The History of Professional American Football in Seattle


Seattle Program

As Super Bowl week kicks off, we thought it would be fun to review the history of professional American Football in both Seattle and Denver.

We’ll start with Seattle – not only because we already have a Seattle Bombers shirt in our collection, but also because the history in Seattle is a little more involved than in Denver.  More on Denver later in the week.

“Professional” American Football in Seattle seems to trace its roots back to 1942, and a four-team league called the Northwest War Industries League.  “Professional” is placed in quotes because it seems as though this league might have been a mix of amateur and professional players, or a sort of wartime semi-pro league.  This league only lasted one year, and while there is very little information available on the league, we do know the Seattle Shipbuilders were the champions of this league, with a 6-1 record.

While the Northwest War Industries League folded after the 1942 season, it appears that the Seattle team remained in tact and likely played an independent schedule in 1943.  Then, in 1944, the Seattle team changed its name to the Seattle Bombers, and together with a team in Portland, joined six California-based teams to form a new leagued called the American Football League (which is one of at least 4 different leagues that have at one time called themselves by that name, and was not related to the AFL that formed in 1960 and merged with the NFL in 1970).

The Seattle Bombers lasted one season, 1944, in which they tallied a record of 5-5-1, and finished 3rd in the league.  At the end of the season, it was announced that the AFL would merge with the Pacific Coast Professional Football League (PCPFL).  The PCPFL had been in existence since 1940 and was comprised primarily of California teams.  The Portland franchise in the AFL decided to fold, rather than join the new league, meaning the Seattle team would have no local rival or travel partner.  Thus, the Seattle Bombers closed up shop as well.

Interestingly, Seattle almost had a franchise in the version of the AFL that did merge with the NFL.  As Lamar Hunt was working in 1959 to form the AFL, a businessman named Willard Rhodes was very interested in launching a franchise in Seattle.  Plans broke down, however, when the prospective ownership group was not able to come to terms with the University of Washington for use of Husky Stadium.

The next chapter in Seattle football history picks back up in 1966, with a semi-pro team called the Seattle Ramblers.  Seattle businessman Lafa Lane had aspirations of top-level pro football in Seattle, thus he purchased the semi-pro Ramblers in 1966 and promptly entered the franchise into the Continental Football League (ContFL) in 1967 as the Seattle Rangers.  In all, 5 west coast semi-pro teams joined the ContFL in 1967 to form a western division of the fledgling league.   The Rangers played three seasons in the Continental Football League, before the league folded after the 1969 season, unable to compete with the NFL and the AFL.

As terms of the 1970 AFL-NFL merger dictated, the NFL was committed to expanding from 26 to 28 teams.  In 1972 a group led by the Nordstrom family formed Seattle Professional Football, Inc., with the intention of bringing a franchise to Seattle.  The NFL officially awarded the city of Seattle a franchise in June 1974.  Initially, it looked like the Seattle NFL expansion franchise would be called the Kings, however the Nordstrom ownership group initiated a public naming contest, and Seahawks was officially selected on June 17, 1975.   The Seahawks first took the field in a preseason game on August 1, 1976, against a team that would ultimately become one of their fiercest rivals – the San Francisco 49ers.