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Pacific NW Football Hall of Fame honors Sandy Gregory
Gary Wright has known every player, coach and team employee since the Seahawks’ inaugural season in 1976 through the club’s highly successful 2012 season.
But he never has met anyone else quite like Sandy Gregory.
“Sandy’s passion for this team and for the players and for the community, just the entire picture of what the Seahawks should stand for, she’s it,” said Wright, who worked his way from director of publicity (1976-81), to public relations director (1982-86), to vice president of public relations (1987-94) to vice president of communications (1995-2008) before “retiring” and becoming senior vice president of business operations for Sounders FC.
“With Sandy, it was never about her. It has always been what’s good for the organization.”
Gregory is the last original Seahawks employee from that ’76 season, and Friday she’ll be inducted into the Pacific Northwest Football Hall of Fame for all that she has done for all these years.
Cortez Kennedy, the most-decorated defensive player in franchise history and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, also is in this year’s class. So is Max Unger, the Seahawks’ All-Pro center who is being honored for his career at the University of Oregon.
But even they admit that this day belongs to the unassuming Gregory.
“Sandy Gregory is a superstar,” Kennedy said, “and it’s about time more people know that.”
Offered Unger, “This is kind of cool for me. But it’s very cool for Sandy.”
Added Wright, who was inducted into the PNW Football Hall of Fame in 2008: “In all of football, there is nobody more deserving. That’s why this is really neat.”
And Gregory’s take? She is almost embarrassed by the honor, which is fitting because her efforts have almost always been in the background.
“Gary was the first one I told, and it was almost two weeks after I found out,” she said. “You just can’t walk around and say, ‘Guess what? I’m going into a Football Hall of Fame.’ ”
So you can image Gregory’s reaction when she was informed of her induction by Steve Raible, the former Seahawks’ wide receiver who is now the radio voice of the team and also serves as the MC at the Hall of Fame induction luncheons.
“I was shocked when I found out,” Gregory said. “I just continued working after the phone call and then I was driving home that night and went, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going in a Football Hall of Fame.’ It was a weird thought. It’s still a weird thought.”
Said Wright, “This is the first chance for people to get to say, ‘Hey, this is about you. You’ve given so much to so many, this one’s for you.’ ”
Gregory and Wright actually worked two years together before coming to the expansion Seahawks – at the World Football League office in 1974 and then with the Southern California Sun of the WFL in 1975. It was the late Don Andersen who brought both to Seattle after he was named the Seahawks’ director of public relations in 1976. Gregory had worked for Andersen when he was the sports information director at USC, and Wright was the SID at Long Beach State at the same time.
Gregory’s start date was March 1, 1976, and in a three-person department that did the work that is now spread among dozens, Gregory became a Swiss Army knife of an employee.
“I was doing the game-day credentials, typing the press releases and running them off on a mimeograph machine,” she said, shaking her head and smiling. “I would order the uniforms, boots and pompons for the Sea Gals. I did the anthem singers and color guards for the pregame and the halftime entertainment.
“It was just kind of a hodgepodge of everything.”
After being a public relations assistant (1976-79), a member of the public relations staff (1980-81) and public relations administrative assistant (1982-1989), Gregory moved to the newly created community services department in 1990 – first with the title of community services director through 1997, then as community outreach director (1998) and, for the past 15 years, as director of community outreach.
In her current role, she and her staff arrange for players to make appearances at school assemblies, visit kids in hospitals and do other charitable events in the community.
“I love what I’m doing now,” she said. “It’s so rewarding, because you know you’re helping people. And I don’t even want to say it’s me, because you can’t do it without the players, obviously.”
Gregory has been breaking barriers since before the term was coined for women in the workplace.
“I’ve never even thought about it that way,” she said. “I was always just doing my job.”
But there are the obvious perks to her job – or jobs.
“I went with Jim Zorn on a school visit in 1976,” she said. “I was off to the side, of course, because that’s where I belong. But one of the little kids came up, looked up at me and said, ‘Do you know Jim Zorn?’ I realized what I do, what I’m allowed to do, is special because you’re around the players every day. But I never wanted to forget how special it is to be around these guys.”
She still works primarily behind the scenes, but her fingerprints are easier to detect.
There’s the Signature Wall in the hallway at Virginia Mason Athletic Center that leads from the players’ parking lot to the locker room. It contains a plaque with the signature of every player who has ever played for the Seahawks – from Steve Largent and Jim Zorn; to Dave Krieg and Curt Warner; to Kennedy and Mack Strong; to Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander; to Unger and Earl Thomas.
The Wall was Gregory’s idea, and the seed was planted long before it became a reality. Each year, starting with that very first year, Gregory would have each player sign a 3x5 notecard. That’s how all those signatures – 844 of them – ended up on the Wall that was unveiled in 2012.
At the conclusion of the ceremony on that Saturday in September, the two dozen players in attendance gave Gregory a rousing ovation – followed by a round of hugs.
“This is Sandy Gregory right here,” former safety Nesby Glasgow said at the time, glancing up at his signature. “Who else would have thought of this? Who else could have gotten something like this done?”
Gregory also is the on-site contact for kids who visit the facility as part of the Make-A-Wish Program. The kids come to see a certain player and watch practice, but the experience is made even more memorable by Gregory’s behind-the-scenes efforts.
“Sandy is everything for us,” said Donna Verretto, vice president of wishes and operations for Washington and Alaska chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “She has been invaluable to us. She has really set the model for what a sports experience with any of the Seattle franchises is all about. Her help, her efforts have just been incredible.”
No one knows this better than Wright, because no one could know it better than Wright.
“The neat thing is, again, so many things that are done around here are for players and coaches – the people who put it on the line on game day and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “But to be recognized for stuff that’s done behind the scenes, that’s pretty neat.
“That’s why Sandy deserves this more than anybody.”