose from the ashes of the forgettable Behring regime and quickly reestablished themselves as a West Coast power. A splash was made with the hiring of a Super Bowl-winning head coach in Mike Holmgren. A return to the postseason happened within just three years. An NFC Championship was achieved by 2005, and before two decades of Allen’s guidance had elapsed, the Lombardi Trophy became his to hold with the Seahawks’ 2013 Super Bowl victory.
The Seahawks were a small piece of Paul Allen, but they were certainly not the extent of his legacy. Though the tale – and the wealth – began with Microsoft (a name Allen, himself, came up with), the story rapidly deviated to other equally magnanimous ventures.
Allen founded such entities as the diversely invested Vulcan, Inc.; the Allen Institutes of Brain Science, Cell Science, and Artificial Intelligence; and Stratolaunch Systems, a Seattle-based aerospace company. He held controlling stocks in Ticketmaster and Charter Communications, built the nonprofit Museum of Pop Culture, and pioneered the revitalization of Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, an area that had once consisted of little more than dilapidated junkyards and crumbling storefronts. Through Vulcan, Allen became part-owner of Seattle Sounders FC, expanding his sporting interests to professional soccer. Prior to that, he had purchased and refurbished the Cinerama theater, effectively rescuing yet another fabled piece of Seattle’s history in the process.
For Seattle sports fans, however, the narrative always comes back to the Seahawks. His reputation as a well-respected boss was palpable even to outsiders, as he was beloved by players, coaches, and front office staff alike. He granted his employees the autonomy and authority to excel in their roles, and in doing so propelled the Seahawks to success. At the same time, that success entrenched the team in the fabric of an entire community, while simultaneously helping the Seahawks become one of the most popular organizations in pro sports. Had Allen done nothing else besides liberate a football team from the clutches of a thief, he would have been hailed as a hero from now until the end of time.
And yet a singular act of nobility to save a sports franchise seems almost irrelevant when considering there are people whose lives have been saved because of the funding Allen poured into cancer research. It hardly registers when paired against the globally-seismic work done at Microsoft or Vulcan or the Allen Institutes. It pales in comparison to the countless amount of money Allen contributed to charitable endeavors.
Still, though, for those of us who grew up wearing the jerseys of Steve Largent and Jim Zorn, Cortez Kennedy and Chris Warren, Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander, Russell Wilson and Earl Thomas, a tremendous debt of gratitude is owed to one of our generation’s most brilliant minds and altruistic spirits. Were it not for his loyalty to a hometown that will never be able to repay him for his undying generosity, this unifying force that the Seahawks have become would simply not exist.
There are many of us who will remember the lead news story on one fateful afternoon in October of 2018. As we looked at our phones and computer screens, we were informed that a man who had lived life to its fullest had passed. A man who changed the world, then worked tirelessly to help improve it. Who devoted his efforts far and wide, spreading his reach to those in need around the globe, while touching the lives of all of us who call Seattle home.
Paul Allen was the very best of what we can aspire to be as human beings. And he will be sorely, sorely missed.