.NET Q & A: Mark Collins of "Save Our Seahawks"

In the face of Ken Behring's plot to move the Seahawks to Los Angeles in the mid-1990's, a renegade group of diehard fans banded together and formed an organization called "Save Our Seahawks". What they were able to accomplish, and the scores of people they brought together, is a testament to the passion of fans everywhere. In an exclusive interview, Mark Collins, the founder of "Save Our Seahawks", tells his story.

"Everything I own is Seahawks. My phone, ceiling fan, birdhouse, a beanbag chair, glasses, an ice bucket. I've got blue and green carpet. I've even got Seahawk checks. I know it's crazy. And I'm not redecorating, because they are staying. I've got to believe." – Patti “Mama Blue” Hammond, 1996

Sometimes, it's all too easy to take the things we enjoy for granted.

For those of us who call Seahawks Nation our home every year, it is the journey from autumn ritual to the championship chase that keeps us going. The camaraderie of passionate fan-friends, the visceral presence of the crowd, the fantastic play, the “Oooooohhhhh!!!” hit – the things that make the NFL experience so special are laid out before us every Sunday from August through January as the earned entitlements of a city that has renewed its love of its’ team. The Seahawks are now as much a part of Seattle as fish-throwing, REI gear, and the half-decaf, 180-degree, soy, light chocolate, light-whip, one-Equal mocha.

In the case of the Seattle Seahawks, many may not know, or care to remember, just exactly how close the Emerald City came to losing its NFL franchise less than a decade ago. It’s understandable to sublimate those mental pictures of moving vans rolling out of HQ – some memories are painful enough that recounting them brings about thoughts too close to the edge, even if the stories are retold years later.

And if you’re a relatively new convert to the Tao of the Hawk? Well, the story told here isn’t told often anymore. Maybe you came on board in the later years of the Holmgren era and prefer to look to the future.

Given the past, few could blame you.

What is an unforgivable sin (and what has only truly been brought to light, as with so many other stories, in the wake of Bob Whitsitt’s departure) is the cavalier, dismissive and downright ungrateful way in which fans – the devoted individuals who have given estimable chunks of their lives to the idea that the dissolution of a marriage between a team and a city is not open for discussion – have been treated. What would surprise and disgust many who believe in the Seahawks is the contempt with which they had been held by the post-Behring regime under Whitsitt’s rule.

Although so many aspects of the team’s future are currently up in the air, there still should be time – right now - to look back, pick up those who were pushed down by Whitsitt and his henchmen, and make amends to the diehards, without whom the Seattle Seahawks would be nothing more than a distant, bitter memory.

Allow a man by the name of Mark Collins to tell you why,

Collins was the originator of “Save Our Seahawks”, quite possibly the single most politically effective grassroots campaign in the odious history of franchise upheaval. You will read much in this interview of what Mr. Collins has done, and what has been done to him.

All I wish to add is that if anyone from the Seahawks organization is actually reading this…what are you waiting for?

Do the right thing. And take this man's story to heart.

.NET: Tell us about your passion for the team. When did you become a Seahawks fan, and what are your favorite early memories?

Collins: I’ve been a Seahawks fan since day one back in 1976. My mother actually owned the tickets the
first two years, but I took them over in 1978. I never missed attending a home game and never missed an away game on TV. Loved those Hawks win or lose!

I used to love the Wave and how loud it got in the Kingdome! I remember one game against Atlanta when they stopped the game for ten minutes because of the crowd noise. Favorite early memories…boy there are tons, but the first trip to the playoffs under Chuck Knox (in 1983) was an awfully fun ride!

.NET: What were your initial impressions of Ken Behring when he bought the team?

Collins: I actually met Ken at a bar in Pioneer Square right after he bought the team. I thought he was a nice man and that he wanted to bring a winner to Seattle. Guess I was wrong!

.NET: When did you first hear the worm turned and it was obvious that Behring wanted to move the team to Los Angeles?

Collins: It was during the 1995 season. In fact it seemed like about every other week there was another rumor on the news that he was moving the team to California. He always denied the rumors, but after a while I knew there had to be some truth to them.

.NET: How did “Save Our Seahawks” begin? Who was involved with you in the formation?

Collins: The day after the Raiders game in the Kingdome (we kicked their butts by the way) on December 17, 1995. I was watching the 11:00 pm news and once again, there was another rumor that Ken was moving the team to California. I had had enough. I instantly sat down and wrote Behring a letter letting him know that I was forming ‘Save Our Seahawks’ and that I vowed to be his worst nightmare and never let him move the Seahawks out of Seattle. Actually, he was faxed the third draft because my lawyer made me clean up the first two. I also sent copies to all the media in the Seattle area.

I went to a friend of mine, Dean Olsby, who owned The Little Red Hen restaurant by Greenlake in Seattle and talked him into teaming up with me. We put a donation jar at the bar. Most people thought I was crazy, but some did throw a few dollars in the jar just to shut me up.

It wasn’t until some six weeks later (February 2, 1996) when Ken made his move and my life changed forever. Cameras, microphones, etc., etc.! I had no experience with the media, but I had to learn fast!

.NET: When did you file the class-action suit against Behring? How did that resolve itself?

Collins: In December of 1995, I asked my lawyer who the best class action attorney in the area was. He told me to contact Steve Burman’s office. It turned out that Steve wasn’t just the best in the area -- he was one of the best in the country. I contacted his office, told him my intentions and believe it or not, he said he would take the case if Ken did in fact try to move the team. So we were somewhat prepared when Ken made the announcement that he was moving the team. Ken made the announcement on Friday, February 2, 1996. We filed the class action suit the following Wednesday. The suit was withdrawn as part of the final deal when Paul Allen officially took over the team on July 1, 1997.

.NET: Were you encouraged by the Mariners’ new involvement with Nintendo’s ownership? Did the Mariners’ situation help your case in any way?

Collins: I thought that was great, though I was always more of a Seahawk fan than a Mariner fan. The Mariner stadium deal and the way it was put together after the “Home Town Fans” campaign lost their election probably hurt us some. People didn’t like that the stadium deal was shoved down their throats after they voted it down. It just meant we had to work a little harder to get the message out about the Seahawks new stadium and win that election!

The Mariners organization was actually very helpful to Save Our Seahawks. They let us campaign and register voters outside the Kingdome before their games and even gave my volunteers tickets to the games. They did have one stipulation, though. If they saw Bob Gogerty or anyone associated with his portion of the campaign on the property, we would all be asked to leave and not come back. Bob was hired by Paul Allen to run the ‘It’s Our Team / Our Team Works’ campaign, he also ran the ‘Home Town Fans’ campaign for the Mariners that lost. My guess was that they had some kind of falling out, but I didn’t ask questions.

.NET: What sort of dialogue did you have with people in the front office during the “S.O.S.” movement?

Collins: Initially there was no dialogue with the front office because we were suing Ken Behring and he was still the owner. I did run into (Seahawks Vice President of Administration/Public Relations) Gary Wright at a function honoring the late sportscaster Wayne Cody once early on in the campaign. He came up to me and said, off the record, “Keep up the good work and keep up the pressure.”

.NET: What was the team’s reaction to the movement? The former front office? Paul Allen? Bob Whitsitt?

Collins: After Paul Allen came into the picture and bought the option to buy the team, that all changed. They became very helpful and we worked together very well, even though we were separate from the “It’s Our Team/Our Team Works” campaign. We were fighting for the fans and their interests in regards to the new stadium, etc. The few times that I met Paul Allen, he seemed very nice. I don’t have a bad word to say about the man. Bob Whitsitt? Well, let’s just say we were cordial to each other but there was no love lost. Bob treated me as a second-class citizen, as I think he thinks all sports fans are. I’ll just leave it at that.

.NET: Did you interact with any players?

Collins: Yes, many – both current and alumni. Probably worked with more alumni players during the campaign because they had more time to do so. Many of them went out with the Sea Gals and us on our Sports Bars tour to get the message out to vote for the new stadium and to register new voters. Let’s just say, “We Had A Lot of FUN!” More on that when the book comes out (laughs).

.NET: Did you interact with local politicians?

Collins: Oh, yes! Too many to count. Learned more about politics than I wanted to know. Lots of egos! If the general public knew what goes on behind closed doors, there would be more than tea in the bay!

.NET: What were the best moments of the campaign for you?

Collins: Flying down to California to picket outside the practice facility at Rams Park early on was fun. Working with Rod Long, the players and the Sea Gals on our Sports Bar Tour was a blast. Meeting all the Seahawk fans and hearing their stories was incredible. Winning the election on June 17, 1997 was a huge relief.

.NET: I imagine there were discouraging times along the way as well. Could you tell us about the rough spots?

Collins: There were a lot of highs and lows along the way, like riding a roller coaster at times. I’m a fairly positive person though and try to look for positives in life and not negatives. Let’s just say there were rough spots, but the bottom line is the Seahawks still are the Seattle Seahawks and that’s all that matters.

.NET: Les Carpenter’s January 16 article in the Seattle Times, “Whitsitt’s Firing Removes a Dark Cloud”, mentioned that you went greatly out of pocket during the “S.O.S.” campaign. How much money? How was that money spent?

Collins: Let’s just say that before Save Our Seahawks, I owned my home free and clear. After it was all over, I had to mortgage my home for over $100,000.00. Some of the money was used to offset early campaign costs that were not covered by the small donations that we received and the profits from selling SOS T-shirts. For the most part, I took a year and a half off of work to run Save Our Seahawks because it in and of itself was a full-time job without any pay. I borrowed heavily against credit lines, etc. just to pay my bills and to pay my daily personal expenses while running Save Our Seahawks. Would a sane man have done this? Probably not, but in December 1995, I said I was going to save the Seahawks for Seattle. Being a man of my word, I followed it through to fruition even though it cost me dearly.

Something that I don’t think everyone is aware of and that I am very proud of is that everyone that worked on and for Save Our Seahawks was a volunteer. There were no paid employees! We were registered with the State of Washington as a non-profit organization - and through our efforts, we were able to raise thousands of dollars for the Pete Gross House and the Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center.

.NET: Was there ever any talk of the organization reimbursing you besides the season tickets?

Collins: No, never - never asked them to, either.

.NET: Who originally told you that you would receive season tickets for life, and when?

Collins: Bud Coffey, on election night, after we won the election. Bud told me, “ We could not have won this without you. I will make sure you never have to pay for Seahawks tickets ever again.” Bud used to be a bigwig at Boeing and then was a major political lobbyist. He was a big part of the campaign and worked directly with Bob Whitsitt, Paul Allen and Bob Gogerty.

.NET: Who first told you that this was not the case, and how did that process resolve itself?

Collins: A week after the election, (Vice President of Community Relations) Mike Flood said that they were going to give me tickets for six years. I didn’t argue and figured, “why fight them?”, but I was thinking differently. About a month later, the head of the ticket office at the time (who is no longer with the organization) came to see me at The Little Red Hen (where I was performing with my band) and said that Bob Whitsitt was trying to take my tickets away from me and that I should look into it. I called Mike Flood and asked what was up and that I had heard rumors. He said “Oh yeah – I made a mistake. I meant to tell you we’re giving you tickets for the first year and the sixth year, not all six years.” That’s when I called B.S. He eventually backed off that and they did give me tickets for six years. Though I did hear that Bob Whitsitt was not happy about it.

.NET: Did you or anyone else from S.O.S. receive anything from the organization after the Seahawks were safely back in Seattle?

Collins: I got my tickets paid for the six years and a leather Seahawks jacket that is too big, so I’ve never worn it. Patti “Mama Blue” Hammond got her tickets paid for two years and Bev Hauptli (Save Our Seahawks PR person) got her tickets paid for one year.

.NET: What was the tone of the encounters you had with Bob Whitsitt and other members of the Seahawks’ front office? Did the relationship somehow degrade over time?

Collins: For the most part, I had a good relationship with most of the front office.

As I mentioned before, Bob and myself were cordial with each other. Though ever since our first meeting (a luncheon meeting with Gary Wright and others in April of 1996), I found Bob to be very arrogant and felt that he looked at me and treated me as a second-class citizen. I believe Bob thinks that about fans of professional sports. What Bob and all of professional sports needs to remember is that what got them where they are is truly "The Blue Collar Fan."

As far as the relationship degrading over time, let’s put it this way. I personally spent a year and a half of my life and went deeply in debt to keep the Seahawks here only to be treated as a second-class citizen. We’re now made to feel: “We're done with you now, Just Go Away.”

.NET: Now that all is said and done, are you still a diehard? Do you still go to games?

Collins: Oh yes, I still love my Seahawks. Crazy diehard like before? Well, maybe not as much. I didn’t go to all the games at Husky Stadium, but I do go to the games at the new stadium when I’m not out performing with my band. The only games I missed this year were the two preseason games because I was not in town.

.NET: If you had it all to do over again, would you have gotten involved to the extent you did? Any regrets?

Collins: Boy, that’s a hard question. I think I would have to say yes. I would do it over again - with a few changes, though. Regrets? Some, but all in all I met some very good friends, so that makes up for the regrets.

.NET: How do you feel now about the part you played in keeping the Seahawks in Seattle?

Collins: I’m proud of what I did. My only wish is that the Seahawk Organization would acknowledge the Save Our Seahawks organization and what they did to keep the Seahawks in Seattle. You know a plaque or something at the stadium would be really cool – nice even!

.NET: To finish up, tell us a little about yourself – your life now, your job, – and are you still in touch with the other key members of “S.O.S.”?

Collins: Well, let’s see. I was born on July 1, 1956 in Seattle, so that makes me a native. Grew up in south Seattle near Seward Park and have lived on Beacon Hill in the same house since 1974. I have a 20-year-old daughter, Shaekira, that I am very proud of – she’s going to school over in Spokane at Gonzaga. I’m married to a great lady, Jen, who unfortunately last spring was diagnosed (at 34 years old) with lung cancer. Check out her story at “www.jensfriends.com”

I am a self-employed contractor and have been since 1979. I own C & C Construction specializing in residential remodeling in the Seattle area and I have two part time employees as needed. Need some remodeling done? Let us know - we’re in the phone book.

The one thing that has always been a big part of my life has been music. Right after Save Our Seahawks ended, I joined a band, Latigo Lace, and have been playing drums with them for the past seven years. Not only am I the drummer, but I’m also the bandleader, webmaster, etc., etc. In addition to trying to put on great performances, we also try to give back to our community by raising money for various charities. Most recently, we raised a thousand dollars for the Tsunami Relief Fund. Check out the band and our music at www.latigolace.com.

Yes, I very much keep in touch with the main people from Save Our Seahawks.

Bev Hauptli, who sits right next to my wife and myself at the Seahawks games. Bev was the Public Relations person for Save Our Seahawks and a great lady who also does public relations work for the Tulalip Tribes in Marysville, WA. and continues to try to keep me politically correct!

Rod Long, one of the Northwest and the nation’s funniest sports comedians. Rod and I worked together since almost day one. Great friend, great comedian and if you ever get the chance to see one of his shows live – don’t pass it up! Very, very funny man! Check out his website, www.rodlong.com.

Then there is the infamous Patti “Mama Blue” Hammond. The craziest, funniest 74-year-old great grandmother you that you would ever want to meet. I’ll tell you, you will never meet a bigger Seahawk fan than this lady - and she makes The Best Damn Homemade Garlic Pickles in the world!

Had I not done Save Our Seahawks, I would have never known any of these wonderful people!

Thanks for being interested in the behind-the-scenes story of Save Our Seahawks. As you probably know, this is only the surface of the whole story. It was a true grassroots fan-based effort that worked! Go Seahawks!

If you'd like to share Seahawks anecdotes with Mark Collins, or if you'd like to know more of the Save Our Seahawks story, feel free to e-mail him at sosmark@aol.com.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at doug@seahawks.net.


SeahawkFootball.com Top Stories