SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) Amid the frenzy of Super Bowl media day on Tuesday, as thousands of reporters and cameras surrounded the New England Patriots coaches and players, the dapper owner of the team, Robert K. Kraft, held his own impromptu news conference.
A day earlier, he had taken the unusual step ofpublicly demanding an apology from the N.F.L. if his team was absolved of deflating footballs at the A.F.C. championship game. For about 15 minutes, Kraft shared the spotlight with his players and coaches, eager to say more as dozens of reporters pushed and shoved to hear him speak.
When the Seattle Seahawks entered the arena an hour later, Paul G. Allen was nowhere to be seen. Though he has owned the Seahawks for 18 years, Allen gives few interviews and fans rarely see him outside of the sidelines before a game or at an occasional pep rally.
The Patriots and the Seahawks orbit at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum: Bill Belichick is a grumpy magician while Pete Carroll is a cerebral and serial gabber; Tom Brady is precision artist while Russell Wilson plays with an ad-lib style.
But there may be no bigger contrast than the owners of the teams. While Kraft seems to gravitate to microphones or cameras, Allen seems to go out of his way to avoid them.
Allen, 62, may be one of the least visible N.F.L. owners, but he remains committed to the Seahawks, who are trying to become the first team in a decade to win consecutive Super Bowl titles. Though he may say little publicly, he is basking his team’s success.
“You kind of grow into it and the more you know the players and coaches, you can feel the enthusiasm of the fans, you are just as engaged if not more so,” Allen said in an interview Saturday on the field at University of Phoenix Stadium. “This year was one of those years where we’ve had some ups and downs and challenges that were unexpected, but that’s part of sports.”
Allen’s inner fan is evident. At last year’s Super Bowl, which the Seahawks won, 43-8, he sat with General Manager John Schneider, who elbowed him nervously each time the Seahawks made a good play, as if they could not believe their good fortune.
At the N.F.C. championship game against the Green Bay Packers two weeks ago, Allen recounted how he tried to calculate the chances of the Seahawks winning after they scored on a fake punt, their first points of the day. He did it again before the team recovered an onside kick that changed the momentum of the game.
“I’m always trying to calculate the mathematical probability of certain outcomes,” said Allen, who founded Microsoft along with Bill Gates. “I even did it during last year’s Super Bowl. We were up by 20-plus points, but there is a chance of them coming back because they are a high-powered offense. I’m always doing that; it’s just the way my mind works.”
Allen, who wore a Seahawks cap and ski jacket, declined to predict the outcome of Sunday’s game. But it is evident that his mind works in a multitude of other ways. Though he was happy to discuss the Seahawks or his other team, the Portland Trail Blazers, during a half-hour interview Saturday, he segued from sports to his love of Jimi Hendrix to his interest in the biochemistry of the brain to fighting the Ebola virus.
With a fortune worth an estimated $17 billion, Allen has the wherewithal to think big. In the fall, he committed $100 million to the fight against the Ebola virus. More than half of the money has been spent on things like protection suits for health care workers, evacuation units that can be used on planes and cellphones with preloaded software so doctors can better track the disease.
“What I try to do is see the landscape out there, what is going on and where I think I can make a difference,” Allen said. “The minute that outbreak started, I just thought there was something different about this outbreak, it seems to be spreading more rapidly than other outbreaks. And once it really got going, as you know the momentum of these things, if you don’t jump on it, the nightmare was that we would be looking at millions of cases.”
Although Allen leaves much of the day-to-day business of the Seahawks and the Trail Blazers to a phalanx of executives and rarely attends owners meetings, he does follow the issues that affect these sports, including domestic violence.
Rather than endorse or criticize the commissioner directly, Allen spoke broadly about the issue, which plunged the league into crisis this season. After video was published showing the former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his fiancée, Allen said, it was “important for me to raise my consciousness.” He watched movies about domestic violence and spoke to psychologists about how best to deal with the problem.
Without being specific, Allen said he was trying to create a counseling program for the players and their families that the Seahawks and potentially all teams can use.
Allen is also searching for ways to minimize and treat concussions, another plague on the league. That includes developing different helmet designs to minimize impacts on the brain.
“The game is very intense, so you’re never going to have zero concussions, but then you’re never going to have zero concussions in any sport,” Allen said. “But this sport is very intense.”
Allen’s brain institute in Seattle is taking a far broader view. In addition to trying to map the genetics of the brain, the scientists there want to tackle the fundamental science of how the brain works. For good measure, Allen opened a cell biology institute to determine how cells work. In time, the research could help scientists understand diseases, develop drugs and determine why some people get sick and others do not.
“All of these are decadal innovations,” he said. “They are not things that will be ready in five years, but if they make a difference in 10, 20 years from now, that’s what you hope for.”
Of more immediate concern, of course, is how the Seahawks play on Sunday. The Patriots, he said, have a Hall of Fame quarterback and coach and a stout defense that should not be taken for granted. If the Seahawks win, though, Allen may break out his guitar and jam with his band at the celebration party the way he did last year.
This time, though, he will use the custom-built amplifier he ordered with volume controls that go to 12, a homage to the team’s fans, who are known as the 12th Man.
“You can’t use it all the time, just on important occasions,” Allen said Saturday. “The fans have just been unbelievable, both last year and this year, and even before, and it will be interesting to see tomorrow.”