Better, but not good enough

Before the Julius Campbell and Gerry Bertier characters broke into their memorable “left side, strong side” slam-dance celebration in the 2000 movie “Remember the Titans,” that scene had been played out in the Seahawks’ locker room.

It happened in the final weeks of an otherwise forgettable 1998 season, when the Pro Bowl rosters were announced. Representing the Seahawks was not only left end Michael Sinclair, the NFL sack leader with 16˝, but also strong-side linebacker Chad Brown, who produced a team-leading 150 tackles and left cornerback Shawn Springs, who had a career-high seven interceptions.

When Sinclair learned that this trio had joined perennial choice Cortez Kennedy on the AFC squad, he cracked a sly smile and offered, “Left side, strong side.”

But even the strength of this left-side trio could not prevent the Seahawks from finishing a disappointing 8-8, and then-club president Bob Whitsitt from firing coach Dennis Erickson after four seasons and a 31-33 record.

“We’re kind of stuck at this 8-8 hurdle for the last four years,” Whitsitt said at the time. “And although that’s a good mark – it’s better than where the franchise was before Dennis got here and I do think he did a good job getting us there – we need to get over that hurdle, and there are a few more hurdles to get over.”

The conventional thought at the time was that a one-point loss to the New York Jets in Week 14 – when referee Phil Luckett mistook the white helmet of quarterback Vinny Testaverde for the ball in awarding the Jets a game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds left in the game – had cost Erickson his job. The reality was that Whitsitt had decided to move in another direction before that game was ever played.

Whitsitt explained that he has reached the point where the Everett-born Erickson would either be fired with one year remaining on his contract, or have his contract extended.

“We chose to shake hands and move on,” Whitsitt said.

The decision did not leave the players shaking their heads.

“It wasn’t really surprising because it’s been talked about for months now,” former guard Brian Habib said on Dec. 28, when the talk turned into action. “It wasn’t surprising, but it was saddening.”

How did this happen? How did Erickson return home as a hero after leading the University of Miami to two national championships, only to have his dream job taken from him after just four seasons?

Springs provided part of the answer in the locker room at Mile High Stadium, after a season-ending 28-21 loss to the Denver Broncos.

“Please do not interview me. I will tell you the truth,” Springs began. After a pause, and some prodding, he did just that, “It should have been 45-0, Broncos. We stink. Some people quit. Some people played. It was obvious. You all saw it.” What was witnessed during Erickson’s final season were the same problems that had been obvious during his first three seasons: The Seahawks, despite being better, were not good enough to get over the hurdle that Whitsitt would mention the day after that final loss to the Broncos.

Was it fair to put it all on Erickson? Probably not. But you can’t fire all the players, so it’s the coach who usually goes.

“True enough, the players have to make plays and win,” defensive tackle Sam Adams said. “But all the weight of the team falls on the head coach’s shoulders. Right or wrong, that’s just the way it is.”

And that was the Seahawks in 1998.

When they were right, they could be downright dominating – like in the three-game winning streak to open the season, which included a 38-0 shutout of the Eagles in Philadelphia a 33-14 drubbing of the Arizona Cardinals at the Kingdome and a 24-14 win over the Washington Redskins, also at home.

But when things went wrong for the Seahawks that season, well, they could be downright dismal – like when they followed the three-game winning streak with back-to-back-to-back losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs and Broncos by scoring 10, 6 and 16 points.

The rest of the season followed that same jagged-edge pattern, as they never won more than two in a row or lost two in a row. Not bad, but not good enough, either.

Not in a season when the Seahawks had expected to make the playoffs for the first time since 1988 and post their first winning record since 1990. That didn’t happen, because the Seahawks were not good enough against the good teams. The combined record of the teams they beat was 46-82 (a winning percentage of .359). The combined record of the teams they lost to was 80-47 (.630).

As Brown put it, “Some teams know how to win. We know how to lose to winning teams.”

An offense that had ranked third in the league and topped the NFL in passing in 1997 slumped to 23rd overall and 24th in passing – despite free-agent addition Ricky Watters leading the club with 1,239 rushing yards, catching 52 passes and scoring nine touchdowns and Joey Galloway catching 65 passes for 1,047 yards and 10 TDs, and also scoring twice on punt returns.

The training-camp holdout by quarterback Warren Moon didn’t help. Neither did the fact that he missed the final five games because of cracked ribs. The offense averaged 27:05 time of possession, still third-lowest in franchise history. That will happen when 43 percent of your possessions last three plays or fewer.

The defense scored 10 touchdowns to lead the league, while punter Jeff Feagles paced the special teams by averaging 44.1 yards on 81 punts – with 27 downed inside the 20-yard line. But the defense also had 10 starters or key backups miss a combined 46 games because of injuries.

The most disappointing aspect in this season of unfulfilled expectations that cost Erickson his job?

“The fact that we were so talented and didn’t produce results,” said Brown, who was voted team MVP and also All-Pro after producing the second-highest number of tackles in franchise history – three shy of Terry Beeson’s club record from 1978.

“This year, my expectations were sky high. We just didn’t get it done. I was fooling myself, and that’s frustrating, too.”

Year in Review
Record
8-8 (third in AFC West)
Owner
Paul Allen
Coach
Dennis Erickson
Captains
QB Warren Moon and C Kevin Glover (off.), DE Michael Sinclair and FS Darryl Williams (def.), S Jay Bellamy (ST)
MVP
LB Chad Brown
Man of the Year
DT Sam Adams
Largent Award
Sinclair
Leading Passer
Moon (145 of 258 for 1,632 yards, with 11 TDs and 8 interceptions)
Leading Rusher
Ricky Watters (1,239 yards)
Leading Receiver
Joey Galloway (65 receptions for 1,047 yards and 10 TDs)
Leading Tackler(s)
Brown (150)
Special Teams Tackles
S Kerry Joseph (14)
Interception Leader(s)
CB Shawn Springs (7)
Sack Leader
Sinclair (16˝)
Leading Scorer(s)
K Todd Peterson (98 points)
Pro Bowl Selection(s)
Brown, Sinclair, Springs, Kennedy
All-Pro
Brown (second team)

1998

1998: Better, but not good enough

Before the Julius Campbell and Gerry Bertier characters broke into their memorable “left side, strong side” slam-dance celebration in the 2000 movie “Remember the Titans,” that scene had been played out in the Seahawks’ locker room.

Key Date
February 26, 1998

Seahawks name Tim Lappano running backs coach and Eric Yarber to the position of offensive quality control.

Anthony Simmons First Round Pick
April 18, 1998

Linebacker Anthony Simmons from Clemson is the team’s first-round pick, 15th overall, in the draft

Key Date
February 02, 1998

Offensive assistant Jim Zorn leaves for the Detroit Lions.

Key Date
February 10, 1998

Named Milt Jackson receivers coach.

Key Date
March 04, 1998

Seahawks make one of the biggest off-season splashes in free agency when the club signs Philadelphia Eagles running back Ricky Watters to a contract.

Ticket Restructure
January 16, 1998

Seahawks announce ticket restructure, increasing the number of $10 tickets, the lowest ticket price in the NFL, to slightly more than 10,000.

Warren Moon is named MVP in the Pro Bowl
February 01, 1998

Warren Moon is named MVP in the Pro Bowl after leading the AFC to a 29-24 victory. Moon directs the AFC to points on each of his three series, including his 1-yard TD run with 1:49 left to play. Moon also passes to Tim Brown for a 57-yard gain that sets up Eddie George’s 4-yard TD run in the fourth quarter and the Seahawks’ Michael Sinclair recovers a fumbled snap that leads to Moon’s decisive score. Darryl Williams also recovers a fumble in the game.

Key Date
January 30, 1998

Coaches Clarence Shelmon (running backs) joins Dallas and Ned James (defensive assistant) joins the New Orleans Saints.

Key Date
February 04, 1998

Seattle names Jim Johnson linebackers coach.

Sign Pro Bowler Kevin Glover
February 24, 1998

Seattle signs three-time Pro Bowl center, Kevin Glover.

Erickson Relieved of Coaching Duties
December 28, 1998

A day after completing its second consecutive 8-8 season, the club relieves Dennis Erickson of his coaching duties.

Key Date
January 17, 1998

Linebackers Coach Mike Murphy also joins the Colts staff.

Key Date
March 06, 1998

The club agrees to terms with unrestricted free agent guard Brian Habib of the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos.

Key Date
January 16, 1998

Offensive Line Coach Howard Mudd leaves the Seahawks for Indianapolis Colts.

Key Date
September 06, 1998

The Seahawks open the 1998 season with a 36-0 shutout over the Philadelphia Eagles at Veterans Stadium. The Seahawks would go on to one of the team’s best starts ever, with three straight victories to open the year.

Bill Meyers Hired as Offensive Line Coach
February 06, 1998

Hired Bill Meyers as assistant offensive line coach and announced the club had agreed to terms with Washington Redskins’ special teams coach Pete Rodriguez.

1998 Season Schedule
DateOpponentScoreW:L
9/6 AT Philadelphia 38-0 W
9/13 Arizona 33-14 W
9/20 Washington 24-14 W
9/27 AT Pittsburgh 10-13 L
10/4 AT Kansas City 6-17 L
10/11 Denver 16-21 L
10/25 AT San Diego 27-20 W
11/1 Oakland 18-31 L
11/8 Kansas City 24-12 W
11/15 AT Oakland 17-20 L
11/22 AT Dallas 21-30 L
11/29 Tennessee 20-18 W
12/6 AT New York Jets 31-32 L
12/13 San Diego 38-17 W
12/20 Indianapolis 27-23 W
12/27 AT Denver 21-28 L
1998 Record
88
1998 Offense
PosPlayerStarts
C Frank Beede 0
C Kevin Glover 8
C Jason McEndoo 0
C Greg Bloedorn 0
C Chris Gray 8
G Andrew Greene 0
G Pete Kendall 16
G Brian Habib 16
T Walter Jones 16
T Todd Weiner 0
T Grant Williams 0
T Tony Berti 0
T Howard Ballard 16
TE Christian Fauria 15
TE Deems May 0
TE Carlester Crumpler 0
TE Itula Mili 0
WR Joey Galloway 16
WR James McKnight 0
WR Brian Blades 6
WR Mike Pritchard 16
WR Robert Wilson 0
QB John Friesz 1
QB Warren Moon 10
QB Jon Kitna 5
FB Mack Strong 6
RB Ricky Watters 16
RB Steve Broussard 0
RB Reggie Brown 0
RB Ahman Green 0
+ View All-Time Roster
1998 Defense
PosPlayerStarts
DE Michael Sinclair 16
DE Mike Croel 0
DE Phillip Daniels 15
DE Matt LaBounty 0
DT Sam Adams 11
DT Cortez Kennedy 15
DT Riddick Parker 0
DT Dan Saleaumua 0
LB Toran James 0
LB Hillary Butler 0
LB Jason Kyle 0
LB James Logan 0
MLB DeShone Myles (R) 7
MLB Dean Wells 7
OLB Darrin Smith 10
OLB Anthony Simmons (R) 4
OLB Chad Brown 16
CB Willie Williams 14
CB Shawn Springs 16
DB Eric Stokes 0
DB Fred Thomas 0
DB Kerry Joseph 0
DB Joey Eloms 0
DB Terry McDaniel 0
DB Mark Collins 0
FS Darryl Williams 16
SS Jay Bellamy 16
+ View All-Time Roster
1998 Special Teams
PosPlayerStarts
K Todd Peterson 16
P Jeff Feagles 16
+ View All-Time Roster
1998: Road to Glory

VIDEO: 1998: Road to Glory

On this Day in Seahawks History