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Cheney Seahawks Bringing Back Fans With Friendly Camp

Thu., July 17, 1997, midnight

If it was something less than a love-in, then at least the couple held hands.

Sweaty hands. This is July. This is Cheney.

This is the point - one of them, anyway - of the Seattle Seahawks holing up for the next month at Eastern Washington University.

Sweat. Camaraderie. Bonding.

Kissing and making up.

And guess what? It’s working already.

“It’s better than being in Kirkland,” reported running back Chris Warren. “Nothing against Kirkland.”

Nothing against Kirkland.

If the Cheney Chamber of Commerce doesn’t have that on a bumper sticker or a lapel button by sundown, then somebody’s marketing degree is going to waste.

This gesture, however, is not.

Maybe Paul Allen couldn’t sell Spokane County on a new stadium, but the early returns from the NFL’s first Cheney training camp in 12 years at least suggest that the constituents can be resold on the Seahawks. Wednesday’s vote was unanimous. And gracious.

They filled bleachers borrowed from the Cheney Rodeo and lined the fences for the first look at the 1997 Seahawks, drastically retooled and now the source of the franchise’s first legitimate hope for success in a decade. They watched jiggle of linemen’s bellies and followed the flight of tight spirals, and applauded in the appropriate places, mostly.

“What’s funny for us is when there’s a play that’s just another play in our minds,” said quarterback John Friesz, “and people are clapping. There’s just a lot of excitement out there. It’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

And when receiver James McKnight got behind cornerback Jeremy Lincoln to snag a pass from Warren Moon that covered 40-odd yards, the cheer had a November ring to it.

“Good job, Joey!” someone yelled.

Well, training camp can be for fans, too, though it never was in Kirkland.

“This is great,” said Jim Zorn, the quarterback who helped birth this franchise and is on hand in Cheney in hopes of sharing in its rebirth. “Everybody looks at it differently. Rookies, probably, wonder what it’s all about. They can’t get into enjoying the fans - they have a job to do.

“But isn’t this why an NFL player plays? It’s for himself, to earn a great salary in a short period of time, but it’s to get a lot of people behind him and excited about football.”

Since Wednesday’s first practice was padless, the sights and sounds of training camp were mostly droopy shorts and the shush of a hundred Sharpie pens signing autographs. There was a sighting of a man in an old “Fan 12” replica jersey, a fashion long consigned to duty as a car wash mitt or a fingerpaint smock.

Don Burbank settled for wearing his loyalty - a dated, dirty Seahawks ballcap - on his head.

“I’ll be out here every day,” insisted the semi-retired machinist from Espanola. “I’ve been a fan since the first day.”

And he proved it this spring.

“I passed out pamphlets (on the stadium vote) and hung signs and talked to everybody I could,” he said. “Even changed a couple of opinions. And you watch - after they start winning, you won’t find anybody who voted no on the stadium.”

But the wound being treated here has very little to do with subsidizing a millionaire’s sandbox and very much to do with ugly old history of contemptuous management, inept performance and intemperate behavior - all of which have led to some conspicuously empty seats in the Kingdome.

The mission will not be without some false steps. It is beyond irony, for instance, that the designated official TV station of Seahawks camp is the same one that - on the advice of its viewers - has recently elected to cut away from the end or pre-empt the kickoff of Seahawks games to show the other half of its Sunday doubleheaders in its entirety.

But, hey, everyone’s trying here.

And it’s why the most productive drill in any particular practice won’t happen until after practice.

That’s when Zorn - recently left unemployed when the University of Minnesota dismissed its football staff - will welcome dozens of boys and girls to wriggle into T-shirts sponsored by Fox and run pass patterns in the footsteps left by James McKnight and Joey Galloway. And it will be a certifiable thrill, even if the passes are being tossed not by Friesz but by hirelings in yellow security shirts.

Or even by Jim Zorn.

“Tired A.J.?” a father asked as Wednesday’s Kids Club workout wound down.

A weary nod.

“You know who that guy is?”

“No.”

“Jim Zorn.”

Alas, A.J. doesn’t know Jim Zorn from Jimmy Crackcorn. But that doesn’t mean Zorn can’t help with the damage control.

“I don’t know what the damage was, but there was a loss of interest,” said Zorn. “By coming back here, even if it’s just one year, it’s getting back in touch. You’re building these friendships one person at a time.”

Zorn said he wants to see the Seahawks be successful, “not that I’m a part of it, but I want to watch it.” But he also is here to remember.

“It’s funny - in various of places on campus and around town, you have memories of when so-and-so did this,” said Zorn. “That hill we call Andre Hines Hill. He was in such poor shape (a second-round pick in 1980) that he couldn’t make it up the hill. That’s a reminder. And seeing John Yarno’s old convertible sitting up on that other hill.”

The current Seahawks will make and take their own memories from Cheney, and leave some for others.

“I’m working up more of a sweat doing this,” said Moon, signing autographs, “than I did in practice.”

That, too, will change.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review


 
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