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Saturday, February 4, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Paul Allen's thoughts drift to father

Seattle Times staff columnist

DETROIT — These are the times when a son remembers his father the most. These monumental events in life that the son can only wish he could share with his dad.

Kenneth Allen should be here Sunday. He should be sitting next to his son Paul, in a suite at Ford Field, watching his son's Seahawks play the most important game in American sports.

Certainly, the time will come in Sunday's Super Bowl against Pittsburgh, whether the Seahawks have just driven 80 yards for the go-ahead score, or Matt Hasselbeck has thrown a chilling interception, when Allen will wish he could turn to his dad and either celebrate or commiserate.

Part of the bond between Allen and his father developed while watching and playing games. Father and son rooting hard for the home team. Father and son playing catch in the street.

"My dad had a real love of sports, and I feel sad that he's not able to be here to share in the enjoyment of being here at the Super Bowl," Allen said Friday afternoon, sitting in a small conference room on the 39th floor of the Renaissance Center. "You think of kind of the bond you build with your dad as a kid growing up.

"You share all those sports moments growing up. Then you're in something like the Super Bowl, and unfortunately he can't be there with you. That was true as well of being in the NBA Finals with the [Portland Trail] Blazers."

Kenneth Allen, who died in November 1983, taught his son how to throw a tight spiral. He took Paul to Washington games at Husky Stadium. They saw their first great sports spectacle together, the 1964 Rose Bowl, where Washington lost to Illinois, 17-7.

For Kenneth and Paul Allen, sports were always there. The common language. The shared experience. Kenneth Allen would understand how difficult it was for Paul to get to this game. He would appreciate the heartbreaks and heartthrobs his son experienced since purchasing the Seahawks in 1997.

"My dad was a pretty good high-school athlete," Allen said. "He was a center on the football team in Oklahoma and a forward on the basketball team. I still have a picture of me wearing the leather helmet he wore when he played in high school.

"I think he'd be happy that the team was able to get here. I just wish he'd gotten the chance to talk with Mike [Holmgren] and some of the players on the team and enjoy some of those kinds of things."

Allen is worth an estimated $22.5 billion. He could own just about anything and everything he wants. More to the point, he doesn't need the aggravation of owning sports franchises. But he owns two.

This logical-minded man, the co-founder of Microsoft, has invested much of his money and emotion in something more visceral than sensible.

"There aren't many things that are as visceral as a sporting event," Allen agreed. "Because you have an outcome that the community shares and everybody knows about within a few hours of the beginning of it. In technology, years go by before it gets out there and maybe you're successful and maybe you're not.

"With sports, it's a community feeling. It happens in a very short period of time, especially in football, where it's one game up or down, in the playoffs. Those are very, very intense moments and I think that NFC Championship Game a couple of weeks ago was just one of the highlights of my participation as an owner in sports."

That game was the culmination of a turbulent trip that began for Allen in June of 1997. In that time the Seahawks have teased the city with almosts. They have come into seasons with great expectations and left those seasons with broken promises.

Allen fired coach Dennis Erickson. He hired Holmgren and stayed with Holmgren even when much of the city was calling for Holmgren's head.

Last winter, Allen had to make his most difficult decision since buying the team. Should he keep Holmgren, or president Bob Whitsitt? That relationship had gotten so bad, and for Holmgren it was close to becoming an either-or.

Everything that has happened since that decision, from Whitsitt's firing, to Holmgren staying, to the return of vice president Mike Reinfeldt, to the hiring of general manager Tim Ruskell, has led to this biggest moment in Seattle sports history.

"I'd been thinking of making a change on the management side for a while," Allen said. "That was already on my mind when I met with Mike after the season was over. I was never thinking of making a change with Mike. I was just trying to tell Mike, 'Hey look, I know it's been a tough season.'

"He mentioned he was going to Phoenix to recharge, and I said, 'Look, I may be making some changes here that are going to make your job and the team better, and I'll keep you informed.' And then I ended up making a change shortly thereafter."

Allen kept Holmgren and hired Ruskell, which should be enough to make him the unofficial NFL owner of the year.

"I think Mike's one of those coaches who has a grasp of the game and an ability to call a game. He's one of the true innovators and geniuses," Allen said. "He understands the game like few coaches do. And also, if you see him in the locker room, he has great leadership qualities.

"And when Tim came in we talked about how can we improve some of the things on the defensive side of the ball. What kind of players can we bring in to change the chemistry of the team in a positive way. Some of the players that, frankly, Mike had problems with in the past, ended up leaving the team and we brought in players who fit his scheme and fit his approach.

"And Tim has done such a great job. I remember talking to all the people who were potential candidates for that position, and when you hire someone for a position like that you want to be really excited and really comfortable with them and feel like they can't wait for the season to start. I didn't get that feeling with any of the candidates until I talked with Tim."

Allen raised the 12th Man flag at the NFC Championship Game. He watched the kickoff from that perch above the south end zone, then he went into the owner's box and paced for three hours, pestered Ruskell with questions and walked down to the field to soak in the success of the final minutes.

"Toward the end of the game, just the sheer joy on the faces of the players and the coaches, everybody when we realized that we were going to Detroit, just made it a special day," he said. "To be down on the field there at the end and then to raise that NFC Championship trophy, wow, that was amazing."

It was a moment Paul Allen got to share with Seattle. And a moment he deeply wishes he could have shared with his dad.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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