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Move Is Just Another Sleazy Behring Trick

This is a first: Dennis Erickson’s team leaving town before he does.

Sorry. Just a reflex, a defense.

Lashing out is the only reasonable reaction in times of utter violation, and the truth is, Dennis Erickson must feel as violated as the rest of us.

His boss, Seattle Seahawks owner Ken Behring, has ordered the serfs to bag up the balls and call Re/Max. He’s told King County to take its lease and shove it.

And to the constituents in Spokane and Sandpoint, Bellingham and Boise and Kodiak and Kalispell and Coos Bay - easily the most vast precinct in the NFL and among the most loyal?

Well, I believe the expression is, “Suckkah!”

The Los Angeles Seahawks. How does that strike you?

Below the belt, probably.

The Anti-Seattle Backlash - the one we hear from anytime a Seahawks kickoff cuts off the last few minutes of some other televised game - can just put a sock in it for a few minutes. For a great many football fans in this neighborhood, this is the closest thing to a death in the family.

Of Seattle’s three major professional sports babies, none was embraced so immediately and unconditionally - and so regionally - as were the Seahawks back in 1976.

The original Mariners - Jose Baez and that bunch - were baseball’s castoffs. The original Seahawks - Jim Zorn and Steve Largent - were family, even if Jack Patera made for a rather dysfunctional dad.

Dysfunction we can deal with. Sleazebaggery we can’t.

Ken Behring is the godfather of the artless power play, a shameless goober who made his original fortune as the king of the Florida tract home, plowed up a California ranch to build a swank development and then aimed his bulldozer at our NFL franchise. Can it be coincidence that since he bought the team in 1988, the Seahawks have reached the playoffs exactly once - a scant four months after the sale, before he could screw it up?

Until the hiring of Erickson - who last fall lived out his dream (his real one this time) a few freeway exits from his hometown - Behring had demonstrated the touch of a Hindenburg pilot.

And now we must wonder if that was the point.

He has, quite obviously, been looking for an excuse to jump town since Georgia Frontiere and Al Davis filed papers on L.A. and left America’s No. 2 market without so much as one team.

Give the big guy this: at least he didn’t back up the U-Hauls at midnight, the way Bob Irsay did in Baltimore.

The excuse Behring has found is the Kingdome - which, let’s face it, is a good all-purpose excuse. It isn’t what St. Louis built for the Rams, what Baltimore has pledged to build the Browns or what Nashville wants to throw at the Oilers. For baseball, it’s awful; for football, it’s serviceable - and with a reasonable schedule of improvements would be better than that.

But this L.A. window isn’t staying open forever and Bubba wants his now.

So in addition to the $150 million in renovations he insists the Dome needs immediately to be the “first-class” facility the lease guarantees, Behring has come up with a study that says $90 million more is required to make it earthquake safe.

He’s worried about earthquakes, so he’s moving to L.A.

Perhaps you don’t see any difference in what Ken Behring is up to and what the Mariners ownership pulled off in September - other than fielding a team that was competing for a championship, that is.

The difference is, the M’s lease was up in 1996 and the team has been losing millions by the minute. Mariners ownership - local investors backed by Nintendollars from across the Pacific - wasn’t greedily trying to get into Disney’s pocket. The club was for sale if, say, Bill Gates or Paul Allen wanted to step up to keep it here, which they didn’t. And the M’s owners vigorously campaigned for the stadium vote which would have included money for football renovations. The Behrings didn’t do squat, and the issue was narrowly defeated before the state intervened.

Local ownership is no cure-all (see Modell, Art), but it does keep the billionaires just a teensy bit honest.

Bubba Behring’s lease, meanwhile, is up in 2005, and any move to break it will be met by a legal challenge. The NFL, too, will be steamed if Behring tries to muscle into the L.A. market the owners decided to steward collectively and not put up for franchise free agency. But the NFL has proven itself perfectly impotent in trying to protect its public.

So is this just another fire drill? The last play to get a new stadium? A ruse to get Allen, who has voiced some interest in buying the club, off the dime? If so, it’s an elaborate one - staged tyrant-style by a man who can jack around his own people and still sleep well.

Our advice to you is to stay cynical. Ken Behring makes it easy.

, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.

You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.

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