I recently had a wonderful opportunity to visit with the wife of a 1976 Seahawk football player! I met her when she wrote to me with an inquiry; from there we visited by email and she agreed to be interviewed for this site.
She is a delightful person who has insight into the lives of NFL families. I feel her story, and others like hers, deserve to be told. Her name has been omitted due to the personal nature of the interview, but I want to personally thank her for her time and her friendship. It's been so fun for me to gain this perspective on the lives of football players and their supporting casts.
It must be difficult to make the transition to the NFL, and particularly to a new team such as the Seahawks who didn’t have years of experience of bringing players and their families to Seattle. How did the Seahawk organization welcome you, as a Seahawks family, into the fold? Did the staff communicate with you or were they focused solely on the player?
I didn’t have any trouble adjusting, since I came into the NFL as a girlfriend, and from the Seattle area. The wives of the other players were very welcoming, especially Joy Zorn and Suzie Yarno. All of us were from Washington State so we sort of gravitated towards each other! After I became a wife, the whole administration was very kind. From the secretaries at the main office, to the coaches and their wives, and especially the Nordstrom family, who were the owners at the time. It might have been a little harder on the wives of the established teams, like Dallas, who had to endure the Seattle winters!
Coach Patera had a reputation as somewhat distant and controlling. Did you feel that at all or has history made him out to be less approachable than he really was? What were the other coaches like from your perspective? Kinder, gentler?
I remember Jack Patera as a very kind man to me. He could come off as distant or having extreme methods of sports conditioning at practice; but once you got to know him, he had a wonderful personality and great smile! His training methods came from, I think, the way his brother trained as a professional boxer, or wrestler. (I’m not sure which one.) It was the old school of “no pain, no gain” but then, in the professional world of the NFL you have to be pushed hard, almost to the extreme to be excellent. The NFL is not college ball. A lot of people don’t understand that. The other coaches were great! Howard Mudd made me laugh and Rusty Tillman was fun too. Jim Mora’s wife had a travel agency in Kirkland, and I always felt like I could go visit her whenever I wanted.
There are plenty of family photographs in the early Seahawks cookbook. What was it like to do the photo shoot? Was it exciting or silly? Did you buy 10 copies for your friends and family?! (I would have!) Did you have many celebrity events like the cookbook?
The cookbook was really fun, since I love to cook! Corky, the Seahawks main photographer took all the pictures. I’m sure he donated his time. He was so easy to be around and so fun! I did buy quite a few copies for friends and family. I am most proud that the proceeds went to the new Ronald McDonald house at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. Some of us would get invited to other celebrity charity events. Usually the guys who were good golfers or tennis players got invited, and there are many of those on the team! Two in particular, for St. Francis Hospital in Santa Fe, N.M. for a celebrity tennis tournament. “Dandy Don” Meredith and his wife Susan, went as did other celebrites, like the playright Neil Simon. Many other players throughout the NFL participated, so it was fun to meet the other players and their wives. Mike Douglas used to hold a golf tournament in Las Vegas also. We were treated SO well at all of these events. The players all are very involved in the United Way, as well as local chapters of Cystic fibrosis, etc…
How spouses and family members were included (assuming they were) in team functions such as honor banquets, Sea Hawkers events, and charitable causes in the late 70’s?
We were always included if we wanted to attend, which most of us did. It was as a support to our husbands as well as the charities. We also were involved in a few fashion shows and benefits that Nordstrom and Eddie Bauer put on. Lots of fun!
Was there any charitable cause in particular that you supported? (Then? Now?)
As I said before, the work we did to raise money for the Ronald McDonald house is the one I’m most proud of. I love animals also, so I am involved with helping those who cannot help themselves.
I recently read an article in the Seattle paper where a woman involved in the Seahawks organization felt that her husband got all the credit when she deserved credit, too. If it’s not too personal, are there certain difficulties or challenges that are unique to women in NFL families?
No, it’s not too personal. It might be a good thing to have people realize that. Not everyone's situation was or is the same, but as you can imagine, being married to an NFL player or to anyone in the spotlight can be tough. People tend to put the players, or any kind of celebrity that makes a lot of money, on a pedestal. Rightly so, with some of the guys, as they are extremely talented athletes. Most of the players appreciate the recognition for all the hard work, but for those with wives, without them, they would not have a balance in their lives. Some people handle fame better than others. I remember feeling like I had lost my identity when I got married in the NFL. I became, “so and so’s wife” or “hey, there’s number so-and so’s wife”. Never by my first name. I felt very unimportant at times. If you did not have a good sense of who you were, your marriage would suffer. That is sad. I see some of these wives raising babies and taking care of most things at home, when their husbands are off training, or out of town on games. But they are not alone. The military wives have it, if not as bad but almost worse, and without the hefty paycheck. I’d like to see those fans glorify the ones who protect our country…as they do an NFL player.
You mentioned that you had friendships with spouses of players, and with players themselves. It sounds like those friendships meant a great deal to you. Was there someone in particular you turned to for a laugh? Who had the best shoulder to cry on? Who was the most fun to go out with? Was there anyone in particular who was inspirational to you, anyone you looked up to, a spouse or player who helped you through the transitions of the NFL life?
It must be critical to the family’s success, thus the player’s success, to have support. That was a great question. First of all, the person who helped me feel the most welcome was Joy Zorn. I could talk to her about anything! I will never forget her kindness. Suzie Yarno was another one I could just hang out with. We would go work out at the gym together or lay out in her back yard. She is a good friend. In fact, I am her daughter's Godmother. I have to admit some of the players were so fun to hang out with too. Ron Essink and Dave Krieg were fun to go dancing with or laugh with at the Halloween parties! As I said above, not everyone's situation was the same. Some guys were supported without giving support back.
What was a typical week like? Do you recall the schedule you had due to your husband’s perhaps unusual work hours?
The work hours really weren’t that bad. During the season and pre-season, they would go in, watch films on certain days, practice certain days. Usually home at a normal hour for dinner. Tuesdays they had off. The day after Sunday, game day, would be an easy day. Some of the guys were sore or battling injuries. In the off-season, they were responsible for their own work out regime, and we would do charity events like I said above. That is, back then.
Is there any message you have to women involved in the lives of NFL players today?
Never lose your identity. If you still want to go to school and earn that PhD, do so. Don’t let your husband’s career slow you down. Just be yourself and don’t fall to the pressure of what the public expects you to look like or be. And, be smart with the money you're making now. Invest it, as your husband's career won’t last forever. Bodies wear out quickly by 35, and not all players are cut out to be commentators on Monday Night Football. Keep your career options open. That’s it! On the other side, enjoy yourself and be kind to everyone. Little kids look up to you.