The Seattle Seahawks have some anniversaries to celebrate as they prepare to play the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl on Groundhog Day, and two of them have a Steelers connection.
It was nine years ago that the Seahawks made their first visit to a Super Bowl and lost to the Steelers in Detroit. It was 25 years ago that their general manager was charged in the murder of his business partner with a crossbow.
The murder mystery was only partially solved and the former Seattle general manager was never convicted after two trials that ended in hung juries.
The former GM's name is Michael Blatt, with whom I spent many hours talking on the telephone in 1988 -- one year before he was charged with murder. He was the agent for linebacker Mike Merriweather and helped orchestrate his season-long holdout in 1988 with the Steelers.
Later that year, the Stockton, Calif., developer helped orchestrate something else -- the sale of the Seahawks from their original owners, the Nordstrom family, to Californian Ken Behring. When the sale went through, Behring made Blatt his interim general manager and Blatt had visions of running the franchise.
That never happened and Blatt's life took a different turn, as did his client, Merriweather's. A business partner of Blatt's, realtor Laurence J. Carnegie, was murdered.
The Steelers, frustrated by Merriweather's year-long holdout and unable to come to terms with him, traded him just before the 1989 draft to the Minnesota Vikings for two first-round draft picks, neither of whom panned out -- halfback Tim Worley and offensive lineman Tom Ricketts of Pitt.
Merriweather, who held the team's sack record of 15 set in 1984 until James Harrison broke it with 16 in 2008, was still under contract for 1988. Blatt cited something Dan Rooney supposedly told Merriweather, that the Steelers "would take care of him" on his next contract. When the Steelers did not offer the kind of money Blatt/Merriweather wanted, the holdout began.
I cannot tell you how many times Blatt told me that Merriweather would be just as happy pursuing the ministry as he would be returning to the Steelers. After the trade to Minnesota, Merriweather never showed the kind of impact he had with the Steelers. He managed 10 sacks total over the next four seasons and his career ended after one game for the New York Jets in 1993.
After the forced trade of his client to Minnesota, Blatt found himself in quite a different venue over the next few years -- in jail and then in multiple courtrooms trying to avoid the death penalty or stay out of prison for the rest of his life.
He was arrested in September 1989 on a murder charge, the prosecution alleging he hired two former University of Pacific football players to kill Carnegie, a former Blatt business associate.
Authorities charged Carl Hancock and James Mackey for actually killing Carnegie with a crossbow after they set him up to look at a house for sale in rural California. Blatt was charged with murder, conspiracy and murder for financial gain. News accounts said he faced the death penalty if convicted on all counts.
Prosecutors used a court battle over a failed business deal between Blatt and Carnegie as a motive.
The first trial ended in a mistrial in 1990 when nine jurors voted to convict Blatt and three voted against. The second also ended in a mistrial in 1992 when 11 jurors voted for acquittal and one for conviction.
Prosecutors finally dismissed all charges against Blatt, who today remains in business in California at age 68. Hancock and Mackey each pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and were sentenced to life in prison.
And next Sunday, Blatt's former team, the Seahawks, will play the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, and try to start cashing in on a promise their short-lived general manager made 25 years ago -- that he would build a dynasty in Seattle.
And still more history
Besides losing in Super Bowl XL, the Seattle Seahawks figured in two other historic events involving the Steelers.
After the 1975 season, the NFL held an expansion draft to help fill the rosters of its two new teams, the Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who would both begin play in 1976.
The Steelers, who had won the previous two Super Bowls, were loaded with talent. Each team could only protect 29 players on their roster, exposing the rest to be selected in the draft, although teams could protect two more players on their roster each time one of theirs was picked.
The Steelers lost three players: in that expansion draft, offensive tackle Dave Reavis to Tampa Bay and linebacker Ed Bradley and defensive back Dave Brown to Seattle. Bradley started at linebacker and was a captain in Seattle. Brown, however, was the big loss. He was the Steelers' first-round draft choice the previous year, in 1975.
Imagine a team being so stocked with talent that it did not protect its first-round draft pick in an expansion draft!.
Brown went on to have a long and successful NFL career. He intercepted 62 passes over 15 seasons with three teams including 10 with the Seattle Seahawks. Six days before his 53rd birthday, Brown died of a heart attack in 2006.
The other major connection between the Steelers and Seahawks was an emotional one when Franco Harris was cut after a training camp holdout in 1984 and he subsequently signed with Seattle. Harris, looking out of sorts in more ways than one in a Seahawks uniform, played in just eight games for Seattle with 170 yards on 68 carries before he was released.