Playing, and having fun

If 1978 was a coming-out party of a season for the Seahawks, then 1979 was the affirmation stamp.

The third-year expansion team had posted its first winning record in ’78, and followed that with a matching 9-7 records the next season. To give that some historical perspective, the Seahawks have had only four stretches of two or more seasons with winning records in their 35-season history: 1978-79, of course 1983-84, when they went 9-7 and 12-4 1986-88, when they were 10-6, 9-6 and 9-7 and their most successful run from 2003-07, when they posted records of 10-6, 9-7, 13-3, 9-7 and 10-6.

To give that an even more meaningful – if also morbid – twist, the Seahawks would go eight seasons in the 1990s without posting one winning record (1991-98).

So for an expansion team to expand its performance level to nine-victory territory so quickly was significant, and then some. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Seahawks’ expansion twin in 1976, did not post back-to-back winning records in 16-game seasons until 1999-2000.

“We were really coming into our own at that point,” wide receiver Steve Largent said recently, looking back at the ’79 season. “We had a very good team, and we had great guys on our team – just really high-caliber, character guys like Sherman Smith and David Sims and Jim Zorn and Dave Brown.

“So we had some real quality people on our team, and we played well.”

No one played better than Largent, who was the MVP on the ’79 team while averaging a career-best and still-club record 18.7 yards on 66 receptions. His 1,237 receiving yards led the NFL and were the second-highest total of his 14-season Hall of Fame career the 66 catches tied for his seventh-highest total and his nine TD catches tied for his fourth-best output.

Not surprisingly, Largent was voted to the Pro Bowl and selected second-team All-Pro, each for the second consecutive season. But the success of the ’79 team was far from a one-man show, even when that one man would end up leading the team in receptions for 12 consecutive seasons and become the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and TD catches by the time he retired after the 1989 season.

“Largent wasn’t the only reason we had a winning record that season,” said Smith, the leading rusher on the ’79 team who now coaches the Seahawks’ running backs. “But he’s definitely a good place to start.”

As for the others on Largent’s side of the ball, Smith is a good place to start because he scored 15 touchdowns while leading the team in rushing for fourth consecutive season and also caught 48 passes. But there also was versatile back Dan Doornink, who contributed 54 receptions, 500 rushing yards and nine TDs Zorn, who passed for 3,661 yards and 20 touchdowns and the offensive line of Nick Bebout, Tom Lynch, John Yarno, Bob Newton and Steve August, which paved the way for the running game to average 122.9 rushing yards and allowed Zorn to be sacked only 23 times in 505 pass attempts – the fewest sacks yielded in club history for a 16-game season.

On defense, middle linebacker Terry Beeson led the team in tackles (116) for the third consecutive season Autry Beamon started at free (nine games) and strong (four games) safety, producing at both spots with 112 tackles and a team-high 14 passes defensed Brown had a team-leading five interceptions and first-round draft choice Manu Tuiasosopo led the team with eight sacks while starting all 16 games at defensive tackle.

On special teams, kicker Efren Herrera became the first Seahawk to score 100 points, Herman Weaver became the first punter to average 40 yards (40.2) and Don Dufek led the units in coverage tackles for the second time with a total (18) that would remain the club record until 1984.

Despite all this, the Seahawks got off to a tough start by dropping their first two games, four of their first five and five of their first seven. But after that 2-5 start, they rallied to win seven of their final nine games – including a three-game winning streak that matched the best run from the team’s first three seasons.

The ’79 season also included the Seahawks’ first appearance on “Monday Night Football,” and they treated the football-viewing nation to a 31-28 win over the Falcons in Atlanta on Oct. 29 as Doornink scored twice while rushing for 122 yards, Largent caught six passes for 127 yards and Herrera – yes, Herrera – caught a 20-yard pass as well as pulling off a successful on-side kickoff as offensive coordinator Jerry Rhome and special teams coach Rusty Tillman played it as if they had nothing to lose.

“Really, the only thing I remember about the Seahawks before I got here was Efren Herrera,” said Paul Moyer, who would play for the Seahawks from 1983-89 and then coach for them from 1990-94. “And I remember him being a character, as much as anything. “The Seahawks had crazy special teams in those early years, and Efren was kind of the flagship guy.”

Another memorable victory came in the season finale, when Sam McCullum – not Largent – set a club record with 173 receiving yards as the Seahawks beat the Raiders 29-24 in Oakland. That win completed a season sweep of the AFC West-rival Raiders, as they Seahawks also beat them 27-10 in Week 3 at the Kingdome as Largent caught five passes for 139 yards with TD catches of 40 and 21 yards. Largent also had TD catches of 55 and 45 yards in a 34-14 win over the Houston Oilers at the Kingdome in Week 8.

In a Week 11 game against the Browns in Cleveland, Smith scored three times in a 29-24 victory, while Largent had TD catches of 39 and 35 yards the following week in a 38-24 win over the New Orleans Saints at the Kingdome. But neither was done, just yet, as Smith and Largent each scored twice in a 28-23 win over the playoff-bound Denver Broncos at the Kingdome in Week 15.

“I remember just how much fun it was,” Largent said. “To not only go out there and just play, and be glad that you’re on a team and playing and starting, but to play well and play as a unit and feel like it’s coming together – and it was for us as a team. “It was fun every year that I played, but it was more fun to play and win.”

All those touchdowns in ’79 – a then-club record 46 with Smith, Largent and Doornink contributing 33 of them – should have pointed to even better things to come. But Largent and his teammates would have to struggle through three disappointing seasons before reaching the playoffs for the first time in 1983.

Year in Review
Record
Record: 9-7 (tied for third in AFC West)
Owner
Nordstrom family (majority owners)
Coach
Jack Patera
Captains
WR Steve Largent (off.), DE Dennis Boyd (def.), FS Autry Beamon (ST)
MVP
Largent
Leading Passer
Jim Zorn (285 of 505 for 3,661 yards, with 20 TDs and 18 interceptions)
Leading Rusher
Sherman Smith (775 yards and 11 TDs)
Leading Receiver
Largent (66 receptions for 1,237 yards and nine TDs)
Leading Tackler(s)
MLB Terry Beeson (116)
Special Teams Tackles
S Don Dufek (18)
Interception Leader(s)
CB Dave Brown (5)
Sack Leader
DT Manu Tuiasosopo (8)
Leading Scorer(s)
K Efren Herrera (100 points)
Pro Bowl Selection(s)
Largent
All-Pro
Largent (second team)

1979

1979: Playing, and having fun

If 1978 was a coming-out party of a season for the Seahawks, then 1979 was the affirmation stamp. Kicker Efren Herrera became the first Seahawk to score 100 points.

Key Date
October 21, 1979

Steve Largent catches 55- and 45-yard touchdown passes from Jim Zorn and Cornell Webster returns a Keith Simpson-forced fumble 54 yards for a score in a 34-14 victory over the Houston Oilers at the Kingdome, kicking off a 5-1 run for the Seahawks. Mike Reinfelt, who would later become a senior vice president for the Seahawks, has an interception for the Oilers.

Key Date
May 03, 1979

Manu Tuiasosopo, defensive tackle from UCLA, becomes Seattle's first-round draft choice.

Monday Night Football Debut
October 29, 1979

After trailing 14-0, the Seahawks rebound for a 31-28 win over Atlanta in Seattle’s first appearance on ABC’s Monday Night Football. Dan Doornink rushes for 122 yards on 21 carries and scores twice.

Key Date
December 16, 1979

The Seahawks close out their second straight 9-7 season with a 29- 24 win over Oakland. Sam McCullum sets a club record with 173 yards receiving on eight catches.

Seattle’s First Representative to the Pro Bowl
January 29, 1979

Steve Largent catches a record-equaling five passes as Seattle’s first representative to the Pro Bowl. National Football Conference defeats Largent and his AFC teammates, 13-7, in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Key Date
November 18, 1979

Jim Zorn throws fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Steve Largent and Brian Peets as part of his 384-yard, four-TD passing performance in a 38-24 victory over the Saints at the Kingdome. Largent accounts for 146 of those yards and two of the TDs on nine receptions.

The Seahawks had crazy special teams in those early years, and Efren was kind of the flagship guy.
Paul Moyer
1979 Season Schedule
DateOpponentScoreW:L
9/2 San Diego 16-33 L
9/9 AT Miami 10-19 L
9/16 Oakland 27-10 W
9/23 AT Denver 34-37 L
9/30 Kansas City 6-24 L
10/7 AT San Francisco 35-24 W
10/14 AT San Diego 10-20 L
10/21 Houston 34-14 W
10/29 AT Atlanta 31-28 W
11/4 Los Angeles 0-24 L
11/11 AT Cleveland 29-24 W
11/18 New Orleans 38-24 W
11/26 New York Jets 30-7 W
12/2 AT Kansas City 21-37 L
12/8 Denver 28-23 W
12/16 AT Oakland 29-24 W
1979 Record
97
1979 Offense
PosPlayerStarts
C John Yarno 16
C Art Kuehn 0
G Tom Lynch 16
G Bob Newton 11
T Louis Bullard 0
T Jeff Sevy 0
T Bill Fifer 0
T Steve August 16
T Nick Bebout 13
TE Brian Peets 14
WR Terry Carter 0
WR Sam McCullum 16
WR Steve Largent 15
WR Steve Raible 0
WR Duke Fergerson 0
WR Jessie Green 0
QB Sam Adkins 0
QB Jim Zorn 16
QB Steve Myer 0
RB Jeff Moore 0
RB David Sims 4
RB Sherman Smith 15
RB Tony Benjamin 0
RB Al Hunter 0
RB Dan Doornink 12
RB Tony Green 0
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1979 Defense
PosPlayerStarts
DE Manu Tuiasosopo (R) 16
DE Mark Bell 0
DE Dennis Boyd 4
DE Carl Eller 8
DT Bill Gregory 16
DT Ron Coder 5
DT Bill Cooke 0
DT Robert Hardy (R) 16
LB Pete Cronan 0
LB Charles McShane 0
LB Keith Butler 14
LB Joe Norman 0
LB Michael Jackson 7
LB Terry Beeson 16
LB Sammy Green 9
LB Larry Polowski 0
DB Autry Beamon 4
DB Autry Beamon 9
DB Don Dufek 0
DB Dave Brown 16
DB Mike O'Brien 0
DB Cornell Webster 14
DB John Harris 6
DB Keith Simpson 11
DB Kerry Justin 0
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1979 Special Teams
PosPlayerStarts
K Efren Herrera 16
P Herman Weaver 16
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1979: A Better Team

VIDEO: 1979: A Better Team

On this Day in Seahawks History