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The Kingdome, Grunge & A Franchise-Saving Change In Ownership: Why The 90s Were Critical For The Seahawks And Seattle

The Seahawks will wear 1990s era throwbacks in 2023. Learn more about why that era was chosen, and about the process of making these uniforms a reality.

Seahawks players showcase the 2023 throwback uniforms.
Seahawks players showcase the 2023 throwback uniforms.

Going back for more than a decade, Seahawks players have seen the pictures of former players hanging on the walls of the Virginia Mason Athletic Center and admired the team's former uniforms featuring silver helmets and royal blue jerseys.

"There's been a lot of interest from the players for a while now; they've wanted the throwbacks," said the team's longtime director of equipment, Erik Kennedy. "It's been discussed for at least the last 10 years. Guys have always liked the silver helmet with royal blue."

Fans have also long been asking for the Seahawks to join other NFL teams in occasionally wearing throwback uniforms, but for a long time, the NFL's rule allowing teams to only have one helmet make the throwback conversation something of a non-starter.

Two years ago, however, a rule change opened the door for teams to add a second helmet, a decision that almost immediately kicked off the process of making throwbacks a reality for the Seahawks.

"The process really started when we were able to do the silver helmet, that was the key piece," Kennedy said.

Everyone was on board right away, from team president Chuck Arnold to head coach Pete Carroll to general manager John Schneider to Seahawks Chair Jody Allen, so the next step was notifying the league to begin the approval process of adding a new uniform, then begin the process with Nike of getting them designed and produced.

Kennedy sent an old helmet that belonged to Cortez Kennedy to Pete Mauhar, the president of Gemini Racing in Wisconsin and the person with whom the Seahawks had already worked in the past to get the paint color right on their current helmets. Mauhar eventually came back with the perfect shade of silver, Nike put together a throwback uniform that, in the words of Seahawks vice president of marketing and brand Jeff Richards, provides "a classic look on an updated silhouette." Nike sent samples to the Seahawks late last summer, with a handful of players taking part in a secretive photo shoot last September, pictures that were sent to ownership and upper management for approval.

The end result is a uniform that very much evokes those worn by the Seahawks prior to a significant redesign in 2002 to mark the team's move to the NFC West and into the building now known as Lumen Field, but does so with a modern fit and with the latest technological advances to maximize performance and comfort.

"I know everybody has been asking for it, everybody has been waiting for it, and now the wait is over," receiver Tyler Lockett said after modeling the uniforms for a photo shoot last month. "They look amazing."

From the color scheme of old royal and apple green to the use of the original Seahawks logo to the oversized numbers, the uniform very closely resembles those worn by the team in the 1990s, but there are a few subtle differences, including a nod to the building that housed the team from its inaugural season in 1976 until 1999. On the inside of the collar is a patch, designed in-house by the Seahawks design team, depicting the Kingdome.

No, the Kingdome wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing or modern building in sports, particularly in its final years, but it was the building that allowed Seattle to add the Seahawks and Mariners to the city's sports landscape. It's the reason Seattle hosted multiple final fours, was home to occasional Sonics games, concerts and other events, and it's where the 12s built their reputation as the loudest fan base in the NFL.

"This building was terrible and special at the same time," Richards said.

Why The 90s?

While minor changes were made over the years, the Seahawks uniforms remained pretty similar from 1976 through the 2001 season, so these throwbacks will bring back memories of teams and players from throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. But in coming up with the specific uniform to replicate and the era to celebrate with this launch, the Seahawks are focusing on the 1990s, not only because those uniforms were the most modern in terms of cut and fit, making them a closer match to current uniforms, but also because of the importance of that decade for both the franchise and the city.

But wait, you might be thinking, the Seahawks weren't very good in the 1990s, and in some years, they were downright bad. But that decade was still a pivotal one in franchise history that helped shape the following two decades that would see the Seahawks become one of the most successful teams in the NFL.

Yes, the early 1990s were lacking much to cheer for other than the Hall of Fame play of Cortez Kennedy and the play of some other standouts like Eugene Robinson, John L. Williams, Chris Warren, but the end of that decade set the tone for what was to come for the franchise.

The most significant development came in 1997 when Paul Allen purchased the Seahawks, saving the team from relocation. Allen then spent the first few years of his ownership showing he was going to do whatever it took to turn the Seahawks into a winning franchise. Before Allen even took over ownership of the team, he stepped in to cover the cost of selecting two players early in the first round of the 1997 draft, putting him on the hook for the money even if the sale of the team, contingent on an upcoming public vote to fund a new stadium, didn't go through. That bold move that allowed the front office to trade up to pick future Hall of Famer Walter Jones sixth overall after taking Shawn Springs with the No. 3 pick.

Allen also empowered the team to spend in free agency, with the Seahawks adding notable players like Chad Brown, Warren Moon and Ricky Watters in the late 90s. And then in arguably his biggest move early in his stewardship of the team, Allen was able to pry Super Bowl winning coach Mike Holmgren away from Green Bay after the 1998 season, paving the way for what at the time would be the most successful era in franchise history. In Holmgren's first season, the 1999 Seahawks made the playoffs, their first postseason berth since 1988, and in the decade that followed the Seahawks would go on to make the playoffs five straight times under Holmgren, winning the NFC West four times, including a 13-3 2005 season that saw them reach the Super Bowl for the first time. None of that success, nor the even greater heights the team has reached under Carroll and Schneider, happens without the events that unfolded in the late 1990s.

The decade was also big for other area sports teams, helping bring relevance to Seattle as a sports city. The 1990s kicked off with the Huskies winning back-to-back Rose Bowls and a national championship; it was a decade that saw the Gary Payton/Shawn Kemp-era Sonics become one of the best and most entertaining teams in the NBA, highlighted by a 1996 trip to the finals; and it was the time when the Mariners, led by future Hall of Famers like Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Randy Johnson, ended that franchise's long playoff droughts while showing that the Kingdome could be one of the loudest venues in baseball as well as football.

And of course, the 1990s were a memorable time for Seattle outside of sports, with the city at the forefront of popular culture and technology. Bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains helped make grunge music a global phenomenon and turned Seattle into the music capital of the world. Seattle was also depicted in numerous television shows and movies, from Singles and Sleepless in Seattle on the big screen, to Frasier and the Real World on the small screen. The 1990s also saw companies like Starbucks and Microsoft grow into global brands, while a small tech company called Amazon also got its start.

"Something We're Excited To Bring To The 12s."

Once it became clear, two years ago, that the Seahawks were going to be able to make throwback uniforms a reality, the first priority was getting approval from the league and getting the actual uniforms designed and made, but another important part of the process from the get-go was making sure the team would be ready to meet the retail needs of a fanbase that has been clamoring for throwbacks for years.

Doug Orwiler, the team's managing director of consumer experience, is expecting demand for this jersey to rival the launch of the team's redesigned jersey in 2012 when Nike took over NFL uniform rights and the Seahawks were the first team to undergo a significant uniform redesign.

"Since the launch of the Nike jersey in 2012, this will be the biggest thing since then," Orwiler said. "… This is a long time in the making and something we're excited to bring to the 12s. The excitement has just continued to grow. We have tremendous fans here, and we want everyone to be able to get in and get what they want."

As with other jerseys, fans can buy them online or at Pro Shop locations—and yes, they're customizable—but this throwback launch will also include a 90s-themed retail installation at the Lumen Field Pro Shop.

"We're going to have a store in store concept that's going to take over a large portion of the Pro Shop at Lumen Field," Orwiler said. "It's going to be a very fun experience for the 12s coming in. It really celebrates the Kingdome era and the 90s era, and they're going to be able to feel that when they come in the store. It's like you're going back in time a little bit, you're going to feel it. It's going to bring an experiential piece to the retail experience as well."

If there's any downside to bringing back the throwbacks, however, it's that it means the elimination of the wolf grey jersey that has been one of the Seahawks' alternate looks since 2012. NFL teams are only allowed a total of four jerseys, one home, one road, and two alternates, be it in the form of throwbacks, color rush or some other alternate. So adding a throwback meant the Seahawks had to eliminate either wolf grey or action green, and it wasn't an easy choice. Arnold tasked those involved in the process to come up with a consensus on which to keep, but a consensus was all but impossible to reach. The team wins a lot in both, both sell well, and everyone from fans to players to upper management were divided on which one they like better.

In the end, the decision was made to keep action green, which in addition to being the league's best-selling color rush jersey, is also one of the most unique looks in the league. None other than Carroll helped break the tie, Richards explained, noting that, "action green is such a brand separator for us. Nobody else has that color, we win in that color."

"What's awesome about the color rush is it's very unique, it stands out from other jerseys across the league," said Orwiler. "It resonates with the 12s, and that's where it made sense for us to keep it… As much as we're sad to see wolf grey go away, (action green) is a fun piece for us and we're excited to keep it."

With that challenging decision made, and with the throwbacks finally here, the Seahawks can officially roll out throwback uniforms this week, with fans able to purchase online and at Pro Shop locations.

"It's super exciting," Orwiler said. "This is something the 12s have been clamoring for for a long time… Really since last fall since we teased it, the excitement has just continued to grow with fans coming in and asking about it."

And fans won't be the only ones excited to get their hands on the uniforms. Current players who have seen the throwbacks and modeled them can't stop raving about them, and Kennedy noted he has had more than 100 former players—and in some cases, former NFL players who didn't play for Seattle—reach out asking about getting a jersey.

"I've always been a big fan of these jerseys just seeing pictures around the building, so to put this on is pretty cool," quarterback Geno Smith said. "I think fans are going to love it, they really will. It's cool that they're bringing it back, and it's cool that we get to be the team that brings them back. Hopefully the fans will love it, and we're going to go out there and kick a lot of butt in these things."

Seahawks players show off the brand new 90s throwback uniforms that will be worn when the Seahawks take on the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, October 29 at Lumen Field.