Joann Trede, Bob Seaman’s daughter, has called her father every Oct. 2 for more than four decades.
As far as she knows, he doesn’t recognize the symbolism. But she may be wrong.
Seaman was Wichita State’s 38-year-old offensive coordinator on Oct. 2, 1970, when a Martin 404 carrying Wichita State football players, athletic department officials and boosters to a game in Logan, Utah, crashed into the Colorado mountainside west of Denver.
The accident killed 31 people, including Seaman’s close friend and WSU coach Ben Wilson, and left nine survivors. A second Wichita State plane, the plane Seaman was on, made it safely to Logan.
“There are old wounds and I’m sure my dad has a lot of sadness when this anniversary comes around,” Trede said. “But also a lot of love for all of the people involved.”
Seaman is 83. He and his wife of 62 years, Jean, live near Youngstown, Ohio, but are preparing to move to an assisted-living home near Joann and her family in Richmond, Ind.
And all of this time, Seaman has kept those emotions and feelings from 45 years ago locked up.
“But I don’t think a day goes by that he doesn’t think about it,” Jean Seaman said. “He gets online and keeps track of that Shocker website (goshockers.com). And he was hoping to get to Wichita for the 45th anniversary. But he just has trouble getting around.”
Seaman was a successful high school coach in Ohio before joining Wilson’s WSU staff in 1969. They were optimistic they could build a strong football program in Wichita, Seaman said.
But before they could put a building block in place, tragedy struck.
When I contacted Seaman on the telephone this week, he was reluctant to talk to me about the plane crash and its aftermath.
It was Seaman who was put in charge after the crash and Seaman who took a young and still-stunned team to Little Rock just 22 days later to compete against a powerhouse Arkansas Razorbacks team.
The Shockers lost 62-0. But in just getting a team on the field, Seaman had accomplished the impossible.
“I don’t think Coach Seaman gets nearly enough credit for what he was able to do,” said John Potts, one of a couple of dozen made eligible for that game against Arkansas in a time when freshmen were not eligible for varsity games. “Personally, I think the man belongs in the (Shocker) Hall of Fame, record be damned.”
Seaman coached three more years at Wichita State before he was fired, leaving for private business. He returned to football in 1979 and coached at Emporia State for four seasons before returning to Ohio with his family.
“No, I don’t want to,” Seaman said when asked if he wanted to talk about the 1970 season at Wichita State. “I’ve tried not to think about it. It was such a disastrous day.”
Seaman would have been on the ill-fated plane had not Wilson’s wife, Helen, decided to make the trip. It was the first plane trip she took with the football team.
Seaman, who played high school football in Sandusky, had his own playing career cut short by an injury during his freshman season at Kent State.
Instead of accepting praise for his sturdiness during such a difficult time in Shocker sports history, Seaman cited the efforts of the WSU players and his fellow coaches.
“I think about the efforts of everybody within the university and everybody within the football team,” Seaman said. “Their efforts and what they did to come back and play in such a short amount was just amazing.”
The decision to play was nearly unanimous: 76-1.
“We were given options that we could move to other schools without penalty, drop the sport completely or continue the season,” Potts said. “It took maybe five minutes to take that vote.”
Seaman’s leadership, Potts said, was a big factor.
“Everyone knew it was going to be a real uphill challenge because we lost 14 of our 22 starters in the crash,” Potts said. “But like I said, I don’t think Coach Seaman is given near-enough credit for bringing our team back around.”
When the plane carrying Seaman, four other assistant coaches, 22 players and six other passengers landed safely in Logan that afternoon, Seaman took a call at the airport.
That’s when he found out the other plane had crashed, but he had little other information.
“We heard rumors that everyone died,” Seaman said during a 1990 interview with The Eagle. “Then we heard no one died. We really did not know what was going on back there in the mountains.”
He and the others would soon find out. And none of them knew what to do.
For Seaman, the news was especially personal because of his relationship with Wilson.
“We coached together in Sandusky and were very close for a long period of time,” Seaman said. “I was fortunate enough to be selected by Ben for his staff at Wichita State. I have great admiration for Ben and Helen and their family. He was one of my best friends at that time and he would be right now, too.”
Seaman, who admits his memory is slipping, said he’ll never forget the atmosphere at Arkansas on Oct. 24, 1970.
“Those young men who participated in that football game did a great job,” Seaman said. “That’s what I remember the most.”
Seaman was also devastated in 1986 when, after another difficult season, Wichita State’s administration decided to drop the football program. The Shockers have been without for nearly 30 years now.
“I’m very disappointed in that,” Seaman said. “I think the young men who worked so hard after the crash to play the game – I know they were dissatisfied with that decision, too. I think those kids – those old guys now – are still thinking about it and still remorseful about the fact that there is no football at Wichita State University.”
Seaman admitted Oct. 2 is always a difficult day for him. He confessed to not being as open about his feelings as perhaps he should.
“My feeling was always that if you weren’t there and if you weren’t working on it, then it wasn’t any of your damn business,” he said.
Joann, Seaman’s oldest daughter, was 12 when the WSU football plane crashed, a seventh-grader at Coleman Junior High.
She remembers being frightened and relieved on that crisp fall day in 1970. Then just sad.
“I think my dad had to take on so much responsibility at that time and that there were just so many things he had to do,” she said.
That’s why, she believes, he has found it so difficult to talk about.
But she’ll call him again on the 45th anniversary and see where the conversation goes.
The 1970 Wichita State University plane crash
Remembering the 31 people who died on Oct. 2, 1970 through the archives of The Wichita Eagle:
Those left behind mourned and built new lives | A beautiful fall day ... then an ominous sound | Pilot steadfast in denying fault: ‘Someone needed to be blamed’ | The years drive a wedge between survivors linked by tragedy |
Marvin Brown was Solomon’s favorite son | Daughter grew up without her ‘da-da’ | Complex connection for WSU survivors | Families never lose memories | Former Utah State player still feels linked to Shockers