BY Art Thiel 09:33PM 02/06/2021

Thiel: Ex-coach Flores, Wilson honored by NFL

Russell Wilson was winner of NFL’s 2020 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, and former Seahawks coach Tom Flores is a Pro Football Hall of Famer — as Raiders coach.

Former Raiders and Seahawks coach Tom Flores was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2021 Saturday. / NBC News

Congratulations are in order for Tom Flores, who was the lone finalist in the coach category and will be part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2021. Word of the overdue selection came during the annual NHL Honors program Saturday night ahead of Super Bowl LV.

Flores won two Super Bowls as coach of the Raiders. He also won titles as a player and assistant coach, a three-job distinction he shares only with fellow Hall of Famer Mike Ditka. Flores was the first Latino to be head coach and a quarterback in the NFL. Bravo.

It was probably a good thing the voters looked past his time with the Seahawks from 1989 to 1994.

None of us who bore witness to those dubious days in Seahawks history saw anything Hall-worthy from Flores. He was, however, a nice fellow, one caught in a web of bad fellows.

I won’t forget a media conference call the day after the Dec. 27, 1991 firing of Chuck Knox, the Seahawks’ popular and successful coach who seemed on thin ice the moment Flores was hired as president/general manager Feb. 22, 1989.

Flores was asked whether he would want to consider for the coaching job someone like himself, who previously was publicly ambivalent about returning to coaching.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “I don’t know.”

It turned out that “I don’t know” was a phrase he would use often in his public discourse. He no longer seemed to know much about how to win at pro football. But in that moment, he did know something.

Despite the availability of free agent coaches such as Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells and Mike Shanahan, Flores in short order chose to replace Knox with Flores.

In 1992, the Seahawks were 2-14, the worst season in club history.

In 1993, they were 6-10.

In 1994, they were again 6-10.

All the finishes were good for was last place in the AFC West. Two games in ’94 had paid attendance below 40,000 in the one-time audio riot of the Kingdome, the smallest non-strike crowds in club history.

Mercifully, he was fired by the men who hired him — owner Ken Behring and his son, David. Along with fellow California real estate developer Ken Hofmann, they bought the team in 1988 from the Nordstrom family, the original franchise owner.

Aside from Flores, one the most popular figures in Raiders history, the Californians were a loathsome band of shady operators who knew nothing of football except for being Raiders fans, the pro team nearest their giant development 30 miles east of Oakland called Blackhawk.

The most notorious episode for the group I called the “Ken Men” came in September 1989. Mike Blatt, a football agent who represented former Seahawks QB Kelly Stouffer and who also negotiated the franchise’s sale for the Behrings, was arrested in his Stockton, CA, office.

He was charged with arranging the murder by crossbow of a business rival on Feb. 28 — six days after Flores was named the Seahawks president and GM.

Flores and the Behrings knew nothing of the plot and were never implicated. But Blatt had been running the Seahawks, without formal title, after the previous GM, Mike McCormack, was fired Jan. 30.

Needless to say, when charges were filed, the national scandal stunned the NFL. Behring’s guilt by association tainted his reputation, which never recovered. After attempting and failing to move the franchise to Orange County in 1995, Behring eventually sold the club to Paul Allen in 1996.

Two men, both former University of Pacific football players, were charged with the actual killing, and were convicted. One was paroled in 2017, the other is still serving time. But two juries who heard the charges against Blatt did not convict him, and he was released after three years in jail.

The notorious Blatt saga and Behring’s benighted tenure were the nadir of Seattle’s time in the NFL. Flores was succeeded as coach by Everett native Dennis Erickson, who began a modest franchise recovery with a 31-33 record over four seasons.

It wasn’t until the hires of Mike Holmgren and Pete Carroll, two likely candidates for the Hall of Fame, that the Seahawks climbed the NFL ladder to become one of the league’s premier franchises.

Flores never coached again. But at 83, after 60 years in the game as player, coach, executive and broadcaster, he was given the game’s highest honor.

Wilson is NFL’s Man of the Year

Dressed up as coach Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson made the day of a patient at Seattle Children’s Hospital. /  Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson was denied again in the voting for Most Valuable Player. Yet he may have been honored in a more important fashion.

For his many off-the-field contributions and endeavors, the Seahawks quarterback was named 2020 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Saturday night as part of the NFL Honors program.

Wilson joins Hall of Fame WR Steve Largent in 1988 as the only Seahawks to win the award.

“The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, to me, represents excellence, not just on the field, but more importantly off the field,” Wilson said on the team’s website. “In life, we’re granted the opportunity to have an impact, no matter what sphere of influence we’re around. Walter Payton was one of the greatest examples of what he was able to do not just on the field, but more important off the field, to give back and to serve and to love and to care.

“For me, to be able to be even mentioned with a name like Walter Payton is one of the greatest blessings I could ever have, and one of the greatest honors you could ever have.”

In a pre-recorded video on the national broadcast, he paid tribute to his late father, Harrison.

“I remember you telling me in the car one day, ‘Son, love changes things,'” Wilson said. “Dad, you were right. I wish you were here to tell the world that, in the toughest of times.”

First given to Baltimore great Johnny Unitas in 1970 and renamed in 1999 to honor the Hall of Fame running back, it recognizes “outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on it.”

Each club nominated one player, who received a $40,000 donation in his name to a chosen charity. Wilson’s win meant a $250,000 donation to his Why Not You Foundation. Founded in 2014, the nonprofit is dedicated to fighting poverty through education, empowering youth to lead with a why-not-you attitude.

According to NFL.com, Wilson, previously nominated in 2014, directed efforts in the year of the pandemic toward feeding children, families and the elderly.

He and wife Ciara donated $1 million to Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the country. He partnered with Wheels Up to create Meals Up to combat food insecurity. With his Why Not You Foundation, Wilson joined with Door Dash, Rockefeller Foundation and United Way Worldwide to enlarge Ride United to deliver supplies and food to 175 communities.

Wilson’s endeavors included public pleas to end systemic racism, including billboard and digital message boards that read, “Black Lives Matter, Love Russell & Ciara” throughout the U.S. He partnered with the I AM A VOTER campaign to encourage registration for the 2020 election.

Since his rookie year, Wilson has maintained his routine of visiting Seattle Children’s Hospital every Tuesday during the season.

The MVP can wait. Some things are more urgent.

 


YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    A deserved accolade for Coach Flores who IMO was fired too soon from both the Raiders and Seahawks. I’ve never been convinced that he was cut out to be a team president, that he was more suited for the sidelines. The whole transition from the Nordstrom’s to the Behrings, and from Coach Knox to Coach Flores, was terrible. And I’m still amazed at the short time that Blatt served. It’s too bad that a HOFer had to end his NFL coaching career attached to that mess.

    Also a well deserved accolade for DangeRuss. He and the M’s Marco Gonzales are vying for the crowns that Jamie Moyer and Detlef Schrempf set aside for the athlete that gives the most to the community. That especially means a lot to people during a very challenging time with the pandemic and social injustices.

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    • art thiel

      Athletes who have dedicated a chunk of their fortunes to charitable works are numerous, and the ones you mention stand out. We have so many whose deeds are not done for publicity or aggrandizement. It’s a side benefit of a pro sports market that is usually taken for granted.

  • Husky73

    Years ago, I was at a charity auction with my family. Tom Flores was also in attendance. In the silent auction, my son was bidding on a new bicycle. Mr. Flores kept walking by and upping my son’s bid. A couple of people were giving Tom a hard time (“Let the kid get the bike!”) and he replied that he was bidding for one of his grand children. Tom ending up having the winning bid– and he gave the bike to my son. Always remembered and forever appreciated.

    • art thiel

      Nice story. No one I heard ever said anything bad about Flores’s character and heart.

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    • Archangelo Spumoni

      Mr. 73
      I hope the younger ’73 (Mr. 36.5?) remains fully aware of Mr. Flores’ generosity on this one. That type story deserves to stay with him his whole life and he can tell his offspring (18.25?) about this generosity. A truly fine story and thanks for it.

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  • Kirkland

    — Funny, I made a special detour running errands Saturday to visit a Performance Kitchen / Eat Local frozen foods outlet, featuring some of the meals prepared by Wilson, professional dieticians and a couple of other athletes. I knew the outlet had an option for you to buy extra meals for charity, but I didn’t know Wilson was also involved with the Feeding America program, one of my favorite charities.

    — I wish you would have spent far less time discussing Flores’ footnote Seattle tenure than his HOF-worthy career as a whole. His pioneering championships as a Latinx player and head coach is far more important. I’d also liked to have seen acknowledgments of the other inductees (I never knew Calvin Johnson or Peyton Manning were first-time eligible this year, let alone inducted).

    — We also have to compare the nomination processes of the football and baseball Halls. The latter inaugurated nobody this year for the second time in recent memory, while an 0-for in football is pretty much impossible. Should baseball switch from balloting to a committee debate, which should eliminate grandstanding (submitting blank ballots to protest Pete Rose’s ineligibility)? Should baseball also adopt the football ideal of disregarding character and off-field issues when enshrining nominees (Ray Lewis, O.J., Michael Irvin, etc.)? Curt Schilling may be a vile human being, but if he’s got no steroids taint should that overshadow his strong on-field credentials?

    • Husky73

      Curt Schilling’s “strong on-field credentials” are similar to Bob Welch, Kevin Brown, Tim Hudson, Orel Hersheiser, Milt Pappas and Mark Buerhle. None of those pitchers achieved significant HOF consideration. What has given Schilling his HOF boost is his post season performances.

      • art thiel

        Post-season counts too.

        I’ve always felt that “character” as a requirement for career honors was an impossible standard, because values change over time. Racism was an acceptable part of our culture for many years, but now is a disqualifier for some sports. Yet it has nothing to do with performance records. Is a hall of fame only for people “we” like? Who is we?

    • art thiel

      I knew some readers would prefer more on Flores’s deeds with the Raiders, and I get that. I felt that part of his story would be well-covered in other news platforms, as was the eight-man class of which he was part. But his six years in Seattle likely would not get attention. It was such an unusual period in Seattle sports history that shouldn’t be forgotten, particularly for newbies who think the Seahawks have always been a colossus.

      As a small shop, we can’t be all things to all people all the time.

      As for Hall of Fame balloting, I’ve always had a simple solution: Take away the voting responsibility from an outside industry — in this case, journalists practicing journalism.

      I certainly wouldn’t want athletes, coaches and teams voting on journalism awards.

  • Stephen Pitell

    Why does the “richest country in history” need, now more than ever, private charity? I am especially shocked by the Wounded Veterans need for charity. Doesn’t our government provide enough support for wounded veterans? If not, why isn’t that a scandal? How many charities are more of an opportunity for a hugely well paid job spending a huge percentage of those gifts on advertising asking for more giving? Why isn’t there some kind of protection against the worst excesses of charities using their charities for personal gain? How efficient is private interests in providing needed assistance to Americans? And how does that compare to government solutions?

    Yes, RW is giving of HIMSELF which is the most laudable of all, and he acts as a great example of generosity of spirit. However, even that can be replaced by government action. A government that is moral follows the advise of Jesus. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. House the homeless.

    • art thiel

      Charitable works are the exclusive province of neither the private side nor government. Both are needed, despite the facts that we can see misuse, abuse, and incompetence by both entities. But as you say, RW is assured of doing what he thinks is the right thing by doing deeds himself.

    • Kirkland

      If the government felt that the money available to charity was finite, you would have no consent on which charity to fund. Wounded veterans, homeless children, environmental causes, etc.; who should get some, most, all or even none of the charity funding? The gridlock would be as bad as it is now. Some politicians and voters would push to exclude the United Way, for example, from receiving government funding because they support some family planning charities.

      And believe it or not, some people may oppose government funding of charities on principle. One prominent ex-NFL player says he doesn’t believe in the concept of a safety net; it’s up to you to work your way out of a bad situation, not the public, he thinks. For the large number of taxpayers and registered voters who support the concepts of self-reliance and limited government, a reduced or safety net, which also reduces the possibility of abusing the charity system, rings loudly.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art! Yeah, Coach Flores was/is a really nice guy, and I appreciated his accomplishments elsewhere. The history you recalled was a low I wish on no sports franchise.
    As for Mr Russell Wilson – this is an honor that represents him so well – he was made to aspire to it. Same young man that arrived here in 2012. I love that when he first contacted Children’s Orthopedic that they had no idea who he was at the time.
    We all can be very proud of Russ and Ciara. Gosh, maybe I’ll wear his jersey to work in his honor tomorrow!

  • wabubba67

    I’ll always think that Flores was undeserving of the HoF due to his partnering with Behring to destroy the Seahawks’ organization in preparation for a move to southern California.

    That, and I despise the Raiders.