Bryan Millard was at a gathering of the Austin chapter of the NFL Alumni Association recently, and who should the former guard for the Seahawks run into?
Raul Allegre, the kicker on the New York Giants’ 1986 Super Bowl championship team – and, like Millard, also a former University of Texas player.
“I told Raul, ‘You’re lucky we didn’t get into the playoffs,’ ” Millard said this week.
It was during that ’86 season that the Seahawks beat both teams that eventually made it to the Super Bowl, yet failed to make the postseason themselves.
They closed the season with a 41-16 drubbing of the Denver Broncos at the Kingdome, only to then watch as the Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl by beating the New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns in the playoffs. In that regular-season finale, Curt Warner ran for 192 yards and three touchdowns, including a 60-yarder and Steve Largent caught six passes for 101 yards.
It was in Week 7, also at the Kingdome, that the Seahawks dispatched the Giants – 17-12, as Warner combined for 87 rushing and receiving yards, including a 1-yard TD run and the defense intercepted Giants QB Phil Sims four times.
It was the last time the Giants would lose that season, when they won their final nine regular-season games to finish 14-2 before defeating the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins and Broncos in the postseason.
“I’m not saying we would have won (the Super Bowl), but we were good at the end of that year,” Millard said. “We were good.” Make that very good. After a 5-6 start, not to mention a four-game losing streak at midseason, the Seahawks won their final five games – for the only time in franchise history. And they didn’t just win those games, they won going away – 24-20 over the Philadelphia Eagles 31-14 against the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day 37-0 over the Los Angeles Raiders 34-24 against the Chargers in San Diego and, finally, 41-16 over the eventual AFC champion Broncos.
The Seahawks had closed 4-1 in 1978 and again in 1979. They would do it again in 1990 and 2005. But they never had ended a season on a 5-0 run.
“In ’86, we were even better than in ’84,” quarterback Dave Krieg said recently, comparing the 12-4 season in ’84 with the team’s 10-6 effort in ‘86.
Even with that 12-4 record in ’84, the Seahawks settled for second place in the AFC West to the 13-3 Broncos. The Seahawks would win their first divisional title in 1988, and they also advanced to the playoffs in 1987.
“We weren’t that bad a team back then,” Krieg said. “Plus, we had to play against guys like (Denver’s John) Elway and (San Diego’s Dan) Fouts twice a year. We were in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. We always had three or four teams that could make it to the playoffs.
“So it was not easy, by any stretch of the imagination.”
The close to the ’86 season was definitely an imagination stretcher.
“I never had a feeling like that in my whole football career,” said Krieg, who would play 19 NFL seasons with six teams.
“We were 5-6, and had lost four in a row. Then we won our last five and we were scoring points like crazy – like we’d never scored before.”
And everyone, it seemed, got into the run-the-table act. Krieg fashioned a 130.9 passer rating in the final five games by completing 65.5 percent of his passes (76 of 116) for 1,288 yards, with 11 touchdown passes and one interception. Warner gained 563 of his 1,481 yards and scored six of his 13 rushing TDs down that unbeaten stretch. Steve Largent averaged 17.9 yards on 23 catches in the five games, with four TD catches. On defense, Jacob Green, Fredd Young and Keith Butler had double-digit tackling performances during the span, while Green and Young also had three-sack games. The special teams held up their end, as Eric Lane returned a blocked punt for a TD and Bobby Joe Edmonds returned a punt 75 yards for a score against the Eagles, and Norm Johnson kicked nine field goals in the five games.
Fittingly, Warner, Largent, Green, Young and Edmonds were voted to the Pro Bowl, with Edmonds adding All-Pro honors.
The Seahawks, in their fourth season under coach Chuck Knox and with Warner back at full strength after the severe knee injury that ended his 1984 season in the opener, also did their share of scoring to open the ’86 season. For the first time in franchise history, they won their first three games – a feat the 1998, 2003, 2004 and 2006 teams would match.
They shutout the Pittsburgh Steelers in the opener (30-0), nudged the Kansas City Chiefs (23-17) and then pulled out a 38-31 victory against the Patriots in New England by scoring 24 points in the fourth quarter – as Paul Moyer recovered a blocked punt in the end zone and Krieg hooked up with Ray Butler on a 67-yard TD pass. Butler also caught a 54-yard scoring pass in the third quarter.
The Seahawks followed that with a 2-2 stretch, before losing four in a row – three of them badly. After a 20-13 loss to the Broncos in Denver, the Seahawks fell 38-7 to the New York Jets, 27-7 to the Chiefs in Kansas City and 34-7 to the Bengals in Cincinnati.
Before fans could mumble “pass the Dramamine,” the Seahawks remedied whatever had been ailing them and ripped off that impressive five-game winning streak.
“We were on a roll at the end,” Millard said. “But you know how it is, you dig yourself a little hole early in the year and it’s tough to overcome. But I truly believe, had we gotten into the playoffs …”
Millard’s voice yielded to a moment of silence before he added, “We were a good football team at that time.”
Good enough to have beaten both the teams that wound up playing in the Super Bowl, and put together a late-season run that remains unparalleled in the franchise’s first 35 seasons.
“That’s what I remember about that season – how strongly we finished,” Millard said. “I know it’s ‘what could have been,’ but that’s just the way it goes. But I remember that vividly.”
And, as one Longhorn to another, he’s not about to let Allegre forget it, either.