What Made the Seattle Seahawks, Who Have Won 3 NFC Titles in the 21st Century, Leave the AFC in 2002?

Football fans born anytime after Peyton Manning entered the league in 1998 probably only know the Seattle Seahawks as an NFC team. How can you blame them?

Over the last 20 years, the Seahawks have been one of the NFC’s more consistent franchises and a perennial playoff threat. Having the likes of quarterback Russell Wilson, running backs Shaun Alexander and Marshawn Lynch, and the Legion of Boom went a long way in ensuring Seattle almost always had a chance at celebrating a Lombardi Trophy.

What younger fans might not know, however, is that the Seahawks spent most of their existence in the AFC. It wasn’t until 2002 that Seattle, then quarterbacked by Matt Hasselbeck, left and joined the NFC West.

The Seattle Seahawks moved to the NFC in 2002 and haven’t left

At the end of the 2001 season, the NFL had 31 franchises. The AFC had 16 teams, including the Seahawks, to the NFC’s 15. In theory, the Houston Texans — an expansion team that began play in 2002 — would join the NFC and even up the conferences, right?

Well, things weren’t that simple. According to UPI, Houston — which had an original AFL franchise, the Oilers, who you now know as the Tennessee Titans — was promised a spot in the AFC. It made far more sense to have 16 teams in each conferene rather than 17 in one and 15 in the other.

The NFL reportedly considered two teams, the Seahawks and the then-San Diego Chargers, as candidates to move. In the end, Seattle went from playing the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs twice a year to facing the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers

Speaking of Arizona, the Cardinals had a far more intriguing switch. When the NFL realigned its divisions, the Cardinals moved from the NFC East to the West. Now there’s an image for younger fans.

The Seahawks certainly benefited from the move. As of October 2021, the Seahawks had won three NFC titles and even defeated the Broncos, 43-8, in Super Bowl 48.

The Seahawks actually began play in 1976 as an NFC franchise before moving to the AFC

Interestingly, the Seahawks’ transition to the NFC West marked a homecoming. When the team started playing in 1976, they did so as an NFC West team and went 2-12, beating the AFC West’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the process.

Yes, you read that correctly. Tampa Bay played its first season, an infamous 0-14 showing, as an AFC team. The two traded places ahead of the 1977 season, and Seattle moved to the AFC West. Tampa joined the now-defunct NFC Central and lost its first 12 games.

Finally, the Buccaneers broke through on Dec. 11, 1977, and defeated the New Orleans Saints, 33-14, at the Louisiana Superdome. A week later, the Buccaneers took down the then-St. Louis Cardinals, 17-7, in Tampa.

On the other side of the country, the Seahawks went 5-9 in its first season as an AFC team.

The Milwaukee Brewers, once the Seattle Pilots, have an interesting parallel to this situation

If the Seahawks going one-and-done in the NFC felt strange in the 1970s, it had nothing on what Seattle sports fans experienced several years earlier.

When Major League Baseball expanded in 1969, Seattle joined Kansas City, Montreal, and San Diego in receiving teams. The Seattle Pilots went 64-98 and posted the second-best record among the expansion teams. Lou Piniella, who later became a fixture in Seattle when he managed the Mariners, hit .282 on a Royals team that won 69 games.

Before you ask, no, the Pilots did not become the Mariners. The franchise went bankrupt after a single season and found salvation in a car leasing executive named Bud Selig, who promptly bought the team and moved it to Milwaukee. The Pilots became the Brewers, and Selig, decades away from becoming the sport’s commissioner, brought an MLB team to his hometown.

In the perfect ending to our story, the Mariners began play in 1977, a year after the Seahawks. It’s all linked together.

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