The NFL comes to Seattle

They came from every possible avenue: Veteran allocation draft college draft free agents trades castoffs from other NFL teams.

What this eclectic collection of players comprised was the Seahawks’ inaugural team in 1976.

“We were quite a group,” recalls Jim Zorn, the left-handed quarterback for the Left Coast expansion team. “Some of the guys on that team didn’t want to be here. Some of them probably didn’t belong here. But that was our team.”

The very-first Seahawks team, which played its games in the concrete-topped wonder that was the Kingdome for a no-nonsense Bud Grant protégé of a coach – Jack Patera.

It wasn’t quite 1776 in terms of historical essence, but don’t try telling that to the NFL-starved fans of the Pacific Northwest.

“We only won two games that first year,” said Zorn, now quarterbacks coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. “But you would have thought we almost went to the playoffs. That’s how enthusiastic not only we were, but the fans were.

“Everybody was excited.”

Even if everybody didn’t exactly know everybody else’s name.

The faces surrounding Zorn in those first huddles were a muddled collection that included a future Hall of Fame wide receiver (Steve Largent) a college QB who was learning to play running back, and doing it at the NFL level (Sherman Smith) and a line comprised of a rookie (center Art Kuehn) and veterans obtained in the allocation draft (tackles Norm Evans and Nick Bebout and guards Bob Penchion and John Denmarie).

“The very first game, I didn’t even know some of the running backs names,” Zorn said. “I’d say, ‘Hey, No. 44 (Ralph Nelson), you’re behind me.’

“It was wild. It was just wild.”

On defense, it was a variation on the same disjointed theme – a mix of rookies (tackle and first-round draft choice Steve Niehaus) and veterans from other teams (linebackers Mike Curtis and Ed Bradley and free safety Dave Brown). Brown (111), Curtis (107) and Bradley (101) were the leading tacklers, while Niehaus produced 8˝ sacks in the 14-game season en route to being named NFC defensive rookie of the year.

What the original Seahawks lacked in victories, and cohesiveness, they compensated for with a little flash and a little dash – especially on offense, where coordinator Sam Boghosian and QB/receivers coach Jerry Rhome played to the strengths of their players.

Which was Zorn-to-Largent, 54 times.

“Jim was a perfect fit for that offense, because of his ability to throw on the run and being a mobile quarterback,” said Smith, who now coaches the Seahawks’ running backs on coach Pete Carroll’s staff.

“That offense fit him, and he fit that offense.”

Both the Seahawks’ wins came in a four-game span at midseason – 13-10 in Tampa over the expansion Buccaneers, as Curtis blocked as field goal 42 seconds remaining and 31-13 over the Atlanta Falcons at the Kingdome, as Smith became the Seahawks’ first 100-yard rusher (124). Other than that, the defense surrendered at least 30 points seven times – including 51 in a Week 11 loss to the New Orleans Saints while the offense generated more than 20 only five times.

But it didn’t seem to matter, to the fans or the players.

“Looking back, that’s what I’m most proud of – just to be part of a new franchise,” said Zorn, who was named NFC offensive rookie of the year and continued to quarterback the Seahawks for the next 6˝ seasons.

“With the expansion draft and the way some others got to the team, we were a bunch of misfits, really, that didn’t necessarily fit into any one program. But we kind of made our own program.”

While making history in the process.

Year in Review
Record
2-12 (fifth in the NFC West)
Owner
Nordstrom family (majority owners)
Coach
Jack Patera
Captains
OT Norm Evans (off.), LB Mike Curtis (def.), LB Ed Bradley (ST)
MVP
QB Jim Zorn
Man of the Year
Evans
Leading Passer
Zorn (208 of 429 for 2,571 yards, with 12 TDs and 27 interceptions)
Leading Rusher
Sherman Smith (537 yards)
Leading Receiver
Steve Largent (54 receptions for 705 yards)
Leading Tackler(s)
FS Dave Brown (111)
Interception Leader(s)
Brown and CB Rolly Woolsey (four each)
Sack Leader
DT Steve Niehaus (9.5)
Leading Scorer(s)
K John Leypoldt (43 points)
Pro Bowl Selection(s)
None
National Honors
Zorn, NFC offensive rookie of the year; Niehaus, NFC defensive rookie of the year

1976

1976: The NFL comes to Seattle

They came from every possible avenue: Veteran Allocation, draft, college draft, free agents,trades and castoffs from other NFL teams.

Key Date
January 20, 1976

Lloyd W. Nordstrom, spokesman for the Nordstrom family, the Seahawks’ majority owner, dies of a heart attack while vacationing in Mexico.

Expansion Bowl
October 17, 1976

Seahawks win Expansion Bowl with 13-10 victory over host Tampa Bay. Linebacker Mike Curtis blocks a Tampa Bay field goal attempt with 42 seconds remaining to preserve the victory.

Veteran Allocation
March 30, 1976

Veteran Allocation held in New York City. Seahawks select 39 NFL veterans.

First Game
August 01, 1976

Seahawks play first game before 60,825 fans in the Kingdome. San Francisco holds on to defeat Seattle, 27-20, as Jim Zorn is tackled on the 49ers’ two-yard line when the gun sounds.

Key Date
November 21, 1976

Sherman Smith scores on a pair of 1-yard runs and Steve Largent catches six passes for 101 yards and a TD, but it’s not enough as the expansion Seahawks fall to the Saints 51-27 at the Kingdome.

First Regular Season Victory
November 07, 1976

Seahawks capture their first regular season victory at home with a 30-13 win over Atlanta. Sherman Smith becomes the first Seattle back to rush for over 100 yards with 124 yards on 14 carries.

Key Date
July 09, 1976

Seahawks open training camp at Eastern Washington State College in Cheney.

Key Date
August 29, 1976

Seahawks capture first victory, a 17-16 preseason win over San Diego, as Ron Howard catches a three-yard Jim Zorn pass for the winning touchdown with only 13 seconds remaining in the contest.

Key Date
September 12, 1976

Seattle opens regular season play with a near miss against St. Louis, 30-24. The game ends with the Cardinals intercepting a pass in the end zone.

Key Date
January 03, 1976

Jack Patera, defensive line coach of the Minnesota Vikings, named head coach.

Steve Niehaus Becomes First Seahawks Player
April 09, 1976

Seahawks select 25 collegians in their first college draft. Notre Dame’s Steve Niehaus is the first choice and he flies to Seattle for evening news conference on April 8.

We only won two games that first year. But you would have thought we almost went to the playoffs. That’s how enthusiastic not only we were, but the fans were.
Jim Zorn
Looking back, that’s what I’m most proud of – just to be part of a new franchise.
Jim Zorn
1976 Season Schedule
DateOpponentScoreW:L
9/12 St. Louis 24-30 L
9/19 AT Washington 7-31 L
9/26 San Francisco 21-37 L
10/3 Dallas 13-28 L
10/10 AT Green Bay 20-27 L
10/17 AT Tampa Bay 13-10 W
10/24 Detroit 14-41 L
10/31 AT Los Angeles 6-45 L
11/7 Atlanta 30-13 W
11/14 AT Minnesota 21-27 L
11/21 New Orleans 27-51 L
11/28 AT New York Giants 16-28 L
12/5 Chicago 7-34 L
12/12 AT Philadelphia 10-27 L
1976 Record
212
1976 Offense
PosPlayerStarts
C Fred Hoaglin 7
C Art Kuehn (R) 7
G Bob Penchion 13
G Bob Newton 7
OG John Demarie 7
T Norm Evans 10
T Gordon Jolley 0
T Nick Bebout 13
T Dave Simonson 0
TE John McMakin 0
TE Ron Howard 13
WR Steve Raible 0
WR Steve Largent (R) 13
WR Don Clune 0
WR Sam McCullum 13
QB Bill Munson 0
QB Steve Myer 0
QB Jim Zorn (R) 14
RB Oliver Ross 0
RB Ralph Nelson 0
RB Sherman Smith (R) 9
RB Don Testerman (R) 8
RB Hugh McKinnis 0
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1976 Defense
PosPlayerStarts
DE Al Cowlings 0
DE Richard Harris 8
DE Bob Lurtsema 13
DE Dave Tipton 12
DT Steve Niehaus (R) 14
DT Larry Woods 0
DT Ron Coder 0
NT Carl Barisich 0
LB Ed Bradley 14
LB Randy Coffield 0
LB Greg Collins 0
LB Sammy Green (R) 5
LB Mike Curtis 14
LB Ken Geddes 9
DB Don Dufek 0
DB Ernie Jones 0
DB Dave Brown 14
DB Roland Woolsey 11
DB Lyle Blackwood 0
DB Al Matthews 14
DB Eddie McMillan 14
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1976 Special Teams
PosPlayerStarts
K John Leypoldt 11
K Don Bitterlich 3
P Rick Engles 14
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1976: Chapter One

VIDEO: 1976: Chapter One

Seahawks Legends Interview: Steve Largent

VIDEO: Seahawks Legends Interview: Steve Largent

On this Day in Seahawks History