No one was expecting the Seahawks’ 1978 season to turn into a coming-out party for David Sims. No one anticipated it being his final full season with the team, either.
The franchise’s third season was notable for multiple reasons – starting with the Seahawks’ 9-7 record. But at the top of that they-did-this list was Sims leading the NFL with 15 touchdowns. Only two players in the team’s first 35 seasons have scored more: Shaun Alexander (five times, including a club-record 28 in 2005) and Chris Warren (16 in 1995).
“Dave had a knack for getting the ball in the end zone,” said Sherman Smith, the Seahawks’ original running back who now coaches the position on Pete Carroll’s staff. “(Offensive coordinator) Jerry Rhome understood that and got the ball to him.
“Dave was a threat as a fullback and he ran like a halfback. He had some great skills.” Sims’ symphony of scoring runs was a prelude to his swansong, as well. In the second game of the 1979 season – against the Dolphins in Miami – Sims collided with quarterback Jim Zorn after taking a handoff, spun off and ran head-first into defensive end Doug Betters. Sims momentarily lost feeling in his arms and legs, and was taken from the field on a stretcher.
A few weeks later, it happened again in practice when Sims was hit on the top of his helmet during a blitz- pickup drill. “I had that same feeling when I was hit in practice as I suffered in the Miami game – a tingling through my neck, shoulders and upper arms,” he said at the time.
Sims would never be hit again, because he never would play again – on the recommendation of Dr. Walter Krengel, then the team’s orthopedic surgeon. Sims had congenital stenosis, which is an abnormal narrowing of the canal housing the spinal cord and made him susceptible to serious injury if hit on the head.
“It was scary, because it happened twice,” Sims said this week from Atlanta, where he’s doing “pretty much nothing,” as he put it, only to add that he’s involved in counseling for small start-up businesses and also real estate.
“It was kind of hurtful that I had to quit. I missed it, and wanted to play. But I always had a religious foundation, and God doesn’t make mistakes. So the way I look it, I had a short, but sweet career.”
Sweet, indeed. And even sweeter when you consider that those 15 touchdowns came in 12 games, because he missed four with knee injuries.
Sims had three-TD outings against the New York Jets in Week 3 and the Cleveland Browns in Week 14. Eight of his touchdowns came on runs of 5 or fewer yards, but he also had a 44-yarder and a 19-yarder. Touchdown No. 15 came on a 2-yard pass in Week 15 against the Chargers in San Diego.
Oh, and he also threw a 43-yard TD pass to Steve Largent in 1977.
Sims wasn’t just a do-it-all back, he did it all – especially in ’78.
“It’s hard for me to say what kind of back David could have been,” coach Jack Patera said in ’79 after the abrupt end to Sims’ already-productive and just-as-promising career. “But if he’d continued to play as he did last year, it’s safe to say he would have been an outstanding back.”
Looking back at Sims’ too-short stay with the Seahawks, Zorn offered, “I remember thinking back after David Sims’ first game, and realized that he never fell down. He was knocked around a lot, but he wouldn’t go down.”
Out, but not down – that remains Sims’ outlook.
“To have led the league in scoring that year, and to have had the successes I did, I did some good things,” he said. “I wish my career had been longer, but I’ve been pretty busy and productive since then.”
Returning to Atlanta has allowed him to be closer to his daughters – Jade, 28 Brittany, 27 Amber, 24 and Taylor, 19. He also has moved in with his mother, who turns 96 on Sunday.
“We take care of each other,” Sims said. “I get to spend a lot of time with her and get a lot of history from her.”
As for his all-girl family, he laughed and then cracked, “Another one of my prayers. When I was single and had my little house, I prayed for a house full of women. So I got my women, and I couldn’t ask for anything better. All of them are unique and doing well.” Just like the Seahawks couldn’t have asked for anything better than Sims delivered in ’78. But their jump from 5-9 in 1977 to 9-7 in ’78 was far from a one-man show. Sims had enough help to fill the Kingdome.
Largent became the first Seahawk to be voted to the Pro Bowl – the first of his seven trips – after catching 71 passes for 1,168 yards and eight touchdowns. He also was voted second-team All-Pro, along with Zorn, the team MVP after passing for 3,283 yards and 15 touchdowns. Smith led the team in rushing for the third consecutive season.
The Seahawks featured a two-back approach to the running game, at a time when most teams were looking for a workhorse runner. Smith (805 yards, 28 receptions) and Sims (752 and 30) combined for 1,557 rushing yards, 58 receptions and 22 of the team’s 44 touchdowns. Smith averaged 4.9 yards per carry, Sims 4.3.
“I just thought we played off each other pretty well,” Smith said. “It was a good combination. They could put us in split backs and one would block for the other. It was a double threat, and that was unusual then.”
The defense was led by second-year middle linebacker Terry Beeson, whose 153 tackles remain the club single-season record. He was one of five Seahawks to produce triple-digit stops, along with linebackers Keith Butler (122) and Sammy Green (115), cornerback Cornell Webster (113) and rookie free safety John Harris (113). Webster also led the team in interceptions with five, one more than Harris and strong safety Autry Beamon. Defensive end Bill Gregory had a club-high nine sacks.
On special teams, Al Hunter averaged 24.1 yards on kickoff returns, kicker Efren Herrera scored 79 points and Webster led the coverage units with 12 tackles.
Their combined efforts helped Patera win coach-of-the-year honors, while general manager John Thompson was selected NFL executive of the year.
But Sims went out of his way to credit the big boys upfront – left tackle Nick Bebout, left guard Tom Lynch, center John Yarno, right guard Bob Newton and right tackle Steve August. Sims, a look-what-we-found seventh-round draft choice out of Georgia Tech in 1977, gave special recognition to one of the primary blockers from his rookie season: right tackle Norm Evans, who was obtained in the 1976 veteran allocation draft and played the final season of his 14-year NFL career in ’78.
“The offensive line wasn’t a whole lot of notables, but they were guys that worked real hard,” Sims said. “Norm Evans was one guy I loved running behind, because you always knew he was going to get his man and that made my job easier.
“We just did the best with what we had.”
As Smith remembers the Seahawks’ quantum leap in ’78, “We felt we were doing it quick, but we weren’t taking any shortcuts. We were doing it by hard work and we just kept jelling.”