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12 September 1976

Cardinals Stave off Debuting Seahawks, 30-24
Bill Richards, Washington Post Staff Writer

The St Louis Cardinals had to tap a pair of old pros, quarterback Jim Hart and running back Jim Otis, to salvage a 30-24 win today over a Seattle Seahawks team that made its debut with all the experience of a pickup squad.

The Seattle expansion club brought the near-capacity Kingdome crowd of 58,441 to a screaming finale as quarterback Jim Zorn unleashed a flurry of last-quarter passes for 14 points and took the Seahawks on a final drive to the St Louis 43 with four seconds left before Cardinal free safety Mike Sensibaugh intercepted Zorn's final toss in the St Louis end zone.

Seattle coach Jack Patera went into the opening game with 11 new players who arrived at the Seahawks' Lake Washington training camp this week.

"Hopefully, we'll have some time this week to get some people acquainted with the offense," Patera said after the game. Two of the Seahawks' fullbacks, Hugh McKinnis and Don Testerman, were on hand for only two days of practice this week before today's game.

Zorn, a 6-foot-2, 200 pounder, with a year of pro experience, had to scratch his head in the locker room trying to recall the name of one of his receivers and finally made a stab: running back Ralph Nelson.

He was wrong, but no matter. With 292 passing yards and 17 completions in 37 tries it doesn't really matter who catches the ball.

"Seattle played a super game," said Cardinal head coach Don Coryell. "We didn't take advantage of several situations. We'd get down there but couldn't score."

Coryell's linemen shoved Seattle up and down the field throughout most of the game. The middle of the field. But the Cardinals couldn't get their ground game going up close until a minute into the final quarter when Otis bucked across from one foot out for the final St Louis score to climax a 72-yard drive in 10 plays.

St Louis outgained the Seahawks overall, 461 yards to 365. On the ground, the Cardinals' advantage was 281 yards to 73 behind the powerful up-the-middle charges of the 225-pound Otis, who rushed for 140 yards. Terry Metcalf, who played his high school and junior college ball under Seattle's perpetually gray skies, accounted for another 113 of the Cardinals' yardage.

Hart contributed 180 yards in the air and had little trouble penetrating Seattle's weak secondary when he had to.

But the clearest weakness in the Seahawks' defense was their line play. Seattle had been counting on former Los Angeles Rams star Al Cowlings to bolster their line but the seven-year veteran showed up at the Seahawks' training camp this week and flunked his physical because of a foot injury Cowlings said he suffered when the Rams played the Seahawks here in August.

Otis rumbled through the middle of the Seahawk line almost at will, pickling up an average of 5.2 yards per carry. Steve Niehaus, Seattle's rookie left tackle, took the brunt of the punishment from the Cardinals' all-pro guard Conrad Dobler.

"He gave me one hell of a time," said Niehaus. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound former Notre Dame lineman was nursing his wounds and a slight grudge against Dobler after the game.

"He does whatever it is that he does to get the job done," said Niehaus. "A lot of it may not be legal, but he's awful good at it." Seattle, which had a 1-5 preseason record, plays the Redskins in Washington next and the evidence indicates it won't be as easy a pushover as your everyday expansion club.

"We did some good things but there were an awful lot of mistakes," said Patera. "I don't know if the team will get a lift from this game but they're going to get a lot of practice before the next one."

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