Apart from doubters, cursers, haters and other speculators, the Seattle Seahawks have been victims, more by their own history than by any force from the outside. Repeating the same mistakes in drafting, for example, or those perpetual treadmills of mediocrity are two related examples where history in repeat mode can look very dismal. Occasionally, there are those positive trends that bear repeating later. One season in particular, in the name of overcoming, could become a 22 year old reminder that in the face of a series of unfortunate events, better-than–expected outcomes are still possible.
At the moment, however, there is this elephant that is no longer just in the room, it is sitting on the laps of the Seahawk offense. Seattle has offensive line issues, in part due to injury, and in part due to changes in personnel. Already by week 3, a serious injury to Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack has pushed Seattle’s offensive line to the limit of their depth. Walter Jones endured a close call in last week’s battle against Detroit. This, accompanied by the loss of Steve Hutchinson, has not only impacted offensive rhythm, these issues now place QB Matt Hasselbeck at a possible safety risk. Shaun Alexander used to thrive on cut-back lanes in a blocking scheme so effectively run, that it practically mimicked a zone blocking system. Currently, the split second, narrow passages created by recent anemic blocking efforts might be better suited for the Maurice Morris’ fuel injection style over the “take-my-pick” or “pin ball slot” system preferred by Shaun Alexander. Despite pass protection that merits a “good enough” rating, the running game seriously falls short of Seahawk football standards.
Here’s where the history lesson comes in. During Seattle’s 1983 “Cinderella Season,” Curt Warner was the bread-and-butter player of the Seahawk offense. “Ground Chuck” was in reality a play-action passing game, founded on a respectable running attack by Warner. It was a strategy that kept defenses a step behind when trying to cover Steve Largent and Paul Johns on passing plays, because defenders had to respect the ground game. In essence, it was a run and pass mix, less sophisticated than Holmgren’s West Coast Offense, yet with similar ball control objectives. Essential offensive line play, blended with running elements are set as a high a premium for Holmgren now as they were for Knox then.
After seeing their beloved 1983 Seahawks advance through two playoff victories to the AFC Championship game, crazed Hawk fans were ready to make some noise in the Dome for the 1984 Season.
There was only one problem. On a toss sweep to the right, Curt Warner made one of his patented cuts and caught his foot in a ruffled piece of artificial turf and twisted his knee. He was taken off the field writhing in pain, and was summarily pronounced “out” for the season.
Unfazed for the moment, Seattle won that game, beating Cleveland 33-0. Like a hot new business in a suffering economy, something was brewing in Seattle that was better than all of the micro-breweries put together: For the first time in franchise history, the Seahawks were playing consistent defense and fans loved it.
Though out the 1983 season, Seattle thrived on ball stripping and generating interceptions, where the likes of unknowns like Paul Moyer were showcased during Howard Cosell’s Halftime Highlights on Monday Night Football. Statistically, Seattle’s 1983 defense was middle of the pack. They were playmakers to be sure, but had difficulty stopping the big plays and shutting down offense oriented opponents.
However, the entire team’s confidence rode on the Curt Warner cornerstone at the onset of the ’84 campaign. The defense knew that if it could get the ball back into the hands of Dave Krieg, Steve Largent and Warner, the ball-control offense could consume clock while the defense could gear-up for their next set of exciting exploits.
No wonder, then, that Warner’s injury raised concerns, if not many question marks over the outlook of the rest of that 2004 season. Head coach Chuck Knox had to help the team and the Seahawk community refocus on potential and possibilities. Knox explains this in his own words:
"I walked into the Wednesday meeting looking at the players sitting in their little desks, and thought OK, just be me.” . . . I rolled my hand into a fist and threw out the following: The absence of Curt Warner will never be an excuse for anyone on this football team not to play up to his best. . . . Surely our defensive football team can improve and get better, because Curt Warner does not play defense. Surely our special teams can improve, because Curt Warner does not play on them. And surely the offense can pick up the slack, because two or three people can be used to get Curt Warner’s yards, and two or three are always better than one. Gentleman, it’s simple. We are going to play the hand we are dealt. Period.” (Hard Knox, p. 238).
In those final lines, Knox may have invented two well worn phrases. More importantly, he made history by becoming the Winston Churchill of the Seattle Seahawks, a constantly improving ball club who went on to enjoy their best season ever (at the time). Thinking that Warner’s injury was “going down for the last time,” Knox headed east to find a proven name to console the team. Former tight end, Charlie Young knew that Franco Harris was not about to resume Curt Warner’s AFC leading rusher status, but could see what bringing a new face into the line-up could do in the face of such a devastating loss: “Signing Franco was a brilliant move. It picked morale way up.”
The Seattle Seahawks had something to prove, as East Coast sportswriters were convinced that their ’83 team was just a fluke. By the start of the 1984 season, Seattle’s road tested, hard hitting defensive crew began to come together to form a very special unit, featuring Dave Brown, Kenney Easley and Jacob Green. The defense eventually merited a feature article in Sports Illustrated by the end of the season. Dave Krieg had something to prove also, after enduring a razor-close deal almost struck by the Kirkland brain trust to land Warren Moon from the CFL. Moon found his orbit over Houston, but Krieg became the prime mover in the Seahawk universe.
The result was legendary. Steve Largent enjoyed a breakout season while Krieg, David Hughes, Dan Doornink, Randall Morris and the Seahawk offense managed to put together a remarkable effort without Warner. New players like Daryl Turner were discovered. Furthermore, special teams continued to perform with superior grades in all phases of kicking, returning and scoring. Team talent was maximized and players compensated for the set backs very effectively.
The real story for that year, however, was the defense. Tom Catlin made a name for himself as the defensive coordinator while Seattle’s big play, ball-hawking defense created shut-outs and lopsided wins with torrents of top achievement. Skeptics became believers and sports writers and media personalities began turning their heads to watch. The 1994 Seattle Seahawks unexpectedly broke defensive records, finishing the season with a 12-4 record, capped off by an upset of the World Champion Los Angeles Raiders in the playoffs.
So what does this have to do with the impending 2006 season without Steve Hutchinson? If history can repeat itself to the best of outcomes, then it is plausible Seahawks can decide to finish 2006 with an outstanding season by taking advantage of every opportunity to complete what the team started in 2005. Along with the obvious effect that losing a key player can have on a team, a number of parallels can be drawn between both years (1984 and 2006) to serve as an indicator of what we might anticipate. The following factors apply to both teams (except as noted):
(1) Seattle is coming off the most exciting season ever, with an atmosphere of high expectation and anticipation by fans and the media alike. Most importantly, the players themselves expect nothing short of the very best (this time as defending Conference Champions).
(2) There’s no use overstating or understating this point. The loss of a key player hurt(s) this team for at least the first quarter of the season. Any and all debates about this are over. It’s just a matter of keeping the right perspective, making the right personnel changes and moving ahead as the offense re-develops its existing potential.
(3) The Coach and his staff will not let the departure of key players become an excuse for playing poorly or with less intensity.
(4) The Kirkland front office brought in a Super Bowl caliber player and “proven commodity” to add to the offensive fire power while (however unintentionally), redirecting everyone’s attention to the progress Seattle is making instead of its set-backs. (We digress from history in Branch’s case, where he is clearly more than a very expensive brand for conspicuous consumption. Branch will produce in ways that could help the offensive line play better, given his character and completeness as a player).
(5) The defense has the opportunity to rise to the occasion and with several sacks and allowing hardly any scoring by opponents over the first two games. The Seahawks are showing every indication that they will perform at a high level to keep the team very much alive while the offense comes together. They have exceptionally talented defenders to pull off a remarkable comeback.
(6) The Seattle Seahawks are a team comprised of winners with high character, integrity and leadership. Without complaining about the arrival of new players, existing playmakers go out and make statements on the field. Possessed with the ability to make key plays happen, the defense has never been in a better situation to set the offense up for success.
(7) Great coaches inspire their teams to push through real transitions like these. They do not allow the injuries, early season set-backs or issues created by the media to dictate or define the quality of the team’s productivity for the remainder of the season.
Supposedly, the 2005 Seattle Seahawks received its NFC opponents in a gift-wrapped package. They were treated to an easy schedule, it was argued. Seattle was given home field advantages that forced the current league president to consider re-writing the rule on the 12th man factor (I love the 12th man, but . . . ). They supposedly received the handout of three missed FGs by Jay Feeley and a token interception from Drew Bledsoe to squeak-by teams that had already beaten them. Seattle’s loss at Super Bowl XL supposedly proved to many people that instead of being contenders, the Seahawks were only pretenders after all, and could not handle the pressure of the big games. These were the same allegations faced by the 1984 team, who challenged every contention with solid regular season wins and a key post-season victory (with a depleted offensive line, no less).
If Seahawk history teaches us anything, it is this: There’s no way the opinions of writers, the loss of a player or some imagined curse can deter 53 additional players from giving their all to aspire to overcome the circumstances they face, reach the top of their summit and contend (not just pretend) for the championship title they deserve.
Let history repeat itself for these Seahawks--and let it become the best history ever!
Don Christensen writes for Seahawks.NET. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.