The story of the Seahawks’ 1997 season was one of arrivals, and also a couple of returns.
The season proved to be a milestone, despite the team’s 8-8 record – the third time the Seahawks had finished with that record in their first 22 seasons and 11th time they had found themselves in the muddled masses of those at .500, one game under (7-9) or one over (9-7).
It was a far-better-than-average season because of those arrivals.
First, in mid-February, Pro Bowl linebacker Chad Brown was signed in free agency. He would lead the team in tackles in each of his first three seasons. Then, in early March, quarterback Warren Moon was signed. He would deliver a season for the ages, setting club records for completions (313) and passing yards (3,678) and also throwing 25 touchdowns in 14 starts – during a season in which he turned 41. In April, cornerback Shawn Springs and left tackle Walter Jones were selected with the third and sixth picks in the NFL Draft. In June, voters approved funding for what is now Qwest Field, which was needed for Paul Allen to complete his purchase of the team from Ken Behring.
Brown, Springs and Jones were selected to the Seahawks’ 25th Anniversary team in 2000 and voted to the 35th Anniversary team last year. Moon, who remains involved with the team as the analyst for radio broadcasts of its games, was added to the Pro Bowl that season as an injury replacement for Denver’s John Elway and won MVP honors in the all-star game.
The returns? After playing the first 13 seasons of his Hall of Fame career with the Houston Oilers and Minnesota Vikings, Moon was back in Seattle, where he had quarterbacked the University of Washington. The team also went back to Eastern Washington University in Cheney for training camp, after summering in Kirkland from 1986-96. EWU had been the Seahawks’ training-camp home from 1976-85.
But it was Allen’s leadership from the top and Jones’ domination from the pivotal left tackle spot that eventually would help carry the Seahawks to the most successful five-season stretch in club history: 2003-07, when they played in the franchise’s only Super Bowl went to the playoffs each season won four consecutive NFC West championships and posted a 51-29 regular-season record.
And each arrival comes with a story that is worth repeating.
Allen really had no interest in owning the Seahawks. His passion was basketball, and the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft already owned the Portland Trail Blazers of the NFL. But with Behring threatening to move the franchise to Southern California in 1996, if Allen had not stepped up to purchase an option to buy the team, no one else would have.
“If I entered the NBA out of passion, I was called to the National Football League out of civic duty,” is the way Allen put it in his memoir, “Idea Man.”
“The Seattle Seahawks had been mired in mediocrity even before Ken Behring bought the franchise in 1988. By the mid-nineties, the team was losing more than $5 million a year. It had an absentee owner and a lackluster coach. The Kingdome, which was shared by the Seattle Mariners, was falling apart.”
Even before signing the final agreement to complete his purchase of the team, Allen had agreed to underwrite the $7 million signing bonus Brown got, as well as those paid that would have to be paid to Springs ($6 million) and Jones ($4.335 million).
The Seahawks maneuvered themselves into position to acquire Springs and Jones with a lot of hard work, and a little bit of luck. The Seahawks had two first-round picks because then-vice president of football operations Randy Mueller was able to acquire one from the Chicago Bears in a trade for quarterback Rick Mirer, who had been the team’s first-round pick in 1993.
That trade helped the Seahawks land Springs, as they made a deal with the Atlanta Falcons to move from No. 11 to the No. 3 spot in the first round. But they needed some luck in moving from No. 12 to No. 6, where they took Jones. Mueller had a trade in place with the New York Jets for that sixth spot, or so he thought. When Mueller called the Jets, he was told the pick had been traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Before Mueller could completely comprehend the magnitude of his frustration – or take his hand off the receiver – the phone rang. It was the Bucs, offering the Seahawks that No. 6 pick for less (a third-round pick and swap of first-rounders) than they had been offering the Jets.
“There was a big push late for Walter,” said Tag Ribary, an assistant in the scouting department in ’97 and now director of pro personnel. “The decision was we had to get into position to get him.
“Where would this franchise be without Walter? He was just so good for so long.”
Once the season began, the Seahawks finished “even” in a very uneven manner during their third campaign under coach Dennis Erickson. They won five of six early, only to lose four in a row by a combined 22 points. They closed with a one-point win over the Raiders in Oakland and a 38-9 thumping of the San Francisco 49ers at the Kingdome – with homegrown quarterback Jon Kitna overcoming a 21-3 halftime deficit against the Raiders in his first NFL start and Moon passing for four touchdowns against the 49ers in the 192nd start of his NFL career.
When Todd Peterson kicked a 49-yard field goal with 2˝ minutes to play against the Raiders, it marked the fifth time that season the Seahawks had overcome a 10-point deficit – equaling the most in the NFL since 1970.
The unevenness of the season was reflected in some startling stats: The offense ranked first in the league in passing offense and was No. 3 overall, but the Seahawks were outscored 101-44 in the first quarter and scored just two TDs on 16 game-opening possessions.
On the plus side, free safety Darryl Williams and defensive end Michael Sinclair were voted to the Pro Bowl after leading the team in interceptions (eight) and sacks (12) while Joey Galloway caught 72 passes for 1,049 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Two games stood out: Moon’s 409-yard, five-TD passing performance in a wild 45-34 win over the Raiders in Week 9 at the Kingdome and a weird three-point overtime loss to the Saints in New Orleans when special teams gaffes added up to a 23-point swing – a fumbled punt snap to set up a TD, a blocked punt to set up a field goal, a 29-yard punt return to set up a TD, two missed field goals and a 54-yard kickoff return by the Saints.
As backup safety C.J. Richardson said during the four-game skid that was greased by special teams’ foibles that led to 70 points by the opposition, “It’s Friday the 13th every Sunday for us.”
But the really special element for the Seahawks in ’97 was yet to come, because of the arrivals of Allen and Jones.