Ken Behring, the controversial second owner of the Seahawks who guided the team through a turbulent period that included his attempt to move the franchise to southern California, has died.
Behring was 91 and died Tuesday night of undisclosed causes, according to a Facebook post from his son, David.
“My father passed away peacefully last night at the age of 91. He was both a Lion and a Dragon and could not have lived a fuller life,” wrote David Behring. “He loved business, sports, travel, automobiles, family, adventure, life and helping others. His family and friends will deeply miss him and pledge to carry on his legacy.’’
Said the Seahawks in a statement: “We are saddened by the loss of former Seahawks owner Ken Behring. We send our heartfelt condolences to Mr. Behring’s family and friends.”
Behring and Ken Hofmann (who died in 2018) bought the team in 1988 from its original owners, Seattle Professional Football Inc., headed by the Nordstrom family, and kept it until 1997 when it was sold to Paul Allen.
His tenure as owner included the team’s worst season in 1992 and an attempt to move it to southern California when he failed in a bid to get a new stadium built to replace the Kingdome, where attendance had declined steeply as the losses mounted in the early ’90s.
But while his tortured run with the Seahawks may be how he is best-remembered in Seattle, Behring also was known for donating millions to charities — including donating wheelchairs to people in need — as well as the Smithsonian Institution.
David Behring, who became president of the team in 1993, said in a 2006 interview with the Seattle Times in 2006 that even though his father had initially attended Wisconsin on a football scholarship — which he reportedly eventually lost due to an injury — he had never shown interest in owning a pro sports team until the Seahawks became available in 1988.
The Seahawks became available for purchase in 1988 Nordstroms decided to sell the team following the strike-marred season of 1987 — which was the second time in six years a strike had interrupted a season.
Behring, a real estate developer from the Bay Area who had also initially made his name in the used car business, eventually purchased the team for a reported $80 million, immediately going from someone few in the area had ever heard of to heading up one of the city’s most cherished entities.
Things started off well enough. In Behring’s first season the Seahawks won their first division title, taking the AFC West, and he spoke enthusiastically of establishing roots in the area, purchasing a home and announcing plans for a development on the Lake Sammamish plateau that would include 6,000 homes, apartments for 18,000 and two golf courses.
But when Behring couldn’t get approval for that development, his relationship with the area began to sour, exacerbated by the team’s decline on the field.
Popular coach Chuck Knox and the team “mutually agreed to part ways’’ following the 1991 season when the team went 7-9, and Behring’s hand-picked successor, Tom Flores, then oversaw a fall to a franchise-worst 2-14 record in 1992. Among other disputes, Knox and Behring were reported to have clashed over which quarterback to take with their first-round pick in 1991 — Brett Favre or Dan McGwire. Behring wanted McGwire, who became Seattle’s pick at No. 16 overall while Knox favored Favre, who was drafted by Atlanta at 33.
Behring, who was born on June 13, 1928, in Freeport, Illinois, then began talking of building a new stadium in the area, which intensified after tiles fell in the Kingdome in the summer of 1994 and the Seahawks were forced to play their first three regular season games at Husky Stadium.
When those hopes went nowhere, Behring then began making plans to move the team to the Los Angeles area, with the team making an official announcement of its relocation on Feb. 2, 1996, and even holding a few offseason workouts in Anaheim, California, at an old Rams practice facility.
But when the NFL made it clear it would not approve a Seahawks move to Los Angeles, Behring agreed to sell the team, which cleared the way for its purchase by Paul Allen in June 1997 for a reported total of just under $200 million.
“He was not a nice guy,” King County councilman Pete von Reichbauer told The Seattle Times in 2013 on a story detailing the end of the Behring era and Allen’s purchase of the team. “He used us as a playground.”
Indeed, in the eyes of most long-time Seattle sports fans Behring likely ranks just below the pairing of Howard Schultz and Clay Bennett — who each played significant roles in steering the Sonics out of town — as the worst pro sports owners in the city’s pro sports history.
But if his Seattle legacy bothered Behring, his son, David, said he never let on.
“He’s very content right now,’’ David Behring said in 2006. “He doesn’t seem to miss the NFL. He moves on to other things. Every 10 years or so, he finds a new passion, and at this point, that’s primarily philanthropy.”
In a memoir published in 2004, Behring wrote of selling the Seahawks that: “Once again I was starting over — without football, but with the money and time to look for real purpose in my life.”
A pet project after his Seahawks days was distributing wheelchairs to people throughout the world who needed them but could not afford them. He was reported to have distributed more than one million wheelchairs during his lifetime.
David Behring, who became president of the Seahawks in 1993, said in a 2006 interview he felt his father never got a fair shot from Seattle media and politicians, which he said he felt were too skeptical of why an out-of-towner would want to own the team.
David Behring said his father began talking of wanting a new stadium only when free agency was introduced to the NFL in 1993, which began to change the league’s economic structure, and that the tile incident made it further clear to the family that the Kingdome would not be suitable for much longer.
He said a final straw was the approval of a new stadium for the Mariners in 1995, which Ken Behring felt would consign the Seahawks to playing in the Kingdome, which he felt would not allow the team to be competitive.
“My father felt he had no choice,” said David Behring. “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.”
David Behring noted then that Allen’s purchase of the team was contingent on the same thing his father had wanted — the building of a new football stadium. That was approved via a statewide vote on June 17, 1997, and Allen’s purchase of the team became official on June 30, 1997.
“For the people of Seattle, it probably could never have worked out better,” David Behring said in 2006, noting that his family did not have the same amount of money as Allen. “They have the stadium and an owner willing to do anything to reach the Super Bowl.’’
Ken Behring also did significant work with the Smithsonian Institution, giving $80 million in 2000.
Behring had five children and 10 grandchildren.