Never underestimate the power of a connection. The Seahawks 22-year-long era in Kirkland started because of a simple one.
Northwest College (now Northwest University) football coach John Brown was friends with an equipment manager for the Seahawks. The team had been in existence for nearly 10 years, but without a permanent home. The equipment manager suggested to Brown that the Seahawks players should stay in the Northwest dorms.
Northwest president and Kirkland city councilman D.V. Hurst described his first feeling of having the Seahawks in Northwest dorms as dubious.
“I was concerned about having professional football players on a Christian campus,” Hurst said.
So Hurst told Randy Barton, the college’s vice president for development, to write up a memo detailing the positives and negatives of having the Seahawks at Northwest.
“He came back with a three-page memo,” Hurst said. “Two and a half pages for having the team there, and half a page against it.”
Hurst was sold and the process was in motion. Soon 10 acres of undeveloped land on the east side of campus became three practice fields, facilities and Seahawks headquarters.
The Seahawks moved training camp to the new Kirkland facility for the next 11 seasons, until Dennis Erickson came on as head coach in 1997. Erickson moved training camp back to Eastern Washington University in Cheney (where training had been from 1976-1985). The team held training camp in Kirkland again in 2007 and part of 2008 before the new Virginia Mason Athletic Center was finished in Renton.
The team stayed through the original 20-year lease from 1986 through 2006, then was two years into a five year option when it moved south permanently to Renton.
There is a hint of sadness in Hurst’s voice as he talks about the Seahawks leaving 22 years after he, Barton and others “saved the Seahawks for Kirkland.”
“There was nothing we could do about it,” Hurst said. “I’m just glad for what we were able to do.”
The summer atmosphere of Northwest University will change drastically over the next year. No more hordes of sports writers crowding on the campus to cover the Seahawks. Northwest University executive vice president Dan Neary said the biggest change will be simply not having a tenant present that has been around for 20 years.
“For us the Seawhawks were just part of the furniture, we were so used to each other,” Neary said. “They were a great tenant. They were able to use a part of our campus that we didn’t need for most of those years.”
Neary said Northwest will miss the Seahawks as friends, and that the split was perfect timing for both the team and the university.
The Northwest Bible Institute opened on Oct. 1, 1934 and operated for nearly 52 years before the Seahawks came on the scene in 1986. Now, the university gets a chance to grow and add to its campus.
So what will become of the now-vacant space at Northwest? Neary said the university will integrate it back into the campus. The fields will stay fields and the headquarters will eventually become administrative and classroom space.
Both sides knew for some time that the Seahawks would outgrow their headquarters at Northwest. Neary said the university did some work to find out if the team’s needs could be accommodated on the Northwest campus. He said it’s especially obvious after seeing the new VMAC, that the Seahawks needed more than Northwest could offer.
As for the new headquarters, Neary took a tour with a VIP group earlier in August.
“It’s spectacular. I’m so happy for them. I know that they’ve been really cramped for a long time.”