Green: The Seahawks and the move that wasn't

By Jerry Green, Special to The Detroit News

Phoenix — The moving vans pulled up to the practice facility in suburban Seattle and loaded up helmets, shoulder pads, cleats, pants and more. The Seahawks were slipping out of town, about to become a team on the lam.

The destination was Anaheim, California. Los Angeles had been abandoned by the Rams and Raiders a year earlier, so a new team would be a welcome sight.

The evacuation was the brainstorm of the Seahawks owner Ken Behring, who had become angered with fan apathy in Seattle. The Seahawks played in the Kingdome in virtual silence. There was no "12th Man."

Behring also was frustrated with the Kingdome, a concrete monstrosity with a leaky roof. He wanted out of town. He craved Los Angeles, where people yearned for pro football.

So the Seahawks were told pack their bags, "we're going down to Anaheim."

Club officials set up an offseason training camp in the vacated Rams Park in late March 1996, and they intended to play their future seasons in new digs.

In reality, the Seahawks were about to become orphans, much to the consternation of then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue and a majority of the other owners.

As the Seahawks began practices in Anaheim, Tagliabue threatened to fine Behring $500,000 a day.

Behring quickly reconsidered.

The movers put everything back into vans, and the Seahawks relocated right back where they had started.

Location, location

This was a period when the NFL was a league of deserters. The vagabonds demanded new stadiums, which would be funded by public tax money.

The Colts had slipped out of Baltimore in the dark of night for Indianapolis.

The Rams skipped out of Los Angeles for St. Louis.

The Raiders left Los Angeles to return to Oakland, their former and current home.

The Browns escaped from Cleveland to Baltimore and were renamed the Ravens.

The Oilers are now the Titans.

The Cardinals, once based in Chicago, departed from St. Louis to Arizona.

But the Seahawks never made the move, except for those few days on the lam in Southern California.

They returned to Seattle. They landed new ownership and a new stadium — and unexpected success. The Seahawks are about to play in their second consecutive Super Bowl, backed by the "12th Man," the loudest mob of fans in any town.

The success of the Seahawks is obvious in Phoenix. Fans in Seahawks regalia are shrieking about their team, the reigning champions.

Praise for police

But their success and the power of the NFL also is measured by another force: the police department.

Thursday, 12 police officers escorted us out of downtown Phoenix for the Seahawks encampment at the Arizona Grand Resort, 10-12 miles along city streets.

Once there, we were ushered into a huge tent, soon to be welcomed by coach Pete Carroll. Then the erudite Richard Sherman, the celebrated Seahawks cornerback, greeted us.

I figured Sherman, a Stanford graduate with the crackling mind of a rebel, might have something to say about the escort.

He stood up for the police.

"I think it would be a huge disaster if anything happened on the way to an event for media, our players, or anything like that," Sherman said. "I think the police officers out here are doing a great job, a fantastic job, and making sure everybody gets places safe."

Sherman never expressed such praise for Tom Brady.

Retired News sports writer Jerry Green has covered every Super Bowl.