Before it rose with great ceremony up the CenturyLink Field flagpole, before it waved atop the Space Needle, before a throng of breathless fans adopted it as a communal uniform, No. 12 was worn by Sam Adkins.
He was the only Seahawks player to have it. His career concluded in 1983, and the franchise retired No. 12 in 1984 in honor of its faithful fan base, whose vocal support so often contributed to the success of the 11 players on the field.
“It was in excellent condition when I turned it over to the fans,” Adkins, 58, kidded in the wake of the Seahawks’ first Super Bowl victory, which elevated the 12th Man to a condition above the customary delirium.
“It was so rarely used when I had it. It was semi-retired already,” he said.
Adkins, a construction contractor living in Ferndale, downplays his NFL career. But he was a savvy backup and scout-team quarterback. Valuable enough that he lasted seven years in the NFL.
True, his career stats are not the sort to get a player’s number retired. A 10th-round draft pick out of Wichita State, Adkins registered 17 completions and two touchdowns in regular-season games between 1977 and 1981.
In the years that followed, his understanding of the game and his wry humor landed him commentator gigs, and he still does pre- and postgame work for KIRO 710-AM. As a more serious day job, he established and developed a successful commercial construction company (Hawk Building).
But he doesn’t foster discussion of having been the original 12.
“Others bring it up. I had nothing to do with it,” he said of his number taking on such widespread significance.
“I don’t talk about it because I think people would be offended when they found out how (crummy) I was.”
But he’s still recognized in public because of his colorful presentation in the media and his part in the memorable early days of the franchise.
Although he said he would “never use that in the business world,” he tells of one client with whom he had worked for several months before the person finally asked: “Is there something going on here?”
“He couldn’t figure out why people wanted an autograph from a contractor,” Adkins said.
Steve Raible, the Seahawks’ play-by-play radio announcer, was Adkins’ road and training-camp roommate. Adkins, he said, was a talented, pocket-passing quarterback with “a great arm,” who just didn’t fit a system designed around the skills of mobile starter Jim Zorn.
“He was a great teammate,” Raible said of Adkins. He was also, in at least one way, a better roommate than his first with the Seahawks, Steve Largent, who always kept Raible awake with his sonic snoring.
“I’d say this, truly. Sam was the smartest guy on the whole offense,” Raible said. “(Quarterbacks coach) Jerry Rhome always thought he would be a great coach. He had a great sense and understanding of the offense. And, of course, he always kept things loose and fun.”
Even for backup quarterbacks, the NFL is not a place for the timid. Raible remembered when Adkins took off on a scramble against the Denver Broncos and took a savage hit from linebacker Tom Jackson “that drove his front teeth through his lip.”
Asked for career highlights, Adkins said: “That should take two or three seconds.”
One was a touchdown pass to Largent against the Oilers on Oct. 11, 1981. He said he couldn’t recall the game situation other than the score must have been lopsided one way or the other because “that’s the only time I got in the game.” (The Seahawks lost, 35-17.)
The other highlight was getting to start a nationally televised exhibition game in which he earned the game ball.
Otherwise, during games, he mostly manned the clipboard — charting plays and the coverages defenses employed against them.
The real work came during the week, though, leading the scout-team offense, and providing the defense with an accurate portrayal of the opposing quarterback.
That was the role through which Adkins could channel his competitiveness.
“I put in tons of time studying the game,” he said. “I was a real student of the game, a football nerd.”
Adkins’ No. 12 jersey actually saw more action than he did. Against the Chargers in 1979, Zorn’s No. 10 jersey was so badly ripped that an official made him replace it. But when managers couldn’t find the replacement jersey, Adkins literally gave the left-handed Zorn the shirt off his back.
The next week, Adkins saw some mop-up duty against Houston. So when they traveled to Atlanta for a Monday night game, Falcons defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville, in a pregame chat with Adkins, voiced his curiosity over having seen him throw passes left-handed one week and right-handed the next.
Adkins played along, contending he was ambidextrous and used whichever hand best suited the situation.
In their early years, the Seahawks were the darlings of a region starved for pro football, and their initial success (9-7 seasons in 1978 and ’79) and bloody rivalries against the Raiders and Broncos were the roots of the 12th Man fanaticism that now grips the area.
“They were fun times,” Adkins said. “It was a close group. Like this group (of Seahawks) now, we cared about each other, and it was kind of always an us-versus-them attitude.”
But not getting to play much has to be tough for prideful and competitive athletes.
“Sure but, in reality, you’re one of 1,500 players in the league, with maybe only 90 professional quarterbacks in the world,” he said. “It was nice to have gotten seven years in the league. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”
Adkins planned ahead, testing various offseason jobs as post-career possibilities. He ultimately continued the family legacy in construction, becoming a third-generation builder.
As Adkins looks back, the real highlight of his football career was long-deferred. Before the Seahawks’ 2008 game against the Patriots, Adkins was invited to be part of one of the franchise’s signature connections to its fans — raising the 12th Man flag in front of the home crowd.
“The thrill of being remembered was very gratifying,” he said. But the cheers of almost 70,000 fans — many thousands wearing his old number — was not the best part for Adkins.
“My career was done before my kids were born,” he said. “To have my family up there with me, to see my kids be so proud of their dad that was pretty awesome.”
More personal and profound, he discovered, than having his number retired.Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@ thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling