Originally Published: April 8, 2016
When I think of the Seattle Seahawks of the 1980s, I don’t think about the really successful teams of 1983 or 1984. My mind goes right to this 1987 version. Established veterans like Steve Largent, Dave Krieg, Jacob Green, Joe Nash, Curt Warner, Mike Tice, and Fredd Young; alongside younger players like John L. Williams, Eugene Robinson, Tony Woods, Bobby Joe Edmunds, and yes, Brian Bosworth.
The Boz was one of the greatest players in college football in 1985 and 1986, but he was embroiled in a steroids scandal that saw him suspended, kicked off the Oklahoma Sooners, and relegated to the 1987 Supplemental Draft. The Seahawks selected him – in spite of him making it known to the league and the media that he only wanted to play for the Raiders – and signed him to what was at the time the biggest rookie deal in NFL history and the biggest deal of any kind in Seahawks history (10 years, $11 million). In many ways, The Boz represents the failings of this Seahawks team: all the promise in the world, but ultimately neither he nor the team had what it took come crunch time.
The 1987 season was defined by the players’ strike that ended up costing the teams one game, and left the league using replacement players for three others (see the Keanu Reeves movie “The Replacements” for a dramatized version of these events). This was the second major strike of the 1980s for the NFL, which had apparently learned its lesson after the 1982 season, which was only 9 games long. I don’t know if it’s better to have the games with lesser players, or just live without football for an extended stretch, but it got everyone back to the table and a deal secured, so ultimately it worked out.
Aside from The Boz, the Seahawks drafted Tony Woods, who made an immediate impact as a defensive end/outside linebacker, as well as Dave Wyman, who didn’t do much as a rookie, but was a productive member of the linebacking corps for many years to come.
After a couple of years out of the playoffs – including a 10-6 Seahawks team in 1986 that was squeezed out by tiebreakers – this was a veteran team still in good shape to make some noise. But, at the same time, it’s not like this was some AMAZING veteran unit. Dave Krieg was obviously the best quarterback we had at the time, but he had serious limitations. His small hands led him to being one of the most fumble-prone quarterbacks in the league. Poor decision-making and streakiness meant you never knew if the Seahawks were going to go toe to toe with the greats, or look like absolute dogshit against some horrible bottom-feeder. It didn’t help that the team was never able to draft a quality receiver opposite Steve Largent, who would find frequent double-teams and rolling coverage preventing him from being even more dominant than he already was.
The Seahawks lost the opener in demoralizing fashion in Denver against John Elway and his Broncos. It was followed by a similarly dominating victory at home against the hapless Chiefs before the strike messed with things.
The Seahawks ended up going 2-1 during the strike, with a critical home victory over the Miami Dolphins (who would end the season 8-7 and thus out of the playoffs in part thanks to their loss to us). The Seahawks ended up losing to the Bengals in that run, which ended up hurting us a little bit, as the Bengals were terrible, but apparently their replacement players were better than ours. In the third game, in Detroit, as a deal was nearing between the players and the league, a number of regulars crossed the picket line, including Steve Largent and backup quarterback Jeff Kemp. Kemp ended up throwing for 344 yards and 4 touchdowns, with 15 of those receptions, 261 of those yards, and 3 of those touchdowns going to Largent in a blowout victory.
With the regulars back in the fold, the Seahawks went on a nice little run against some mediocre competition, to run their record to 7-3 and a lead in the AFC West. Again, though, the Seahawks inexplicably lost to the last place Jets during that streak in embarrassing fashion, further exemplifying the up & down nature of this team.
In probably the most famous game the Seahawks ever played in the 1980s, they hosted the Los Angeles Raiders on Monday Night Football. The Boz had been running his mouth about how he was going to keep Bo Jackson in check, so what happened? Well, in two of the biggest Bo Jackson highlights of his football career, you see The Boz looking like a God damn asshole in each. In the 2nd quarter, on a 91-yard touchdown run (punctuated by Bo Jackson running clear down the tunnel and presumably out of the stadium), you can see The Boz lagging way behind, in hopeless pursuit of the more athletically-gifted Bo. Then, to really cap things off, in the 3rd quarter, Bo scored again on a 2-yard run where The Boz had him clearly wrapped up short of the goalline. True to form, Bo carried The Boz into the endzone, thus cementing The Boz as a fucking laughingstock and one of the worst mistakes in Seahawks personnel history.
The Seahawks couldn’t shake that game in time for the following week’s contest against a mediocre Steelers team in Pittsburgh, and were on the brink of missing the playoffs altogether with upcoming contests against first place Denver and Chicago looming.
Somehow, the Seahawks found a way to keep John Elway in check, and beat the Broncos by a touchdown in the Kingdome. They more improbably followed that up with a victory in Soldier Field against the Bears to seal a playoff berth. Unfortunately, the Seahawks ended up blowing it in the final week in Kansas City, to the last place Chiefs, meaning the Seahawks would have to go on the road in the Wild Card round, to play Warren Moon and his Houston Oilers.
In many ways, the Oilers and the Seahawks were very similar. When you think of the 1980s in the NFL (particularly the AFC), you think of the Raiders, Dolphins, Bengals, Broncos, and Bills. In that lower tier, though, you have teams like the Seahawks and Oilers. Teams that COULD be very good on any given Sunday, but ultimately teams that were flawed and whose flaws were exposed in the playoffs. From 1987-1993, Warren Moon led the Oilers to the playoffs each and every year. But, they never won more than 1 playoff game, and never got past the Divisional Round. For a Hall of Fame calibre player like Moon, with all the weapons he had offensively, it’s almost criminal.
These two teams, each with 9-6 records, met on January 3, 1988. With Curt Warner out injured, the Seahawks were at a serious disadvantage right out of the gate. The Oilers ran out to a 13-7 lead in the first half, which the Seahawks tied in the third quarter on their second field goal of the day. The Oilers re-took the lead on a touchdown drive late in the 3rd quarter, and the score remained 20-13 until the Seahawks got the ball back with less than two minutes to go in the game and only 1 time out. On three bigtime passes – including a 4th & 10 conversion – Krieg led the team down the field, culminating on a 12-yard touchdown to Largent to send the game to overtime.
The Seahawks even won the toss and received in the extra period, but were thwarted by a 3 & Out. Early on the Oilers’ subsequent possession, a tipped pass was nearly intercepted by Fredd Young, but it was ruled incomplete and the replay booth was unable to overturn it. From there, Moon methodically led them down the field for the game-winning field goal. 23-20. For what it’s worth, the Oilers would be blown out by the Broncos the very next week, who would go on to be blown out by the Redskins in the Super Bowl, so the circle of life moves on.
Curt Warner ended up second in the league in rushing in 1987, with 985 yards and 8 touchdowns. He was rewarded with a Pro Bowl berth, as well as Steve Largent, who caught 58 passes for 912 yards and 8 touchdowns in his last elite year before retiring after the 1989 season came to a close. Defensively, Fredd Young, Jacob Green, and Kenny Easley were all Pro Bowlers as well. This would be Young’s final hurrah with the Seahawks, as he was traded to the Colts in 1988. This was Easley’s last year in the league period, as a kidney condition – discovered in the offseason, during a physical with the Phoenix Cardinals, as the Seahawks were trying to trade him – prevented him from ever playing football again.
The Seahawks would make one more go of it the very next year (which I’ll get around to documenting eventually), on the back of their elite special teams and defensive line, before the end of the era, and the long, dark period during the 1990s, where the Seahawks were as irrelevant as can be. So, in other words, fun times ahead!