Originally Published: February 3, 2016
The Seahawks were the darlings of the NFL after their miracle run in 1983. Wild Card teams getting to the conference championship game were still pretty rare in those days. This was a young team, a tough team, and one that could grow together for many years to come. If they sound like the current era’s Pete Carroll teams, that’s sort of because they were a lot like that.
The Seahawks settled in with Dave Krieg at quarterback and he rewarded the team with a marvelous, Pro Bowl season (over 3,600 yards passing, with 32 touchdowns). Steve Largent was right in his prime, with another Pro Bowl season (74 receptions, 1,164 yards, 12 TDs). Strong Safety Kenny Easley led the league in interceptions with 10 (he would also make the Pro Bowl, along with cornerback Dave Brown, who had 8 picks). The defensive line was rock solid, anchored by Pro Bowl Nose Tackle Joe Nash (who finished with 7 sacks), with Jacob Green and Jeff Bryant on either side of him (13.0 & 14.5 sacks respectively). Even kicker, Norm Johnson, cracked the Pro Bowl for some reason, by making 20 of 24 kicks and 50 of 51 extra points.
Then, there was the 1984 draft, which is pretty under the radar (especially compared to all the huge names that came out in 1983), but provided a few gems. First rounder Terry Taylor played somewhat sparingly as a rookie, but would go on to start opposite Dave Brown in years to come. Second rounder Daryl Turner was a big target (6’3) who caught 10 touchdowns as a rookie (35 catches for 715 yards and a whopping 20.4 yards per catch average) and 13 touchdowns the following year. Indeed, Turner could have been one of the all-time greats, but addiction to drugs and alcohol kept his career devastatingly short (he was out of the league after the 1987 season). Then, in the third round, the Seahawks selected Fredd Young, a linebacker who would be a Pro Bowler in each of his four years with the Seahawks (first two years as an ace special teamer, the next two years as a ferocious starting linebacker). After the 1987 season, Young was traded to the Colts for first round draft picks in 1989 & 1990 (not sure what the Seahawks did with that 1989 pick, but they used the 1990 pick to trade up to draft Cortez Kennedy). Considering Young only played three more years with the Colts before retiring due to injuries, it’s safe to say the Seahawks got the most out of that selection.
With the team settled, and equally strong both offensively and defensively, the Seahawks were poised to build on the experience of their 1983 playoff run. Chuck Knox had a full year to figure out the pieces of this team that worked best, and with the leading rusher from the 1983 NFL season returning as the feature back in his Ground Chuck offense, there would be no stopping this team!
So, of course, this being the professional football team from Seattle, what happened in the very first game of the 1984 season? Curt Warner rushed for 40 yards on 10 carries before (bury the lede much?) he tore his ACL and was lost for the rest of the season. The injury proved to be more costly in a long-term sense; the Seahawks would end up finishing with a 12-4 record and a 4-seed in the AFC, but Curt Warner would never be the same. It wouldn’t be until 1986 before Warner looked like his old self again. He was a Pro Bowler in 1986 & 1987, even though the latter year saw him miss three full games to injury. By 1988, Warner was in decline-mode due to the cumulative effects of a career full of injuries; by 1990, he was no longer on the team, and by 1991, he was out of the league entirely. Just a tragic turn of events for a guy who could have very easily been a Hall of Fame running back had he stayed even remotely healthy.
With Warner on the shelf, the Seahawks were forced into a committee set-up at running back, and they suffered accordingly. I don’t know if it’s just the guys behind Warner (illustrious names like David Hughes, Eric Lane, and Dan Doornink led the way, none of them surpassing 350 yards on the season) were too terrible to function as starting backs in the NFL, or if Knox’s system just didn’t translate without a bellcow back. But, regardless, the Seahawks were 25th in a league of 28 teams in rushing. Knox certainly wasn’t comfortable or all that familiar with leaning heavily on the passing game, but by God, to his credit, he got the most out of Krieg and Co.
Things weren’t super great at first, even though the Seahawks were 4-2 after six games. They beat up on crappy teams like the Browns, Chargers, and Vikings, while losing at New England and at the Raiders (both teams would end the season with winning records, with the Raiders making the playoffs as a 5-seed). The lone quality win on the Seahawks’ resume was against a solid Bears team in the Kingdome.
A soft spot in the schedule opened up after Week 6 though, as the Seahawks ripped off eight consecutive wins, including the home rematch against the Raiders, and highlighted by a road victory against the eventual AFC West champion Denver Broncos. The Seahawks would break that streak with a loss in Kansas City (one of the many reasons I never want to see the Seahawks move back to the AFC West – I hate playing those games in Kansas City), but at 12-3 going into the final week of the season, the Seahawks would have a chance to win the division – and a first round BYE in the playoffs – if they could only sweep the Broncos, who were also 12-3 at the time. In the Kingdome, no less!
If someone wants to explain this fucking game to me, I’m all ears, because I just don’t understand how the Seahawks lost! John Elway had FOUR interceptions in the first half (and, overall, completed 9 of 21 passes for only 148 yards), yet on the back of a couple big plays, the Broncos led 10-7 at halftime. The Seahawks would go on to lose 31-14, thanks to a couple of second half Krieg picks (one a pick-six). So, instead of getting the week off, and a home game against an inferior Steelers team in the second round, the Seahawks would have to play in the Wild Card game, against the team that kept them from playing in the Super Bowl the previous year, the Los Angeles Raiders.
In a defensive battle, the Seahawks held the Raiders to 240 total yards. Krieg found Turner for a 26-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and the Seahawks tacked on a couple more field goals before the Raiders finally found the endzone on a Marcus Allen catch and run for 46 yards. The Seahawks would go on to run off all but 45 seconds, leaving the Raiders no time to do anything as the game ended 13-7. In spite of the bungling to end the regular season, the Seahawks found themselves back in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, which oddly enough saw them travelling back to Miami in an exact rematch of the 1983 Divisional Round game.
The 1984 Dolphins were also buoyed by the success their young team had in 1983. They would parlay that (and a relatively soft schedule that saw them only play three eventual playoff teams) into a 14-2 record and the #1 seed in the AFC. No matter, as the Seahawks were in a similar position the year before and still managed to wrap up a 7-point victory.
The talent in this game was off the charts. The 1984 Coach of the Year Award ended up going to Chuck Knox, and the Defensive Player of the Year Award went to Kenny Easley. On the Miami side, Dan Marino was both the Offensive Player of the Year, as well as the NFL MVP. Lost in the shuffle of recent years seeing his passing records shattered, 1984 Dan Marino was as good as it gets. He threw for a then-record 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns (both marks would hold up for at least 20 years). When you factor in that era of the NFL – where the running game was predominantly king, and the rules weren’t totally skewed towards favoring offensive passing games – what the Dolphins were doing was truly remarkable. The hype and build-up for this game – if it were being played in the current Internet age – would have been enormous!
As it turns out, the game was pretty mediocre. The Seahawks found themselves down 14-10 at halftime, and were shutout in the second half as the Dolphins ended up winning 31-10. The turnover battle was even, neither quarterback was particularly great or particularly terrible. But, ultimately, it ended up being the Miami running game that did us in. The Seahawks were out-rushed 143-51 in what must have driven Chuck Knox crazy. The Dolphins won the time of possession battle by a good 11 minutes, and that was that. Remember that Chekhov’s Gun I talked about earlier in the ACL injury to Curt Warner? Here’s where you’ll find that disappointing payoff.
The Dolphins would go on to beat the Steelers in the AFC Championship game, before losing to Joe Montana and the 49ers in Super Bowl XIX (in what would be Dan Marino’s only Super Bowl appearance).
The real crusher of the 1984 season is that regular season finale against the Broncos. As I mentioned before, they won the AFC West with that victory, bumping them up to the 2-seed, where they hosted (and eventually lost to) that nothing-special Steelers team. The Seahawks could have DEFINITELY beaten the Steelers to get back to the AFC Championship Game in back-to-back years. It might have all been for naught, if we still had to go to Miami to play the Dolphins, but you never know.
If Seattle wins the AFC West, that pushes the Broncos down to the Wild Card. In that game, who knows who comes out on top? The Raiders lost to the Broncos twice in 1984, but their defense was solid, and it’s obvious the Broncos weren’t world-beaters down the stretch. Either way, whoever wins that game would’ve had a decent chance of beating the Dolphins in the Divisional Round. But, even if they DIDN’T beat the Dolphins, and it WAS a rematch of the Seahawks/Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game, I’ll say this much: playing a team on the road after that team has had a week off is WAY different than playing a team on the road after that team has had to play a tough playoff game against a stout defense.
Regardless though, I think we would look back on these 80s Seahawks much differently if they had two AFC Championship Game appearances instead of one. As it happened, the Seahawks were still good through the rest of the 80s, but by God did they get swallowed up by what ended up being a very top-heavy American Football Conference. The Seahawks finished 1985 with an 8-8 record, having a down year all the way around. But, the Seahawks went 10-6 in 1986 and were still somehow shut out of the playoffs! The Chiefs and Jets both had tiebreakers that kept us from moving on. The Seahawks would make the playoffs again as a Wild Card in 1987, but that’s a story for another time.