Remember the Rangers
Years before the Seattle Seahawks existed, Lafa Lane, president of the Ballard Mortgage Company, brought professional football to the city when he owned the Seattle Rangers from 1966 to 1969.
The Rangers competed in the old Continental Football League (CFL) against 29 other teams across the country in three divisions.
Lane first became interested sports as a teenager while growing up in Gas City, Kansas. He learned football as a second string quarterback at Lola High School.
In 1940 he moved to Seattle and started the Ballard Mortgage Company. The business grew and expanded to seven offices in the Seattle area and one in San Jose, CA. At its peak, the company employed 162 people. After being successful at business, he wanted to try his hand at owning a football team.
In 1966 Lane purchased the Edmonds Warriors, a Pacific Coast Football League team and renamed it the Seattle Ramblers. The team won the PCL title that year. Lane renamed the team the Seattle Rangers and joined the Continental Football League.
"The next thing you know, I was in the football business pretty deep, but I am willing to go deeper," Lane told the Seattle Times Hy Zimmerman in 1968. Lane wanted to eventually bring a National Football League franchise to the city.
The CFL was considered a minor league compared to the NFL and American Football League (AFL). "The average player was paid $50 to $60 a game," said Lane.
Ernie Nevers, the first player ever elected to the NFL Hall of Fame joined the Rangers as a kicking specialist coach and ended up as a member of the team's Board of Directors.
"Nevers said, the only difference between the NFL and the CFL was that the backfields were not as good. The linemen were just as good," Lane recalls.
The Rangers signed a then rare 313-pound lineman named Dick Hard who played for West Seattle High School but had no college experience.
Both NFL and AFL teams tried to sign Hard due to his size, but he wanted to stay in Seattle, where he could work with kids from the local YMCA.
"The kids worshipped him, he did not want to leave Seattle," said Lane. "He was good, oh God, was he big. He was one of the best offensive linemen."
The Seattle Rangers were the first football team to play at the Seattle Center's Memorial Stadium. The averaged 4,000 to 6,000 fans at each game.
The entire football operation was run out of Ballard Mortgage Company's building on the southwest corner of 24th Avenue Northwest and Northwest Market Street. The Rangers became Ballard's team as well as the City of Seattle's.
On August 31, 1968, the Ballard News-Tribune and the Ballard Jaycees saluted the team prior to a game against the Chicago Owls.
A parade was held down Ballard Avenue. Lane and former Ballard High School players Mel McCain and Les Mueller, who joined the Rangers were there for the festivities.
Lane loaded his staff with former University of Washington coaches and players.
Joining Don White, formerly the second in command to then Husky Head Coach Jim Owens were assistants Dick Berg and Bob Monroe. Steve Bramwell, a kick return standout for the UW was hired as Director of Promotions.
The Rangers won a lot of games, thanks in part to a working relationship Lane had with Lou Saban, the owner of the Denver Broncos.
Saban sent some of his developing players to the Rangers to get playing time.
"We did quite well, won a lot of games with seven Denver Broncos. Saban paid their expenses. A lot of them became first string players in Denver," said Lane.
Lane then began thinking it was time to try and land a major league franchise.
The Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers and Boston Patriots were all looking for new cities to move their teams to.
By 1969, rumors circulated about a possible move by the Boston Patriots to Seattle.
With the help of investors, Lane made an $8 million bid for the club. The deal fell through.
To boost interest in the NFL in Seattle, Lane organized an exhibition game between the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns at the University of Washington's Husky Stadium.
San Francisco was lead by quarterback John Brodie. The Browns had running back Leroy Kelly. The game was televised nationally.
Tickets were sold for $6 and $4.50 at locations all over the region, including Arts Driftwood Inn, at 1422 N.W. Market Street in Ballard.
In 1969, the CFL's Indianapolis Capitols made an offer of $400,000 to University of Southern California star running back O.J. Simpson. The NFL's Buffalo Bills had the draft rights to him.
Simpson was asking for $1,100,000 from the Bills and ended up signing with them. Simpson's interest in the CFL was said to be a negotiating tactic at the time.
"The AFL and NFL took notice and gave us a hard time," said Lane.
NFL and AFL teams began outbidding the CFL for players. The two more prestigious professional leagues merged in 1970.
In October 1969, Lane gave the team to White and Berg, who had become general manager by then. "I've spent a quarter of a million dollars trying to sell people of Seattle on good football, but he complacency shown by people here is overwhelming," Lane told the Seattle Times when he made the decision.
A few days later White and Berg declined the offer. Lane then suggested the idea of giving the team to the City of Seattle. Nothing became of that suggestion.
Before the team folded, the Rangers played one of their most exciting games, beating the Spokane Shockers14-12 at home in front of 11,102 fans, the largest audience in the team's short history.
On October 31, 1969, Lane made the announcement that the Seattle Rangers operation would shut down after their final home game on November 9.
Lane said he had lost half a million dollars in four years as majority owner of the Rangers.
"I took it (the Rangers) and closed it up, paid off all the bills," said Lane.
The CFL's eastern division western and central division teams all went out of business.
"We could not afford it. We could not afford all those salaries. That ruined the CFL," said Lane.
In 1975, John Nordstrom, owner of the Nordstrom department store finally brought an NFL franchise to the city and the Seattle Seahawks were born.
Jack Patera was hired as the head coach. Quarterback Jim Zorn passed for 2,500 yards in the Seahawks inaugural 1976 season and was named offensive rookie of the year. Wide receiver Steve Largent recorded his first of eight 1,000-yard seasons on the way to a record setting career.
"I should have been there," said Lane.
He was happy to see the Seahawks make it to the Super Bowl XL this year despite the loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-10.
"That was great. I'm just not happy they did not win. The officiating was lousy. They lost it for us, no doubt in my mind," said Lane.
While player's salaries have changed drastically since the old days, the game itself has not changed said Lane.
"It's still football, a rough and tough game. Players are bigger, stronger and faster," said Lane.
These days, Lane is content beating his friends on the golf course. He is still physically active and plays golf three days a week. When his birthday comes around this August, Lane will be 90 years old.
"I enjoyed it. I enjoyed competing and beating other teams," said Lane.