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.