Originally Published: March 6, 2017
This was really the last hurrah of the 1980s Seahawks we’ve come to know and love under Chuck Knox. In a lot of ways, 1988 was the beginning of the end for this franchise, with Ken Behring buying the team from the Nordstroms. Knox would go on to coach through the 1991 season, but his teams would hover between 7-9 and 9-7 and the Seahawks wouldn’t make the playoffs again until 1999, when Mike Holmgren came to town. Mismanagement from the top of the organization would force Knox to leave the organization, which ultimately resulted in the Seahawks reaching their nadir in the 1990s. But, for the time being, Knox was coaching his ass off in getting this team to compete.
By taking The Boz in the 1987 Supplemental Draft, they lost their first round pick in the 1988 NFL Draft. It cost them any number of game-changing running backs – from Lorenzo White (Houston) to Craig Heyward (New Orleans) to Thurman Thomas (Buffalo) to Ickey Woods (Cincinnati). Considering Curt Warner was on the downside of his career – he would have one more season as the team’s starter, before being reduced to a backup in 1989, then being snapped up by the Rams in 1990 – the Seahawks sure could’ve used a Pro Bowl running back to pair with John L. Williams going forward.
As it stands, the Seahawks were able to find a Steve Largent replacement in the draft in Brian Blades (2nd round, 49th pick overall). Largent would have two more seasons of reduced output before retiring with the lion’s share of the NFL’s wide receiver records. Blades had a minor role as a rookie, but starting the following year he would be this team’s #1 receiver for years to come. The Seahawks would also draft Tommy Kane, another receiver, who had a good couple of years in the early 90s, but no impact this season. Dwayne Harper was a DB we picked up in the 11th round who would go on to have a nice career as well. All told though, not a lot of immediate impact out of this crop of rookies, aside from undrafted Rufus Porter, who made the Pro Bowl as a special teamer, and would go on to be a formidable edge rusher in following seasons.
For all intents and purposes, the 1988 Seahawks were a lot like the 1987 Seahawks. The difference here is that the teams around them in the AFC West were all mysteriously worse.
The 1988 Seahawks finished with a 9-7 record and their first divisional title. We finished 6-2 in the West, including sweeps of both the Broncos and Raiders. Back in the days of the 3-division conference, the Seahawks ended up with the 3-seed behind Cincinnati and Buffalo. And they did it by playing one of the toughest schedules in the league.
Outside of our division, which always played one another tough, regardless of how good they actually were, we were stuck playing the playoff-bound 49ers, Rams, Oilers, Browns, and Bills, as well as the 10-6 Saints and 9-7 Patriots who fell short of the playoffs. So, you know, mock a 9-7 finish all you want, but that’s about as hard-earned a division title as you can imagine.
Oh, and don’t forget! Our starting, Pro Bowl quarterback, Dave Krieg, got knocked out in week 3 and only started 9 games that season! After a disasterous start by Jeff Kemp against the 49ers in week 4, rookie Kelly Stouffer came in and went 3-3 in six mostly game-manager-esque starts. Stouffer is notorious for being a first round pick by the Cardinals in 1987, only to hold out the entire year due to a contract dispute, before having his rights traded to the Seahawks. One might argue his 370-yard passing performance in a losing effort to the Saints in 1988 left Seahawks brass with visions of a Quarterback of the Future role for the kid. But, he went on to make 10 mostly-poor starts the rest of his career, before hanging it up after the diasterous 1992 season.
The 1988 Seahawks had better success at the running back position, squeezing one more 1,000-yard season out of the aforementioned Curt Warner, along with another 877 yards from John L. Williams. Williams was the team’s true MVP, as led the team in receptions with 52 and was second in receiving yards with 651. Which, yeah, means we were getting a lot of mediocre quarterback play on this team, but nevertheless is a pretty great season from what’s ostensibly supposed to be a fullback.
The backbone of this team, as always, was found on Defense and Special Teams. Led by stars Jacob Green, Joe Nash, Jeff Bryant, Eugene Robinson, Paul Moyer, Tony Woods, Dave Wyman, Terry Taylor, the defense was among the best in the NFL in forcing turnovers. On top of that, Bobbie Joe Edmunds was one of the best return men in the league, and the team was a force in blocking field goals.
In 1988, there were 28 teams in the NFL. As I mentioned before, there were three divisions per confernece. The playoffs included all the division winners, with two Wild Cards per conference. In a quirk that would go by the wayside in the 1990 season, all three divisional winners were granted a BYE in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. So, in this case, that meant the Seahawks got a week off, which I’m sure was much appreciated.
The Wild Card teams came from the AFC Central, with the Oilers topping the Browns. In another quirk, teams from the same division were not allowed to play one another in the Divisional Round of the playoffs (don’t ask me why). The Bengals held the #1 seed, and would have played the winner of the Wild Card game (while the Seahawks would have faced the #2 seeded Bills in Buffalo). Instead, Houston went to Buffalo, and the Seahawks went to Cincinnati. Who knows if it would’ve made a difference, but it is what it is.
There’s no real point in getting too in depth in the playoff game. The Bengals out-rushed the Seahawks by an embarrassing 254 yards to 22 yards. All three Bengals touchdowns came on the ground in the first half, with Ickey Woods leading the way with 126 yards on 23 carries. First team All Pro quarterback Boomer Esiason was held in check, to the tune of 108 yards on 7/19 passing. But, when you’re able to rush for 5.4 yards on a whopping 47 carries (!), the quarterback position ceases to be of utmost importance.
To his credit, Dave Krieg did all he could to get the Seahawks back in it, but we didn’t score until the 4th quarter. On back-to-back drives, we pulled to within 21-13 with 6 minutes to go in the game, but that missed extra point on the second TD was a crusher (the 2-point conversion didn’t come into effect until the 1994 season). The game ended that way, with the Bengals going on to beat the Bills before losing to the 49ers in the Super Bowl.
As I noted up top, this was really the beginning of the end for the Seahawks. Ken Behring ran this team into the ground, and almost succeeded in moving them to the Los Angeles area before cooler heads intervened. Paul Allen bought the Seahawks in 1996, Mike Holmgren was hired in 1999 and won the AFC West in a down year, Seahawks Stadium opened in 2002, and 2003 kicked off five consecutive playoff seasons for the franchise. But, of course, that doesn’t mean the playoff futility would go away. Next up: the oddball 1999 season.