The final season of Steve Largent’s unforgettable career was one he’d just as soon forget.
It was 1989, and the Seahawks’ Hall of Fame wide receiver already had decided when he signed his last multi-year contract that ’89 would be his 14th – and last – NFL season. But he still sought advice from family, friends and even his doctor before agreeing to a final one-year deal in May.
“In my heart, I always wanted to come back,” he said at the time. “The reason I wrestled with the decision is that I needed to get the green light from some people, especially my family, and from my body.”
The plan was to walk away with no regrets, but that changed because Largent missed six games with a broken elbow and the Seahawks were blanked 29-0 by the Washington Redskins in his final game.
“It was really frustrating to me,” Largent said this week from Washington, D.C., where he is president and CEO of CTIA-The Wireless Association – and “still leading a team here in Washington, D.C.,” as he put it.
Largent’s frustration – and that of his original team – began in a season-opening 31-7 loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia. Largent caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from Dave Krieg in the first quarter for the Seahawks’ only score, but it would be his last reception for a while.
“Dave threw me a post route that I should have been able to catch up to,” Largent recalled of that game, which was played on what was then the worst turf field in the league and in a stadium the Eagles shared with the Philadelphia Phillies.
“But I had to dive for that ball. I dove where second base would have been. They had it covered with turf, but there was still a little mound there. I fell and it busted my elbow. That’s what I remember about my last year.”
Largent was limited to 28 receptions for 403 yards – both career lows.
“It’s really hard when you’re 35-years old and playing receiver to be able to stay in the type of shape you need to stay in to come back after that injury,” Largent said. “So I just had to try to work as hard as I could and simulate as many game situations as I could.”
Largent would go out before practice and run through the pass routes the other receivers would work on later that day. By himself. Rain or shine. Day after day. For six weeks.
“It’s still not the same thing as being in pads and going out there and doing it for real,” he said.
But while Largent was down, others stepped up.
Second-year receiver Brian Blades led the team with 77 catches for 1,063 yards. He was selected to what would be the only Pro Bowl of his 11-year career, as well as voted team MVP.
Linebacker Rufus Porter pulled an unprecedented double, leading the team in sacks (10½) and coverage tackles (13). He was voted the AFC Pro Bowl special teams player for the second consecutive season.
Krieg passed for 3,309 yards and 21 touchdowns, and he joined Blades and Porter on the AFC Pro Bowl squad.
Fullback John L. Williams also continued to pull double duty, with 499 rushing yards, 76 receptions and a team-leading seven TDs. Free safety Eugene Robinson led the defense in tackles (120) and interceptions (five), while linebackers Dave Wyman (98) and Darren Comeaux (88), strong safety Nesby Glasgow (97) and nose tackle Joe Nash (92) had tackle totals that were career highs or their most while playing for the Seahawks.
But the Seahawks posted a 7-9 record – their first losing season under coach Chuck Knox – and were outscored 327-241 in a season that feature more ebb than flow. After an 0-2 start, they won four of their next six. Then came a four-game losing streak, which was followed by a three-game winning streak, which was followed by the face-plant loss against the Redskins on Dec. 23 at the Kingdome.
“I remember that game,” Largent said of the season finale. “The only thing that was good about it was when it was over.”
After the game, however, his teammates threw Largent a farewell bash and presented him with a watch he still has.
“That was very sentimental and memorable for me,” he said. “But the last game, in and of itself, was not memorable at all.” Nor was much of that season. Six of the Seahawks’ seven victories were by a touchdown or less, including one-pointers over the Chargers in San Diego and the Buffalo Bills at the Kingdome. The other nine games included losses by 29, 27 and 24 points – to the Redskins, Broncos and Eagles teams that posted double-digit victories that season.
The culprit? A little bit of everything not to mention not enough of some things and too much of others. The Seahawks were minus-15 in the always-important turnover/takeaway category. They fumbled a club-record 43 times, including an NFL record 18 by Krieg. They dropped 43 passes. They produced franchise lows in interceptions (nine) and rushing yards (1,392). They were 4-2 when scoring 20 or more points. They were 3-7 when scoring fewer than 20 points. They were shutout for the first time since 1982. Their 3-5 record at the Kingdome was their worst since 1980 (0-8).
There were, however, a few highlight moments.
Largent would catch his 99th and 100th TD passes – in Week 12 at Denver to tie Don Hutson’s 44-year-old NFL record and in Week 14 at Cincinnati to break it. In a ceremony before the season-ending loss to the Redskins, Largent became the first player inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor and was the inaugural recipient of the Steve Largent Award – which continues to be presented annually to the player who best exemplifies the spirit, dedication and integrity of the Seahawks.
The team picked up the 100th win in franchise history in Week 8, as Krieg and Blades hooked up on a 21-yard TD pass with 40 seconds to play for a 10-7 victory over the Chargers. Williams caught a career-high 12 passes for 129 yards in a 23-17 win over the Los Angeles Raiders to cap the late three-game winning streak.
But even the 3-1 finish couldn’t mask the obvious.
“You can’t exclude the middle part of the season when we were 4-8 and looking like a team that should be 0-12,” said Tom Flores, who had been named president and general manager in February. “We have some building to do, some holes we have to fill.
“It’s more than a rebuilding. It’s a continual building.”
It also was a process that would have to continue without a player who had been a bearing stud in the franchise’s foundation.