It’s been nearly a half a century since the National Football League arrived in the Pacific Northwest.

Seattle was awarded an NFL expansion franchise in June of 1974, and the Seahawks played their first regular-season game in the brand new Kingdome on Sept. 12 of 1976.

I was lucky enough to be there.

And for someone who had never been inside an NFL stadium before, much less perched in a reserved seat in the press box and assigned to cover the game for the Union-Bulletin, it was an experience you never forget.

As you might guess, the stadium was packed with 54,441 partisan Seahawk fans.

And the St. Louis Cardinals were in town in search of a third consecutive NFC East Division championship.

And against a rag-tag Seattle team in which players were still introducing themselves to one another — 11 of them had been added to the roster that very week — the Cardinals were heavy favorites to get off to a good start.

But led by quarterback Jim Zorn and wide receiver Steve Largent, who would eventually become the first two members of the team’s Ring of Honor, the feisty Seahawks made a good showing.

The Cardinals escaped town with a 30-24 victory.

But the Seahawks went a long way that afternoon in endearing themselves to their fans and proving they belonged in the NFL despite the many shortcomings common to all expansion teams.

Seattle never led in the game.

But the teams were knotted at 3-3 after one quarter, and the Seahawks trailed by just 10 points, 13-3, at the intermission.

Cardinals QB Jim Hart hit wideout Pat Tilley on a 27-yard touchdown pass to begin the second-half scoring and Jim Bakken booted his third field goal of the game as St. Louis increased its lead to 23-3 late in the third period.

Then Zorn, who would throughout his 11 seasons in Seattle conjure up visions of scrambling, gambling Vikings great Fran Tarkenton, ignited a Seahawks comeback.

First, the Cal Poly Pomona product hit veteran Sam McCullum on a 15-yard touchdown pass — the first TD in Seahawks history — that pulled Seattle within 23-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

St. Louis’ Jim Otis responded with a 1-yard touchdown plunge and that proved to be the winning score.

But Zorn found McCullum again, this time for 72 yards and a touchdown.

The QB scored himself on an 8-yard scramble that made it a one-possession game, 30-24.

And he had the Seahawks on the move again in the final seconds before he was intercepted in the end zone by the Cardinals’ free safety Mike Sensibaugh on the final play of the game.

Whew!

What a great introduction to pro football that was for the vociferous fans from the Pacific Northwest. The “12s,” as they would later come to be known, the invaluable 12th man that has empowered so many Seahawks victories over the years.

And for me it became a welcome Sunday ritual in the fall.

Up bright and early and on the road after putting the morning U-B to bed at midnight.

Breakfast in Vantage — this was before Interstate 82 connected the Tri-Cities and Yakima — and then over the pass and down into Seattle.

I was usually in the Kingdome press box by noon, covered the game and was back on the road by 5 that afternoon. Home by 9 or so and back in the office at 6 a.m. Monday to file my game story.

Sure, it was a long day, and some of the writers from the west side thought I was crazy.

Of course, they considered any drive that took them from one side of Lake Washington to the other to be a road trip.

They just didn’t understand that for me the journey was as important as the destination.

Jim Buchan can be reached at jimbuchan@wwub.com.

Jim Buchan has been at the U-B since Sept. 1, 1968, beginning as a part time sports writer, advancing to full time after one year and then to sports editor until retiring in 2010. He now writes columns and features and occasionally covers games.