History of Tailgating in Seattle
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It was the summer of 1976 and the Seattle Seahawks were the first sports team to play in the city’s brand new arena called the Kingdome. On August 1, the Seahawks hosted their first NFL preseason game against their iconic rivals, the San Francisco 49ers. These two teams would come to know one another very well over the years, eventually becoming division rivals and providing fans with some of the greatest games in NFL history. The Seahawks originally started out in the NFC West division of the NFL, but were merged into the AFC West after just one season due to the 1976 expansion plan. In 2002, the Seahawks once again returned to the NFC West division, so that each conference division would be at a balanced number of four teams a piece.
Over the years, the Seattle Seahawks have played in a few different venues, but the infamous Kingdome was the team’s home stadium for almost 25 years. Construction began for the ominous “Dome” in 1972 and it officially opened to the public on March 27, 1976. The Seahawks were lucky enough to play their very first game there, even if it was just a preseason game. Less than a year later on January 17, 1977, Seattle’s Kingdome also hosted the Pro Bowl. Sadly, Seahawks tailgating was virtually non-existent in the beginning. It consisted of a few friends getting together here and there in the Kingdome parking lot and eating a few sandwiches and drinks. It wasn’t until later years that the outlying parking lots like “Hawk Alley” became known as “Tailgaters Heaven.” The Kingdome was known as one of the loudest NFL stadiums in history. Not only did the music blare throughout the venue, but also fans’ voices pounded and echoed throughout the stadium to almost deafening decibel levels. The Astroturf stadium had a maximum capacity of 66,000 fans, the largest for any sports team that ever played there. It was a sad day in Seattle when fans learned the Kingdome would be no more and people scrambled out to the iconic venue to snap pictures, as well as take a piece of the historic venue home with them. The Kingdome was officially demolished on March 26, 2000, almost exactly 24 years to the day from when it initially opened to the public in 1976.
Once the Kingdome was gone, Seahawks fans had to make their way a few miles north to the Husky Stadium to watch NFL home games. The Seahawks shared the Washington State Huskies stadium for two years in 2000 and 2001, while the new NFL stadium was being built. Fans weren’t that unhappy about using Husky Stadium for a couple of years to watch their beloved team. After all, the maximum fan capacity is 72,000, which allowed more screaming fans to attend every game. Plus, fans that had boats could go to the game via Lake Washington, which sits right on the other side of Husky Stadium. Tailgating via boat on Lake Washington has to be one of the coolest ways to not only honor your team, but to participate in the activity known as tailgating. Just prior to the game-day kickoff, University of Washington staff would then shuttle Seahawks fans from the Lake Washington dock to the game. For those who wanted to tailgate the old-fashioned way, in the venue parking lots, there was plenty of space to do that too. The Husky Stadium’s north and south lots were always open to Seahawks tailgaters, as was the Dempsey Indoor Facility where fans would hold what they called “huddles,” which included prize raffles and refreshments.
Seahawks New Stadium
It has been called a few names since it was first constructed including Seahawks Stadium from 2002 to 2004, then Qwest Field from 2004 to 2011, and then renamed a third time to CenturyLink Field, as of June 2011. The Seahawks home stadium has also been dubbed “The Clink” for short by fans after taking on its last and hopefully final name change. The Seahawks’ new stadium was finally completed in 2002 and was actually constructed in the same area the Kingdome once encompassed. The year 2002 was not just one where the Seahawks received a new venue, but was also when the team returned to the NFC West. To celebrate the opening of the new stadium and the team’s first preseason game held there in August 2002, the stadium was lit up by fireworks after the game. During halftime, the Kingsmen, a 1960’s rock group, performed for fans. Seattle’s own Ann Wilson of Heart also sang the national anthem that day. Matt Hasselbeck became the starting quarterback for the Seahawks in 2002 and ended the season for the Seahawks by winning their last three games. Shaun Alexander held the record in the NFC with a jaw-dropping 18 touchdowns and Mike Holmgren was still the team’s head coach and general manager.
Now officially known as CenturyLink Field, some fans still call it the “Seahawks Stadium,” because really, that is what it is. A lot has changed over the years when it comes to tailgating and even though fans are only allowed to tailgate in certain parts of the venue’s north lot, they still find a way to get their tailgate party on around the stadium at various locations. Hawk Alley is the best tailgating spot outside of “The Clink,” and it is also the busiest. You’ll find diehard Seahawks fans here, religiously grilling, having a few drinks, tossing the football around, but most of all, having a great time. And the best part about this tailgating spot, new faces of Seahawks fans are always welcome.
Check out Tailgate Fan to keep the party going at tailgatefan.cbslocal.com.
Sue Gabel has been writing in the greater Puget Sound/Seattle area since 1999. She writes about music, the Seattle scene and more. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.