Behring glad for Hawks' success

DANVILLE, Calif. — He was just another member of the 12th Man Sunday.

Just another hoarse voice in the Qwest Field crowd rooting on the Seahawks to the first Super Bowl in their 30-year history.

And as he looked around, David Behring marveled at the site.

It was, he said, what he always thought football in Seattle could be. Maybe even better.

"It is a truly impressive stadium," said Behring, who had never set foot in Qwest Field before Sunday. "I don't think there is any way that we could have ever come up with a stadium of that magnitude."

In fact, it was just the second Seahawks game he had attended since his father, Ken, sold the team before the 1997 season, and it happened somewhat by chance. He was in town to speak to a Rotary Club about the Wheelchair Foundation his father founded — his first visit to Seattle in four years — and bought some tickets in the club seats and watched the game with his wife.

No one recognized the man who for four seasons ran the team, and whose last name is synonymous with the worst years in the franchise's history.

"Well, I've shaved my moustache and I look about seven years older," he said Friday while speaking in his office here at the Wheelchair Foundation's headquarters. He is president of the organization.

Scattered throughout his office are mementos of his time with the Seahawks — an autographed ball from the 1995 team, a mini-helmet, team photos.

Behring called his tenure running the team "four of the best years I've ever had in spite of all the controversy toward the end. It was an incredible experience."

Even if it's a period that most in Seattle think caused so much damage to the franchise that it took years to recover.

Behring doesn't think that assessment is entirely fair, but said, "I know there is nothing that will probably ever change that perception."

His father has long since let that pass.

"He's very content right now," David Behring said. "He doesn't seem to miss the NFL."

As he spoke, his father was in Mexico on a bird-hunting trip and distributing wheelchairs to underprivileged people.

"He moves on to other things," Behring said of his father, who will turn 78 this year. "Every 10 years or so, he finds a new passion, and at this point, that's primarily philanthropy."

In fact, Ken Behring's charity work has been featured in recent years in newspapers and television profiles, painting a picture at odds with how he is remembered in Seattle, where he is viewed as the carpetbagger who tried to move the Seahawks to Los Angeles in 1996.

David Behring said he's still not sure what possessed his father to buy the team in 1988 from the Nordstrom family. Ken Behring, who made much of his fortune in real estate in California, had never before talked of owning a pro sports team until he called David into his office one day and started quizzing him about the Seahawks.

A month or so later, Ken Behring owned the Seahawks. And immediately, much of Seattle was suspicious about his motives, though David Behring insists his father never wanted to do anything but make the franchise work in Seattle.

But when Ken Behring immediately started making big changes to an organization that had been regarded as a model franchise since its inception, the anxiety only increased.

David Behring thinks much of that was a function of a media that he said "never gave him a fair assessment."

David Behring was named Seahawks president in 1993 at age 37, and said one of his main tasks was to "change the perception" of the team's ownership in the midst of a 2-14 season in 1992, the worst in team history.

But then the ceiling tiles fell in the Kingdome in August 1994, and the Behrings began talking about needing a new stadium to compete financially. David Behring said they were simply reacting to the changing economic structure in the NFL, which allowed for free agency for the first time in 1993.

But fans and elected officials mostly figured that the Behrings were using that as an excuse to relocate.

David Behring said he thought there was still a chance at a solution before the Mariners' miracle run in 1995 forced the legislature to build a new baseball stadium.

"Once that happened, everything changed as far as the political environment," he said. "They said we were going to have to be content with the Kingdome."

Shortly after, in February 1996, Ken Behring announced the team was moving to Los Angeles. It was a move David Behring said he fought.

"My father felt he had no choice," David Behring said. "I felt that given time, something could have been worked out and that was my goal all along. But I was not the owner of the team."

A few months later, other NFL owners killed the move, and negotiations began with Paul Allen, who eventually bought the team for a reported $200 million.

Behring said he takes no real vindication in the fact that Allen insisted a new stadium be built before buying the team — essentially validating the Behrings' argument — though he noted that when the Kingdome was imploded, "You had the entire city cheering."

Behring admits the sale was a bitter blow. He grew up a rabid football fan and had hoped to make running the Seahawks his career.

"It was very difficult for me," he said.

Eventually, he returned to California and the family's real-estate work, then took over running the Wheelchair Foundation about four years ago. Behring said the foundation has distributed more than 400,000 wheelchairs in 134 countries. He has also assisted his father's work with the Smithsonian Institution. Ken Behring gave $80 million to the museum in 2000.

But despite his father's riches, David Behring said his family couldn't have devoted the money Allen did to a new stadium.

"For the people of Seattle, it probably could never have worked out better," he said. "They have the stadium and an owner willing to do anything to reach the Super Bowl. Personally, I had a great experience and I wish it could have continued. But that's life."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or