Blanchette: Original 12th man forced to part with mementoes
When the clock hit :00 and the confetti rained down at MetLife Stadium two weeks ago, the Seattle Seahawks had finally distanced themselves from 37 seasons of near-misses, franchise flops and general NFL anonymity.
Back home in Spokane, David Brooks decided to part with some history, too – a slice of Seahawks history, and his own.
It’s a thin piece of posterboard, maybe a foot wide and twice as long, curled a bit at the ends and its gloss given away to one hard day’s use and 27 years of age.
It’s a picket sign, and it represents one fan’s day as a real 12th Man.
And it’s decorated with more than 30 autographs of the 1987 team.
Curt Warner. Edwin Bailey. Bobby Joe Edmonds. Sam Merriman. Bryan Millard.
The real team. Not the ridiculed, reviled and mostly forgotten Seattle SeaScabs, who took the field as replacement players for the first of three games during the National Football League labor dispute on October 4 that year while the striking regulars worked a picket line outside the Kingdome – led by player rep Kenny Easley and quarterback Dave Krieg.
And aided by Krieg’s aide-for-a-day – a high school senior named David Brooks.
“My dad took me to the second (home) game in their existence, back in 1976,” remembered the Spokane woodworker. “But that was the day that bound me for life.”
For 27 years, his souvenir has been displayed prominently, the last eight at his home on Buckeye. But some steep and lingering medical bills have nudged him to put it on the market, and with the Seahawks now the hottest thing going he hopes “maybe some other old-time fan can enjoy it, too.”
Oh, and it’s a package deal. More on that in a minute.
There’s sports memorabilia in just about everyone’s basement, but the best is the stuff that comes with a story – and Brooks will have his to tell long after the those autographs fade away.
It was two games into the 1987 NFL season that the players staged their walkout, forcing the owners to cancel Week 3. But unlike the lockout in 1982 when play went on extended hiatus, the franchises rounded up replacements – ex-collegians, training camp cuts, bucket listers – and hastily put them through practices so there would be a product to put on the field, fulfilling ownership’s obligation to season ticket holders.
And maybe to lure a few curiosity seekers.
David Brooks and his buddy Richard Gust came up to the Kingdome from Kent that Sunday with no intention of buying even one of the half-priced tickets the club was selling for that afternoon’s game with the Dolphins.
“We knew the real players would be outside picketing and we figured we’d get some autographs,” Brooks said. “Dave Krieg told me, ‘If you’re going to hang around, you might as well hold this’ and handed me a sign.”
At 17, Brooks’ grasp of labor issues was a little wobbly.
“Before I went to that game,” he said, “I thought players were rich and snobby and that it was crazy they’d turn their back on the fans. Then you find it’s more complicated than that.”
(He also took note that when he left that day, linebacker Bruce Scholtz did so in an old pickup truck that needed a push to get started – and teammate Jacob Green obliged. Solo.)
The striking players beseeched fans to tear up their tickets – and many did, the game that day luring just 19,448 indoors. The players weren’t there to sign autographs, but they could hardly turn people down and expect support. Still, Brooks made out better than most. He fetched Krieg hotdogs, held his cellphone – yes, one of those old gray bricks – and tossed around a football Krieg gave him, which also bears some autographs, though most were quickly lost to cement scuffmarks.
“All I cared about was that I was having a blast, playing catch with an NFL quarterback,” he said.
And bagging signatures. John L. Williams. Dave Wyman. Terry Taylor. Eugene Robinson contributed a Bible verse – Matthew 6:32, which might have come in handy 12 years later when, as an Atlanta Falcon, he was popped in a prostitution sting on the eve of the Super Bowl.
And the next morning, a front-page picture in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer showed Brooks standing at Krieg’s side, making him a celebrity in the halls at Kent-Meridian High School.
The strike would last just two more games. Fans never warmed to the replacements, but they didn’t like their Sundays sullied by labor discord, either. Players like Easley found it hard to swallow that fans, who would plead with him to toss them his sweatbands after a game, walked by him into the stadium to watch replacements.
Maybe that’s why at day’s end on the picket line, he reached into the trunk of his car and tossed Brooks a pair of game-used pants – his name and number scrawled on the waistband.
Brooks is parting with those along with the sign.
Which he no longer needs to proclaim his solidarity with the Seahawks.
David Brooks can be reached for information at firstname.lastname@example.org.