Three Original Seahawks Employees
January 26, 2006
As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, Gary Wright was on the sideline making sure Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke and president Tim Ruskell got to the stage in the middle of Qwest Field to accept the Halas Trophy. At the same time, Sandy Gregory was in the restaurant above the south end zone, preparing for the team’s postgame radio show; and Thom Fermstad was at his usual 50-yard line post above the press box, capturing every last frame of the Seahawks’ 34-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
What these three were doing at the franchise’s apex moment is significant, because they’ve been doing it since before the Seahawks’ first game in 1976. Wright, Gregory and Fermstad are the remaining “original” Seahawks employees, which makes the first Super Bowl appearance in the franchise’s 30-year history XL special because they have seen, experienced and endured everything that preceded this season’s march to Detroit for the Feb. 5 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Their names aren’t as prominent as Steve Largent, Chuck Knox and John Nordstrom, but in their own ways they are more a part of Seahawks history than anyone who has played for, coached or owned the team.
Wright arrived as the director of publicity, the No. 2 man in the public relations department, and is now vice president of communications. Gregory came to Seattle in the spring of ’76 as a public relations assistant and is now director of community outreach. Fermstad has gone from film director to video director to doing his job on computers.
“They’ve been here through thick and thin,” Leiweke said Wednesday. “These are the good times, and it is with great pleasure that we see them having the time of their life and feeling as though it’s all been worth it.” Leiweke and Ruskell marked the anniversary – and their efforts – by presenting Wright, Gregory and Fermstad with 30-year watches at the team’s Christmas party last month. The gesture was even more appropriate because of the it’s-about-time nature of this season’s surge to the Super Bowl.
None of them could have expected it would take this long, or even that they would still be with the club.
Thirty years? Gregory was wondering if she would last 30 days. “I wasn’t even sure I’d stay,” Gregory said. “It was in March. You know how gloomy it is in March, especially coming from California.”
She and Wright came as a package deal with Don Andersen, the team’s first director of public relations. Gregory and Andersen had worked together at USC and in the World Football League. Wright also worked for the WFL’s Southern California Sun. But Wright also had a conflict that he figured might end his career with the Seahawks before it ever started, and it had nothing to do with the weather. After the WFL folded, he had agreed to return to teaching – at Saint John Bosco High School in the Los Angeles area – before Andersen called.
“I loved teaching and coaching,” Wright said. “So I went back, and promised them I would finish out the semester.” Wright’s “tryout” with the Seahawks included working the veteran allocation draft and the NFL draft in ’76, which just happened to coincide with his spring break. As Wright was preparing to fly back to Los Angeles, then-Seahawks general manager John Thompson called and offered him a job. He wanted Wright to start in two weeks.
“I said, ‘This is the job I really want, but I can’t do that. I promised these people I’d finish the semester and I have to do that,’ ” Wright said. “I figured I’d just blown it, but John says, ‘OK. Just work on the media guide from home and we’ll put you on retainer. “I’ve been a Seahawk ever since.”
So much so, that Largent chose Wright to present him when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995.
Leiweke understands why. “Gary Wright is what we want to become,” he said. “He’s a classy guy who bleeds Seahawks blue.”
Fermstad was working for the Minnesota Vikings and came to Seattle with Jack Patera when the Vikings defensive line coach was hired to be the Seahawks’ first head coach. “I knew I wanted to get away from Minnesota winters,” Fermstad said. “So it didn’t take me long to say ‘Yes.'”
Fermstad has filmed or videotaped every Seahawks game, and missed only one practice in 30 years – when the second of his three sons was born in 1989. Shooting practice is the easy part. Fermstad and his staff then come up with 18 packages each for the offense and defense to help players and coaches prepare for that week’s opponent.
“When I took this job, my dad said, ‘Boy, are you making a mistake,'” Fermstad said. “Here I am, 30 years later.”
Although they work behind the scenes, the efforts of Wright, Gregory and Fermstad have been interwoven through every aspect of the franchise.
Title: Vice President Administration
Favorite moment: “It happened Sunday. That (winning the NFC championship) trumped everything. Having it happen at home, and where you’re taking the next step, makes it really special. But I do reserve the right to be able to change my answer in a week or so.”
Favorite memory: “Curt Warner’s first run (a 60-yarder against the Chiefs in 1983) was pretty good. First game. First play. We’d traded away a bunch of draft choices to get him. Also, (Raiders quarterback) Marc Wilson backing away from center in the Kingdome (1986) because he couldn’t hear himself. That was in the heyday of the 12th Man. It was who we were and what we were about.”
Favorite man: “I can’t do that. I have so many favorite people that I could not pick one. That wouldn’t be fair. It’s like your children. I love them all.”
Title: Director of Community Outreach
Favorite moment: “I’ll never forget the trip back from Miami (after the playoff victory following the 1983 season). I remember Lionel Ritchie’s ‘All Night Long’ jamming on the plane. It was awesome.”
Favorite memory: “When Steve Largent retired (in 1989). That was quite a day. A tough memory: Pete Gross (the former radio play-by-play man) going into the Ring of Honor (in 1992, two days before he died). I was on the field, but I couldn’t even think about the ceremony because it would make me cry. It was a really touching, but tough, moment.”
Favorite man: “I can’t go there. There’s way too many of them. Way too many.”
Title: Director of Video
Favorite moment: “Probably last Sunday. It was unbelievable. The only other moment that would even be close was after the Miami game (in 1983). Those were the two biggest games that we’ve won.”
Favorite memory: “The Miami game because that was just a big game at the time for us. That’s the one that really stands out. It’s funny, because the AFC Championship Game (in 1983), the only thing I remember about it is the riots afterwards.”
Favorite man: “There have been so many great guys work here, like Gary (Wright). But (former coach) Jack Patera is the one who got me here, so he’s an all-time favorite. But every head coach we’ve had has been awesome to me.”