The 1987 season brought a little bit of everything for the Seahawks.
A return to the playoffs after a two-season hiatus.
A club-record 15-catch, 261-yard performance by Steve Largent.
A quintet of Pro Bowl selections – strong safety Kenny Easley, defensive end Jacob Green, running back Curt Warner, linebacker Fredd Young and Largent – which is still tied for the third-largest contingent in club history.
A rookie class that included the linebacking trio of Brian Bosworth, Tony Woods and Dave Wyman, as well as cornerback Dwayne Harper. Oh yes, and a 24-day players’ strike that cost the team one game and forced it to play three others with replacement players. “The strike was a real bummer for us as a team,” Largent, the MVP and leading receiver on that ’87 team, said recently. “We had real high aspirations for that year, and the strike took away from the momentum that we had.”
Momentum generated by a 10-6 record in 1986 and a 43-14 romp over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2 of the ’87 season, just before the strike began.
For the Seahawks, the strike was notable for three reasons.
First, coach Chuck Knox remained loyal to his real players until the 11th hour and 59th second, leaving the Seahawks to scramble in assembling their replacement team. Quarterback Bruce Mathison wasn’t signed until the week of the Oct. 4 replacement opener against the Miami Dolphins at the Kingdome. The fullback, Mike Hagan, was a member of Power International, a Bellevue-based ministry. Hagan’s power trait was blowing up a hot-water bottle until it burst. The roster also included a nightclub bouncer, guard Ron Scoggins a former Redmond High School and University of Washington lineman, Garth Thomas, who they tracked down while on a hunting trip in Alaska a wide receiver, Jimmy Teal, who – like Mathison – would be signed to the real roster after the strike ended and another wide receiver, Curtis Pardridge, who they coaxed away from an interview for a stockbroker job in Florida.
“This is the most trying season I’ve been through,” Knox said after his 15th season as a head coach in the NFL and fifth with the Seahawks. “Because of the strike, it was a very, very trying season.”
Second, Largent, backup quarterback Jeff Kemp, center Blair Bush, linebacker Fredd Young and kicker Norm Johnson crossed the picket line just before the strike ended – and just in time to play in the final replacement game against the Detroit Lions at the Silverdome. It was in that game that Largent caught 15 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns before Knox finally relented and lifted the future Hall of Famer in the third quarter after he caught three passes in a TD drive to open the second half that made it 37-7.
“I actually went to (GM) Mike McCormack at that time the strike started and said, ‘Mike, I feel committed to this team, and feel committed to the contract that I signed with you to play. I don’t feel like I’ve got any room to be out with my teammates on strike,’ ” Largent recalled. “Mike told me, ‘Steve, we want you to keep the team together. We want you to not come in.’
“But that last week, it looked like they were going to get a deal done. So I went in on Tuesday, just before the deadline to play that week.”
Finally, and most importantly in the grand scheme of things, the replacement team going 2-1 helped the Seahawks finish 9-6 to grab a wild-card playoff berth in the AFC.
“Those games counted toward our regular-season record for our chance to get into the playoffs,” Largent said. “We wouldn’t have gotten into the playoffs without those two wins, so you could say they helped make our season.”
And oh what a season it was, in part because it proved to be the final season in a Seahawks uniform for Easley and Young. While Young was traded to the Indianapolis Colts during the 1988 offseason for two first-round draft choices that became tackle Andy Heck (1989) and defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy (1990), Easley’s trade to the Phoenix Cardinals fell through when the kidney condition that would end his career was detected during his physical.
Young led the ’87 team in tackles for the third consecutive season and was voted to the Pro Bowl for the fourth year in a row – the second as a linebacker, after going as a special teams player in 1984 and 1985. Easley had four interceptions to pace the ’87 defense and was voted to his fifth Pro Bowl.
Leave to quotatious guard Bryan Millard to offer the definitive line on Young: “I’d rather sandpaper a bobcat’s butt in a phone booth than be tackled by Fredd.”
Largent was voted the team MVP after a 58-catch, 912-yard, eight-TD season, as well as to his seventh – and final – Pro Bowl. The ’87 season also was the 12th – and final time – Largent would lead the Seahawks in receptions. Curt Warner produced 985 yards and eight touchdowns, while running behind a line of Ron Mattes, Edwin Bailey, Bush, Millard and Mike Wilson as the Seahawks averaged 134.9 rushing yards. Versatile fullback John L. Williams had another diversely productive season with 500 yards rushing and another 420 on 38 receptions.
Darryl Rogers, the coach of the Lions, out Millard-ed Millard after the 37-14 loss to the Seahawks in the final replacement game. Asked why he had not double-teamed Largent, Rogers offered, “Why embarrass two players, when you can embarrass only one.”
On defense, Young had nine sacks among his team-leading 99 tackles – half-a-sack less than Green. Bosworth had the best of his three injury-interrupted seasons with 78 tackles and four sacks, and played his best game in the 23-20 overtime loss to the Oilers in Houston in the wild-card playoff game by producing 17 tackles. In his second season as the starting free safety, Eugene Robinson had 69 tackles and three interceptions.
But the strike took its toll on the Tom Catlin-coordinated defense, especially the young players, as the Seahawks emerged from the strike to allow an average of 430 yards in the final six games.
On special teams, Bobby Joe Edmonds had a better average returning punts (12.6) than he did during his Pro Bowl season in 1986 (12.3), but his average on kickoff returns dipped to 20.9 (down from 22.5 in ’86). And Johnson kicked his way to 85 points to lead the team in scoring for the sixth consecutive season.
The ’87 season also included the infamous game against the Los Angeles Raiders at the Kingdome on “Monday Night Football,” when Bo Jackson ran away from Bosworth – and up the tunnel – on a 91-yard TD run and then treated the Seahawks’ rookie like a speed bump on a 2-yard scoring run as the Raiders romped 37-14 and Jackson rolled up 221 yards.
Also of note during the strike-interrupted season: A 28-21 win against the Denver Broncos at the Kingdome in Week 14, as Krieg threw TD passes to Ray Butler (two) and Williams and the defense intercepted John Elway twice and sacked him four times the Seahawks clinching a playoff berth with a 34-21 win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Week 15, as Williams scored a 75-yard TD off a screen pass and the defense contributed five turnovers and Largent moving past Charlie Joiner as the NFL’s all-time leading receiver by catching the 751st pass of his career the following week in a 41-20 loss to the Chiefs in Kansas City.
The night-and-day close to the regular season prompted Largent to say at the time, “It’s funny how you can go from being a good team for two weeks to a poor team the next week. Jekyll and Hyde, that is this team. We are all those things.”
And the Seahawks continued to be all those things in the playoff loss to the Warren Moon-quarterbacked Oilers. The game featured a 12-yard TD pass from Krieg to Largent for the tying score with less than 30 seconds left in regulation, capping a 10-play, 80-yard drive that saw Krieg pass to Largent for 10 yards on fourth-and-10 and to Butler for 32 yards on third-and-10. But it also included an interception by Young in overtime that was ruled an incomplete pass, which allowed Tony Zendejas to kick a 32-yard field for the game-winner.
While the loss at the Astrodome put an end to the strangest of the Seahawks’ first 12 seasons, it might have established the mindset for what was to come in 1988: The Seahawks’ first division title.
As Millard said after the loss to the Oilers, “I want to keep in mind that sour taste of losing and come back next July with a firm jaw, a wrinkled brow and an attitude of ‘Get the hell out of our way.’ ”