SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Paul Allen had a big hand in saving Seahawks but is hands-off now

"In the end, there was just a bad aura which turned into a bad feeling, and then it turned into resentment. It just went downhill."

Allen, who at the time was third on the Forbes list of richest Americans with an estimated net worth of $7.5 billion, was wary of being used as a pawn by Behring to drive up the price. He didn't negotiate directly with Behring, but instead had his people listen to the deal, with Von Reichbauer acting as a go-between.

"We're really lucky, because Paul's mom, Faye Allen, who has since passed away, liked sports immensely, as did Paul's father, who took him to Washington games in cold, wet Husky Stadium," Von Reichbauer said. "So the Allen family bought into this. It was not a financial decision. It was a fan decision."

Eventually, Allen agreed to buy the team for slightly less than $200 million — about one-fifth of its current value — but the sale was made conditional on approval of a replacement stadium. The first plan was a renovation of Husky Stadium for dual use, where both the Seahawks and Huskies would play, but the neighbors squashed that.

That led to Allen's funding an S.O.S. (Save Our Seahawks) campaign and statewide election in June 1997 to approve $300 million in public money for a new stadium and exhibition center. It passed with 51% of the vote.

Fast-forward nearly 17 years, and the Seahawks are a centerpiece of this community in a more significant way than they have ever been. They also have gone from NFL outpost to one of the league's most successful and enviable franchises, particularly with their unshakeably devoted "12th Man" fan base.

"I've never seen a region so unified under the banner of the 12th man — blue collar, white collar or no collar, they're all in," Von Reichbauer said. "You can see a 20-year-old, broken-down Ford parked next to a brand-new BMW, and they both have a Seahawks sticker on them.

"Sports is a cultural unifier."

::

Were he playing for the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, New England Patriots or any number of other NFL franchises, Cliff Avril likely would be on a first-name basis with the owner.

But as a starting defensive end for the Seahawks?

"I spoke to Paul Allen once," Avril said. "When I say spoke to him, I mean I shook his hand and walked on. He has come to games. I'd probably seen him before but didn't know who he was. But toward the end of the season it was, 'Oh, that's Paul Allen? OK, cool.'"

Allen's current net worth is estimated at $15 billion (Forbes lists Miami's Stephen Ross as the NFL's second-richest owner at $4.4 billion), and he seldom attends owners meetings. He goes to Trail Blazers games, but is essentially hands-off when it comes to running his football team.

"He's got a big life that he leads, and he's doing a lot of stuff, so he checks in on us periodically and keeps track of stuff from afar," Carroll said. "He's not an on-site owner. . . . He cares a lot, but he doesn't demonstrate his care by trying to run things."

Allen has been known to check in via Skype with Carroll and General Manager John Schneider, often from remote and exotic locales.

"We'll talk to him and he's in the Galapagos Islands or something," Carroll said. "Once, he was down in Antarctica and one of the two helicopters on his boat had crashed. He was, 'I'm a little tied up right now.'"

Allen made a rare public appearance on stage last Sunday night, as the Seahawks were awarded the NFC championship trophy after beating San Francisco.

"This feels even sweeter, with the amazing support we have had from the 12th Man," he said to the cheering crowd that stuck around at CenturyLink Field to watch the ceremony.

Three weeks earlier, when the Seahawks won their finale to clinch the top seed in the conference, Carroll handed a game ball to Allen and nudged him into making a speech to the team, which turned out to be a few words of congratulations.

"He doesn't want to be in the front of it; that's not his style," Carroll said with a slight smile. "That's why I gave him a game ball. He couldn't avoid it. I had him."

Allen has the Seahawks too. And that has made all the difference.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer

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