Voice that Filled Kingdome Came Straight from the Heart

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May 9, 2007

BillScott03_1104

Bill Scott started out as a vendor with a tray of beers and a voice that could fill the Kingdome. He ended up selling his enthusiasm to sports crowds across the country.

He was “Bill the Beerman”, a Seattle original who didn’t need a uniform to work a crowd. Just his signature overalls, a jersey and perhaps a hat.

Scott died Sunday morning at home in Seattle of cardiac arrest. He was 58. He had been diagnosed with colon cancer more than five years ago.

BillScott02_1104Scott is a part of Seattle’s sports history. Someone who not only had a finger on the pulse of a crowd but also knew how to pump that heartbeat full of enthusiasm. He summoned the frenzy of Kingdome crowds so well that the Portland Trail Blazers imported him to inject some of that excitement in the 1980s.

But in the beginning, Scott was just a salesman working the Kingdome with a great pitch. “Ice cold, bubbly, bubbly beer,” he would say. But like any good pitcher, he could change speeds. “Freeze your teeth, and give your tongue a sleigh ride,” was another. He didn’t say that so much as he bellowed it in a macro-sized voice that predated the microbrew craze.

“He had conditioned his voice to take that pounding,” said friend Ken Wilson. “He could scream through a whole game and then sound just normal.” Wilson’s family was among the original Seahawks season-ticket holders, and he moved to work for the Trail Blazers in the mid-1980s. He had an easy answer when the team began looking for ways to summon excitement in the playoffs. “Have Bill the Beerman come down,” Wilson suggested. Scott traveled south, and the decibels at Portland’s Coliseum immediately headed north. “At first, the team was kind of cautious of letting him run around,” Wilson said. “After about five minutes, they said, ‘Let that guy go wherever he wants.”

Wilson later went to Boise, Idaho, to work for the Boise Hawks, a minor-league baseball franchise. Scott appeared in Boise and started branching out, working all over the country. He made appearances for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, at Continental Basketball Association (CBA) games and other minor-league-baseball parks.

“It was something about Billy,” Wilson said. “He just had a way about him that fans immediately related to him.” Scott even had a name for the knack: synergy facilitation. That’s what he called himself in the 1980s when he quit selling beer and started selling sheer enthusiasm.

He made his living as a cheerleader, though it was a term that made Bill the Beerman roll his eyes. Michael Bouton worked for the Boise Hawks when Scott arrived, and the two had been friends ever since. “It was his energy and his heart,” Bouton said. “He had those things as well as the passion to bring about the element of what people go to sporting events for. It isn’t just to be entertained, but it’s also to be an active participant.”

BillScott01_1104Scott began working when professional sports weren’t pumped up on artificial decibels and when the minutes between innings weren’t filled with animated hat tricks or hydroplane races on a giant screen. The crowd was part of the performance, and Scott was a conductor. Other people could start a wave, but he would choreograph tsunamis.

“He would get one wave going and follow that up with another,” said Gary Wright, the Seahawks vice president of administration. Scott called it a tidal wave. Scott worked CBA games as recently as last year, appearing during the Yakima Sun Kings’ championship series. And last season, he hoisted the 12th Man flag before the Seahawks’ game against San Francisco on Dec. 14.

“It kind of put him at peace with that era of his life,” said Jason Scott, his 29-year-old son. Jason was there with his 5-year-old son, Hayden, on that rainy evening. Tears came to Jason’s eyes as the video screen showed snippets of his father in action.

Bill the Beerman spent one last night surrounded by the roar of Seattle’s sports fans. “It took a special kind of person to be able to energize a crowd like that,” Jason said.

Scott is survived by his wife, Katherine Olason, five children and numerous grandchildren.

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