The Seahawks’ 1984 season got off to an Orwellian start, as they were forced to play a Monday afternoon game against the Cleveland Browns at the Kingdome because of a scheduling conflict with the Mariners.
But that Labor Day became even more laborious when, on the team’s 11th play of the second quarter, leading rusher Curt Warner went down at the Browns’ 4-yard line after making a cut he had made umpteen times in his career. No one even hit Warner. But the gut-punch of a blow that followed when it was announced that he had torn ligaments in his right knee vibrated from the field, to the sideline, to the stands.
“The season was over, before it had started,” Paul Johns, a wide receiver and punt returner on that team, said recently. “That was the feeling.”
How could the Seahawks continue without Warner? He was, after all, Chuck Knox’s handpicked runner to propel his “Ground Chuck” offense. In his first few months as coach, Knox had orchestrated a trade into the third spot in the 1983 NFL Draft to land Warner, who responded by rushing for 1,449 yards, catching 42 passes and scoring 14 touchdowns as a rookie. No Warner. No chance. Right?
Wrong, on multiple levels. That ’84 team went on to post a 12-4 record, including eight victories in a row. It beat the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Raiders in a wild-card playoff game, before losing to the Dolphins in Miami in the second round. It set a standard for success that Seahawks teams would chase for the next two decades – until the 2005 team went 13-3, won 11 in a row and advanced to the first Super Bowl in franchise history.
How is it that a season that began so strangely – and painfully – included so many milestone moments? The Seahawks’ “Ground Chuck” offense morphed into “Air Knox,” as the coach put the ball – and the season – in the hands of Dave Krieg. The same quarterback he had gone to at midseason in ’83.
“Chuck never really came up and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to put this one you,’ ” Krieg offered this week. “But, as most of the time with Chuck, his actions spoke louder than his words. So it was (offensive coordinator) Steve Moore and (QB coach) Kenny Meyer who kind of said, ‘We’re going to have to rely on you a lot more this year than what we thought we were going to.’
“Then we started going three receivers and four receivers. I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to handle it. But then it wasn’t necessarily me as much as it was the wide receivers and the running backs making plays after they caught the ball.”
The first step in the right direction, however, was the signing of Franco Harris to replace Warner. He wasn’t the same Franco Harris who had been a nine-time Pro Bowl back in Pittsburgh as the Steelers were winning four Super Bowls. Not even close. But the signing was significant, nonetheless.
“Everybody knew Franco was past his prime,” Johns said. “But the fact that they went out and got him after Curt went down showed the commitment from the top. That said, ‘Hey, we want to win.’
“And when Franco arrived, it was like, ‘Hey, ownership is serious about this.’ We saw that they were serious and our whole mentality became, ‘If they’re serious, we’re serious.’ ”
That’s when the Seahawks started doing some serious damage – starting with Krieg, but definitely not exclusively Krieg.
“All the guys that needed to play well that year played well,” he said. “And then other guys played even better than what you could expect. Like I told them in the huddle, ‘Look, you guys might not think you’re good, but I think you’re better than what you are and you need to play better than what you are to make me look good.”
Krieg then laughed before adding, “I didn’t say that last part to them. But I was thinking it.”
By the time his first full season as the starter was over, Krieg had put the ball up 480 times. He passed for 3,671 yards and 32 touchdowns – still the franchise single-season record.
But there was more to the Seahawks that season than Krieg to Steve Largent (74 times for 1,164 yards and 12 TDs). Or even Krieg to Darryl Turner (35 times for a 20.4-yard average and 10 TDs). Or even the occasional breakout game by one of the no-name backs who filled in after Warner went down and Harris was released at midseason – Eric Lane’s 113-yard effort against the Minnesota Vikings Randall Morris’ 87-yarder against the Raiders Dan Doornink’s 67-yarder against the Cincinnati Bengal during the regular season and 126-yarder against the Raiders in the playoffs.
“This is a great season to talk about, because you’re not talking about the stars getting it done,” Krieg said. “You’re talking about other guys who stepped up and contributed when we really needed them.
“That’s what really prompted everything, was all the guys who came to the forefront.”
Krieg then rattled through a list that included offensive linemen Ron Essink, Reggie McKenzie, Edwin Bailey, Blair Bush, Robert Pratt and Bob Cryder tight ends Charle Young and Mike Tice those fill-in backs, as David Hughes led the team in rushing with 327 yards and a defense that featured Jacob Green, Joe Nash, Shelton Robinson, Keith Butler, Dave Brown, John Harris and Kenny Easley.
“We had all kinds of guys who just started playing lights-out football,” Krieg said. “We came together as a team, and that’s what I liked most about that season.
“Everything came together, as far as what you have to do when you lose a player as great as Curt Warner.”
Easley, the strong safety, intercepted 10 passes to lead a Tom Catlin-coordinated defense that helped created 63 turnovers, including a still-club record 38 interceptions. The turnover total not only led the league, it remains the second-highest in NFL history. The Seahawks also forced a club-record 47 fumbles and recovered 25 of them. They returned seven interceptions for TDs, with four coming in a 45-0 rout of the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 10.
Six times, they scored more than 30 points. Five times, they held opponents to fewer than 10 points, including a trio of shutouts. When Johns went down with a career-ending neck injury in the fourth game of the season, Easley volunteered to return punts and averaged 12.1 yards.
“Just think, a guy who was defensive player of the year volunteered to return punts,” John said, still shaking his head at the thought 26 years later. “He was just a freak of nature.”
To these victors went the spoils, as seven players were voted to the Pro Bowl – Easley, Krieg, Largent, Nash and Brown, as well as kicker Norm Johnson and special teams standout Fredd Young. Easley was voted NFL defensive player of the year. Knox was selected the league’s coach of the year.
It was a case classic case of all the pieces falling into place, even in a season that seemed to fall to pieces before it ever really got started.
“That was Chuck,” Johns explained. “He said, ‘What we do, we’re going to do well.’ That was our identity. That became Seahawks football.”