King County Stadium, alias the Kingdome, hosted its very first sports event last Friday night and it was an occasion for Seattle to savor. They sold $1.25 burritos (meat pies), $1.50 "Orleans hot links" (with corn pone) and $1.50 Kingdogs. They also sold a preseason North American Soccer League match between the New York Cosmos, starring Pelé, and the Seattle Sounders, featuring a bunch of Britishers, to 58,128 fans, the biggest crowd ever to see a soccer game in the U.S.
The crowd might have been larger still except for three things: the SuperSonics were playing the NBA champion Golden State Warriors two miles away at the Coliseum before a packed house of 14,096; the Sonics game was also on home television; and no more people could have been squeezed into the Kingdome anyway because approximately 5,000 seats had not yet been installed. Local spirits were not particularly dampened when Pelé—who else?—scored the first goal or even when New York eventually won the match 3-1.
The newness of the domed stadium, the appeal of being on hand for its first sporting event and the promise of seeing Pelé did nothing to hurt the gate, of course, but the fact is that Seattle right now is insatiably hungry for pro sports. The Sonics, who have clinched a spot in the playoffs, regularly sell out the Coliseum and the Kingdome will be the setting for a few playoff games. The new NFL Seahawks, who start operations this fall, sold an incredible 59,000 season tickets in two weeks. And major league baseball returns next year.
The Sounders, beginning their third season in the 10-year-old NASL, have done an excellent job of promotion. They used to play home games in little Memorial Stadium near the Space Needle and sold all 17,925 seats for the final four games last year. Their offensive star is Geoff Hurst, who 10 years ago scored three goals in England's World Cup victory over West Germany. The defensive ace is Mike England, who is Welsh. At the moment, he is busy helping Cardiff get back into the English League's second division and has not yet joined his U.S. team.
The Cosmos have been showing off their magical Pelé all over the country—San Diego, San Antonio, Phoenix, etc.—happily supplying him with jerseys to give away. It seems that once he was almost strangled when a fan tried to rip off his jersey, so he started taking them off right after matches and parting with them voluntarily. He has given away about 140 since joining New York last season.
The Cosmos played in Honolulu Wednesday night, beating Honda of Japan 5-0, and Pelé put on one of his marvelous shows, scoring four goals, three of them in a 15-minute span in the second half. He said it was the 31st time in his career that he had scored four goals in a match. One of the Honolulu goals he called his best ever, which would mean better than any of the other 1,200 or so.
From the left of the goal, blocked off by two defenders (Pelé is double- and triple-teamed constantly), he kicked the ball over their heads with his heel, ran around them and stopped the ball with his chest. Then, from a difficult angle, he booted it past the goalie into the net.
There are 10 other men who take the pitch with Pelé, of course, and some of them are very good. The top newcomer is David Clements, captain of Northern Ireland's team. The Cosmos also have two of Pelé's teammates from Santos of Brazil, young Midfielder Nelsi Morais and Peruvian Midfielder Ramon Mifflin. American Bob Rigby, who played college soccer at East Stroudsburg State, has developed into one of the league's better goalies.
The Sounders were obviously hurt on defense by the absence of England and the newness of their young Canadian goalie, Tony Chursky, but on Friday night their offense wasn't exactly purring, either. One trouble was that Hurst and a few others only arrived in Seattle the previous weekend and the team was not cohesive yet. For most of the match the Sounders were kicking the ball to each other instead of to open spaces and letting their mates run to the ball.
New York scored two quick goals, one by Pelé on a free kick and one by Clements that glanced off the left post and into the net, and that was enough to win. Seattle closed the gap to 2-1 on a header by Assistant Coach Jim Gabriel, but Pelé scored on another free kick with less than four minutes to go to ice the match.
As brilliant and exuberant as Pelé was, the star of the evening was the stadium itself. The Kingdome is an unadorned gray hulk squatting just a few blocks south of America's original "skid road," Yesler Way, and the Pioneer Square historical district. The building cost $66.2 million, which figures out to $1,018 per seat, half what it cost to put a seat in the Superdome in New Orleans. Kingdome not only doesn't have a coat of paint on its exterior but also very few frills on the interior—no cushioned seats, no exploding scoreboard, no private boxes furnished like a seraglio.
The seats may be hard, but very few of them afford a bad view. The Telescreen may be dim, but at least it doesn't spoil anyone's view of the field as the screens at the Superdome do. And there are folks in Seattle who are happy with the Kingdome's drab concrete and brutalist-style architecture. A lively local weekly called, originally enough, The Weekly, seemed quite fond already of the stadium's unromantic ramps and ventilator shafts. "The Kingdome is a blood-and-guts sports arena, pure and simple," said the paper, "a fitting addition to a city built by longshoremen and lumberjacks."
There were surprisingly few snafus for an opening night, perhaps because the Kingdome had already been through a gala entertainment opening a couple of weeks earlier. The burritos were hot if a bit too doughy. People who found that the seats they had bought had not yet been installed were quickly put into comparable seats that the Sounders' management had set aside for that purpose. No chunks of reinforced concrete plummeted to the plastic sod. The politicians kept their speeches short. And the expected traffic jam outside never developed, although crowds of people were still waiting at nearby bus stops long after the match was over.
One minor disappointment was that Pelé left the pitch with his green Cosmos shirt still on his back and apparently didn't give it to anyone. The Sounders' management decided next day to send for it so that it can be enshrined in the sports museum that will soon be installed on the Kingdome's second level. One hopes that it will remain unwashed, to suit a brutalist blood-and-guts arena.