When the 2019 NFL schedule came out, the first calendar date circled in Seattle was Thursday night’s game at the Clink between the Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams. The national-TV match between division rivals and 2018 playoff teams was expected to have all the habanero hot sauce anyone could expect for the first week in October.
Adding to the heat is that both teams are 3-1, each with an unexpectedly ugly loss that eliminates any threat of nonchalance compromising the disputation.
While the game outcome rests largely with Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Aaron Donald and Jared Goff — not to mention whether Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has a strategy to hold the Rams under 33 points, which hasn’t happened in the past three meetings, all losses — the Seattle organization is making sure all forward torpedo tubes are loaded.
It chose this moment to have a big pregame ceremony to advance late owner Paul Allen to the club’s Ring of Honor — he would be recipient No. 12, because what else? — and to publicly introduce his primary heir to ownership, sister Jody Allen. She will raise the 12th man flag, perhaps to help induce any player new to the Rams who is sensitive to menacing audio, the opportunity to wet himself.
It is a small detail. Then again, last year the Rams won by two points in Seattle.
“There’s going to be a program for Paul before the game starts, so we encourage the 12s to get there early and enjoy it and have some fun,” Carroll said this week. “I hear Jody is raising the flag, which is great. I can’t wait to see that.”
The flag ceremony is something of a football debut for Jody Allen, and a storyline of no small import for a franchise that wants to underscore front-office continuity.
In the days following the death of Paul Allen, 65, from non-Hodgkins lymphoma Oct. 15, 2018, the shock and sadness was quickly followed by apprehension about the fate of the team. But in her 11-month tenure, Jody Allen has silently presided over lucrative contract extensions for Carroll, Wilson and Wagner, all executed with minimal disturbance.
In the vastness of Paul Allen’s $26 billion empire, the Seahawks were a well-known but small bauble. Buying the franchise in 1997 out of civic duty, to keep previous owner Ken Behring from moving the team to Los Angeles, Paul Allen’s stewardship was close to ideal in pro football: He provided the maximum resources with a minimum of meddling.
Unlike Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who would speak into a cowpie if he knew there was a microphone in it, Paul Allen, the league’s richest owner by a factor of four, stayed out of the NFL hoo-rah, as well as the weeds of football management. The style seems to have worked.
During his tenure, the Seahawks made the playoffs 13 times, won nine division titles, had eight seasons with 10 or more wins, and played in three Super Bowls, winning once.
NFL ownership rules require a franchise succession plan, but the plans are never made public. Since Paul Allen never married nor had children, there was much speculation that Vulcan, the 33-year-old company that oversees his investments and philanthropy, would sell the Seahawks and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, particularly since Jody Allen had no active role in either enterprise.
That still could happen. Clues are scarce because Vulcan is a highly secretive enterprise. What becomes plain Thursday is that Jody Allen’s emergence from the shadows offers the appearance of full engagement in the status quo.
The symbolism suggests that the axis upon which the hugely successful Seahawks franchise rotates — Allen to Carroll to Wilson — remains intact.
Paul Allen’s 2003 hire of CEO Tod Leiweke was a pivot point, because Leiweke in 2010 was the one who wooed away Carroll away from USC, pending a conversation with the boss.
“I was easily convinced of what he was saying,” Carroll said of the negotiations in which he described Paul Allen as the closer. “I had not been easily convinced in that same discussion with other clubs over the years. Everything he said came true. Everything he stood for was real. Tod had assured me that it would be.
“After talking to Paul, I just had no doubt. It was a very difficult decision to leave where I was coming from. I was really excited about the chance because the challenge of it all. Basically, because of his support, I came here.”
Paul Allen will join in the Ring of Honor — selected by ownership and team executives who aren’t identified — with Pro Football Hall of Famers Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy and Walter Jones, and former stars Jim Zorn, Dave Brown, Curt Warner, Jacob Green, Dave Krieg, coach Chuck Knox and broadcaster Pete Gross.
In a club statement, Jody Allen said, “This Ring of Honor induction celebrates Paul’s legacy and the impact he made on not only the Seahawks organization, but the entire Pacific Northwest. It is fitting that he is the 12th member of the Ring of Honor. He was the proudest 12 of all.”
Since the Seahawks have the NFL’s best record in primetime, 26-5-1, including 17-2 at home (8-1 on Thursdays), the bosses figured the time was prime to make the recruiting point that the house is in good order despite forecasts of decay following the absences of Beast Mode, the Legion of Boom and Paul Allen.
As Carroll put it of his tenure in the Allen regime, “We just feel very fortunate that this ever happened, and it happened in the way that it did, and it turned out the way it has.”
Now all they have to do is beat the Rams for the first time in four games, to restore belief that the natural order of the NFC West universe still spins on the Seattle axis, and to give Jody Allen the game ball. No pressure.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.