'84 team was Seahawks' benchmark, 'til nowBy Clare Farnsworth
updated 10:17 a.m. CT, Wed., Jan. 18, 2006
There is a doctor. A policeman. A former politician. A mortgage banker. A children's home director. Even a pastor. Even after their playing careers, members of the 1984 Seattle Seahawks are well prepared for anything life might throw at them -- just as they were when they put together what had been the greatest season in franchise history.
For 21 years, the accomplishments of that team -- 12 victories, an eight-game winning streak, a victory in its playoff opener -- were the unattainable benchmark for all the players and coaches who followed.
Whether they realized it or not.
"I don't think any of us really think about that," veteran fullback Mack Strong said. "I didn't know anything about the Seahawks back then. 1984? I was in the eighth grade.
"Then, nobody knew the Seahawks for so many seasons after that."
That has changed this season -- finally, mercifully.
The 2005 Seahawks won 13 games during the regular season, including an 11-game winning streak. Saturday, they knocked off the Washington Redskins in their playoff opener. Sunday, they host the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game -- another first, since the only other time the Seahawks played in a conference title game it was in Los Angeles, after the 1983 season.
Then, and now. Now, and then.
"There's a lot of similarities between the two teams," said Jacob Green, a cornerstone defensive end on the '84 club. "A lot of them."
The great divide
Despite what might seem like an earth-to-moon gorge between these two teams, there are parallels.
Neither was expected to attain what it ultimately did -- the '84 squad because leading rusher Curt Warner blew out a knee in the season opener; the '05 team because it opened the season with seven new defensive starters.
Each team was guided by strong hands -- coach Chuck Knox and general manager Mike McCormack in '84; coach Mike Holmgren and club president Tim Ruskell in '05.
Each had unprecedented success.
For the '84 team, its road to glory actually started in 1983. That's when Knox was hired, Warner was selected with the third pick overall in the NFL draft and the offense was turned over to quarterback Dave Krieg at midseason.
"Chuck brought in some missing pieces that Jack (Patera, the previous coach) didn't have," said fullback David Hughes, who led the '84 team in rushing with 327 yards. "It started with bringing in people from winning programs who knew how to win."
Players like tight end Charle Young, guard Reggie McKenzie, fullback Cullen Bryant, linebacker Jim Youngblood, wide receiver Harold Jackson and defensive tackle Mike Fanning.
"Some guys didn't have that winning edge, that winning attitude, and they disappeared when Chuck came on," Hughes said. "Chuck was wise to bring in some of his players to help us change our mindset."
Just as Ruskell has done this season.
"A lot of the moves the Seahawks made in the offseason really set them up for the move that they made into the upper echelon of the NFL, beginning with hiring Tim Ruskell and him getting some real solid people who also are good players -- particularly in the defensive front seven," said Steve Largent, the Hall of Fame receiver who led the '84 club with 74 receptions and 12 touchdowns. "To me, that's the biggest difference between this year's team and last year's, or any other year."
The loss of Warner in the '84 opener -- in a game played on a Monday afternoon at the Kingdome because of a scheduling conflict with the Mariners -- transformed the Seahawks offense from "Ground Chuck" into "Air Knox."
"We became stronger as a team after Curt went down," Hughes said. "And Chuck became a better coach, because he couldn't do Warner left, Warner right, Warner up the middle."
Besides Hughes, the running back by committee included former Steelers great Franco Harris (for eight games, anyway), Eric Lane, Dan Doornink, Randall Morris and Zach Dixon. They combined for 1,645 yards -- 196 more than Warner had in '83, but 235 fewer than Shaun Alexander had this season.
"Curt was one of those guys who could go sideways and all kinds of directions," Doornink said. "The guys that were left, we would just go straight ahead. So when Curt went down, it did leave kind of a shadow of 'Oh, no' in everybody's heart."
Without Warner, Knox turned things over to Krieg, who threw for 3,671 yards and 32 touchdowns -- both career highs.
"We lose Curt, and everybody's like, 'Now what do we do?' " Krieg said. "We spread it out and all of sudden everybody's making plays -- Paul Skansi, Daryl Turner, Eric Lane, David Hughes, Dan Doornink.
"We surprised a lot of people."
The great adventure
Week 15 of the 1983 season to the second week of the playoffs in 1984 marked a 23-game stretch like none other in club history.
"It was kind of like a fantasy ride," Green said.
It began with a holding penalty that erased a New York Giants touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Seahawks' 17-12 victory at the Meadowlands. That set off a series of unlikely events, as things fell into place like so many dominoes stacked on end: The following week, a 24-6 win over the New England Patriots clinched the franchise's first playoff berth; which was followed by wins over the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins in the postseason; which delivered the Seahawks to their first conference championship game, which they lost to the Los Angeles Raiders.
"What happened in '83 helped us develop a confidence that we could play with anybody," Largent said. "Then we started beating some of those teams."
They continued doing it in the 12-win season in '84, which was followed by a playoff victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Raiders, which was followed by a loss to the Dolphins in Miami.
"When Curt went down, our defense decided we were going to be the guys to set the tempo," Green said. "I remember that meeting like it was yesterday. Nobody expected us to do the things we did without Curt. We decided that wasn't going to be the case."
That '84 defense, under the guidance of Tom Catlin, forced 63 turnovers to lead the NFL as the Seahawks contorted the term "bend, but don't break."
"It was a group of guys that decided they were going to raise their levels of play, and proceeded to go out and do it. That's very rare," said Kenny Easley, the strongest of strong safeties who was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1984.
The exhilaration was doused in a 31-10 loss to the Dolphins, ending an emotional season that started with lofty expectations, seemingly collapsed when Warner was injured, but eventually included 13 victories.
"The big thing about the playoffs that separate it from the regular season, in the playoffs you can't afford to make the mistakes that you would make during the regular season because those mistakes are accentuated," Easley said. "The games are won and lost in the playoffs, unquestionably, on mistakes and big plays."
The great depression
What followed that soaring stretch was a seemingly endless expanse of frustration and futility, which made it as difficult to be an ex-Seahawk as a present Seahawk.
The Seahawks went 10-6 in 1986, but failed to make the playoffs -- despite beating both teams that advanced to the Super Bowl, the Giants and Broncos. But they wouldn't post another 10-win season until 2003.
The Seahawks reached the playoffs in 1987 and 1988, only to lose their playoff openers to the Houston Oilers and Cincinnati Bengals. But they wouldn't earn another playoff berth until 1999, and didn't make it in back-to-back seasons until 2003-04.
Rock bottom came in 1992, when the Seahawks went 2-14, and resurfaced in 1996, when then-owner Ken Behring attempted to move the franchise to Southern California.
"But you know what?" said Joe Nash, a Pro Bowl defensive tackle on the '84 team who went on to play more seasons (15) and in more games (218) than anyone in franchise history. "All that just makes what has happened this season all the better."
It has been a slow, arduous climb back to respectability for this franchise.
"Hopefully we can start building a tradition around here where in 15-20 years from now, people will be talking about the '05 Seahawks the way they talk about those '84 Seahawks," Strong said.