1973 – Around the World and Close to Home
A ceasefire ends American involvement in Vietnam War, the Supreme Court affirms limited right to abortions in Roe v. Wade, the Senate’s Watergate hearings intensify and lead closer to President Nixon, and Spiro Agnew resigns as Vice President and is succeeded by Gerald Ford. In sports, UCLA wins an unprecedented seventh straight NCAA basketball title, the Miami Dolphins complete the NFL season undefeated at 17-0-0, and former Celtics star Bill Russell is named head coach of the Seattle Sonics.
Stricken With a Fervor
Seeking to enhance the image of Seattle to major league, a group of business leaders began searching for a pro football team and got themselves a futbol club.
David. E. “Ned” Skinner had helped shape the city’s new image during the 1962 World’s Fair. In fact, Skinner was co-owner of the iconic Space Needle. Together with Herman Sarkowsky, Skinner formed a group of investors for an NFL expansion team. Skinner’s grandfather had sponsored state league soccer teams during the early 20th Century, and when the NASL first started he quickly determined the timing was not right.
In April 1973, Skinner, Sarkowsky and their group of heavy hitters attended NFL meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz., where expansion was on the agenda. They wanted to introduce themselves and begin lobbying. Among the most influential NFL owners was Lamar Hunt, who owned both the Kansas City Chiefs and NASL Dallas Tornado.
“(Hunt) said they might want to bide their time by looking into soccer,” said Cliff McCrath, then Seattle Pacific coach and consultant to the group. “Walt (Daggatt, Skinner’s top executive) understood it as a mandate rather than a suggestion.” Daggatt returned to Seattle and quickly convened a meeting of McCrath and seven other soccer community leaders. Many members of the group had helped host touring European teams in the past, friendlies which attracted up to 9,000 fans with modest promotion. They were most supportive.
Soon after the Hunt-Daggatt exchange, NASL commissioner Phil Woosnam mentioned that the league was strongly considering expansion to the West Coast, with up to seven new teams overall. In June, Woosnam and Hunt paid a quick, quiet visit to Seattle and the prospective ownership group.
Hunt’s enthusiasm for soccer was contagious, and Daggatt was fast stricken with a fervor for the game. Later that summer, McCrath was dispatched to Dallas and Philadelphia, to meet with league and Hunt executives. He returned home with a favorable two-page report, followed by a seven-page pro forma projecting an average attendance of 6,000 and an average ticket price of $1.41, including city taxes.
McCrath, having witnessed up-close the rapid failure of Boston’s first team five years earlier, was skeptical. Daggatt, however, seemed to relish the challenge, and the other owners made him their managing partner.
Over the ensuing months, progress was being made behind the scenes, many weeks before the team was officially awarded. John Best, a top player and assistant coach for Hunt’s Tornado, was identified as the top candidate for head coach. Jack Daley, the top exec for Toronto, was tabbed to become general manager.
Beginning in the second week of December, the franchise, coach and GM of Seattle’s new professional sports enterprise were all announced. As it so happened, less than six months later, the NFL granted an expansion team to virtually the same ownership group.