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Paul Allen kept low profile, had major impact as Seahawks' owner

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When Paul Allen purchased the Seattle Seahawks in 1997, he saved his hometown team from a potential move to Los Angeles. Then he poured some of his vast wealth into making the franchise one of the top-flight organizations in the league. He hired sought-after coaches like Mike Holmgren and Pete Carroll. He oversaw the construction of one of the league's state-of-the-art and -- this was very much on purpose -- loudest stadiums in CenturyLink Field. He built a showplace of a training facility on the banks of Lake Washington. The payoff: three Super Bowl appearances and a title won in 2013, the only one in the franchise's 42-year history.

All the while, the intensely private Allen maintained a remarkably low public profile for an NFL owner, leaving critical decisions to those he hired, sending surrogates to league meetings and granting few interviews, even when his team became a world champion. He was spotted on the sideline at the end of games, but often he stood behind others, because he never sought the spotlight. He talked with Seahawks players, but much more about their and his other interests, rarely about football. He was willing to spend whatever was necessary to support the Seahawks, but he knew the limits of his expertise. He was more involved in the operations of his other team, the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers, and of the NBA, because he felt he knew the sport better. In the mid-1990s, when his company worked on an early version of ESPN's website, he hosted pickup basketball games for employees on an indoor court at his home on Mercer Island.

When he died Monday afternoon at 65, just weeks after announcing that he was battling a recurrence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the world lost one of its wealthiest and most innovative men, and the NFL lost a model owner.

His death stunned some of his fellow NFL owners, because his statement revealing his illness had sounded optimistic about his treatment. According to the New York Times, his first bout with cancer had forced him to leave Microsoft -- the technology behemoth he co-founded with Bill Gates -- in 1982.

Allen was thought to be worth about $20.3 billion, which Forbes said ranked him 21st on the world list of billionaires. He had spent his time and resources in a variety of technological, philanthropic, conservationist and arts efforts. In particular, he spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the Allen Institute for Brain Science. And he donated millions more to Seattle-based researchers who delved into the effects of traumatic brain injuries. In 2014, he pledged at least $100 million toward the fight to end the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. It was estimated that Allen gave more than $2 billion toward advancements in science, technology, education, wildlife conservation, the arts and community services in his lifetime, according to a bio on paulallen.com.

"Paul Allen was the driving force behind keeping the NFL in the Pacific Northwest," Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement Monday evening. "His vision led to the construction of CenturyLink Field and the building of a team that played in three Super Bowls, winning the championship in Super Bowl XLVIII. The raising of the '12th Man' flag at the start of every Seahawks home game was Paul's tribute to the extraordinary fan base in the Seattle community. His passion for the game, combined with his quiet determination, led to a model organization on and off the field. He worked tirelessly alongside our medical advisers to identify new ways to make the game safer and protect our players from unnecessary risk. I personally valued Paul's advice on subjects ranging from collective bargaining to bringing technology to our game. Our league is better for Paul Allen having been a part of it and the entire NFL sends its deepest condolences to Paul's family and to the Seahawks organization."

A range of sports and technological figures expressed their condolences, including former Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, other NFL owners and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Allen's plans for the Seahawks' future after his death were not publicly divulged. The NFL declined to comment Monday night out of respect for Allen's family. Allen never married and had no children, although his sister, Jody, is considered a potential successor.

Bill Hilf, the chief executive of one of Allen's ventures, Vulcan, suggested in a statement that Allen had made preparations for the Seahawks, and that there would be no changes.

"Paul thoughtfully addressed how the many institutions he founded and supported would continue after he was no longer able to lead them," Hilf said. "This isn't the time to deal in those specifics as we focus on Paul's family. We will continue to work on furthering Paul's mission and the projects he entrusted to us. There are no changes imminent for Vulcan, the teams, the research institutes or museums.

"Today we mourn our boss, mentor and friend whose 65 years were too short -- and acknowledge the honor it has been to work alongside someone whose life transformed the world."

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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