It's go time for Northwest NFL fans
Fans pick their sides as a pair of regional NFL teams prepare to face off on Super Sunday
It was time for Eric Gustafson to make his move, and what better way to impress a girl than to have her join you front-and-center for a sold out show.
So, the plan was set, Eric and Sherry would make the 70-mile drive from Colorado Springs where they had spent the summer working at the Rocky Mountain Greyhound Park to Denver for the Broncos home opener.
It also happened to be the Mile High debut for a hotshot rookie quarterback named John Elway, who would get picked off twice before the day was done, but go on to win two Super Bowls and be enshrined into the Hall of Fame.
Excitement was in the air. Eric had been in Denver several years and had adopted the Broncos as his official team, while Sherry watched football with her dad on Sundays in the living room, but was about to experience her first live taste of the NFL.
The air was crisp and the sky was blue when their car rolled into the stadium parking lot. Only one thing was missing.
Eric didnt have tickets.
The NFL decided to expand to 28 teams in 1976, adding franchises on opposite corners of the country. One landed in Tampa Bay with a smiling pirate logo and bright orange uniforms. The other team was given to Seattle with a bird mascot that resembled something off a totem pole and a state-of-the-art stadium known as the Kingdome.
Dale Dorning, a junior high kid growing up in Federal Way, Wash., had always cheered for the Huskies and Cougars on college Saturdays. Now, he had a local team to embrace in the pros.
We just loved football, and my dad got on the waiting list for season tickets right away, Dale says.
Demand was high and it took the family several years to get their chance to buy. But soon they were in the Kingdome watching their hometown team build from the ground up.
We kept tickets for 20 years, Dale says. I have a lot of memories trying to make as much noise as possible in the Kingdome.
It wasnt long before Dorning received a letter.
The Seahawks didnt want him in the stands anymore they wanted him to try out for the team.
Yes, Eric showed up to Mile High Stadium and had no way to get inside. But he had a plan, and it involved a large wad of cash he carried in his pocket.
There was no way we werent getting in, Eric says.
The two took the tailgate pre-game tour, stopping by barbecues, tossing footballs and hoping to find someone looking to unload their tickets.
The task shouldnt have been too hard, especially when you consider Eric was offering triple face value.
But this was Denver. The Orange Crush fan base was rabid, even coming off a last-place finish in the AFC West the year before. But the 1983 season was full of promise after a 2-0 start and a QB who was the No. 1 pick in the draft.
The Broncos are bigger than the Blazers are here, Eric says. People in Denver like their football, and they love their Broncos.
Eric was determined to get into the game and continued to bounce from group to group as time to kick-off started to wind down.
Eric was trying to be a big shot, trying to impress me, but we walked around for a long time and people werent willing to sell, Sherry says.
Eventually, Eric found success with a father-son duo that couldnt turn away the lure of a $100 bill.
What I remember is the kid turning around to his dad and saying Wow, wait until mom hears about this, Sherry laughs.
Dorning put together a solid collegiate football career on the defensive line at the University of Oregon not to the point of being drafted, but good enough to get the attention of NFL scouts. The Seahawks decided to give the Northwest kid a chance in tryouts.
He spent training camp with his locker adjacent to childhood hero Dan Doornink a fullback out of Washington State, who spent seven seasons in Seahawk silver.
It was hard not to be star struck. There I was with my locker right there next to him, Dale says.
The prospects for an undrafted player are slim in the NFL, so training camp was the extent of his NFL experience. Dorning ended up working a landscaping business with a friend, moving rocks and building retaining walls.
A couple years later, the players strike hits in 1987, Dale says. I had just gotten home from work, and Im sitting there all dirty when a call comes in, and its the Seahawks offering me my old contract to play replacement games. I thought about it for about 30 seconds and signed.
Eric and Sherry found out that $100 in 1983 could buy some nice seats. The couple landed a few rows up on the 40-yard-line.
Sherry remembers that John Denver sang the national anthem and the feeling of being in the middle of a stadium that was designed to shake when the crowd reached full roar.
I had never done anything like that before. I remember the crowd being loud and excited, and it just being fun to be around, Sherry says.
Eric was dialed into the game.
He remembers what players were on the field, Harold Carmichael for the Eagles and Sammy Winder for the Broncos. He remembers the final score Denver lost 13-10. If pressed, he could probably supply play-by-play 30 years after the fact.
The first date seems to have been a success. Eric and Sherry celebrate their 29th anniversary in April.
Getting a first chance at the NFL is a dream, getting a second crack at it is something you dont pass up. Dale made the most of the shortened 1987 season, seeing action in three replacement games and recording a pair of sacks in the teams 37-14 win against Detroit.
Getting a chance to play in the dome for coach (Chuck) Knox was pretty special, Dale says.
Eventually, the player strike was settled, the Seahawks welcomed back their regulars and finished the year with a 9-6 record. Dorning returned to the University of Oregon, where he worked as a graduate assistant under football coach Rich Brooks while completing his teaching license.
He has spent the past 24 years at David Douglas High, where he is an assistant coach in football and wrestling. A long-time social studies teacher at the high school, he took over as Dean of Students this year.
Coaching duties in the fall limit how much of the NFL Dorning allows himself to watch, but the Seahawks remain a regular fixture in his weekend once the high school season winds down.
My family is all Seahawks fans, and they are the only show in town, Dale says. Its an exciting team to watch.
He will spend Super Sunday balancing family and football. His wife is celebrating a birthday, while friends and family will be gathered to watch one more Seahawks game, too.
Its been a great football season for Eric and Sherry, who faced off against each other in the championship game of their 12-team fantasy football league. Erics team included Broncos receiver Demeryus Thomas, while Sherry had Denver kicker Matt Prater and receiver Eric Decker in her lineup.
I won, Eric makes sure to note.
The couple will start their Super Sunday by playing 18 holes at Gresham Golf Course before heading to a friends house for a game-day party.
An invitation that read Go Seahawks across the bottom has them a bit nervous that they may be the only blue and orange fans amidst a flock of 12th-man supporters. Kind of like requesting a slice of apple pie, while the host is cutting up the birthday cake.
Were not the jump up and down and scream type of people, but I still dont want to be the jerk in the room because Im the only one cheering, Eric says.JW_DISQUS_ADD_A_COMMENT