My first encounter with the menace to Western civilization that is the Denver Broncos came while perched in a precarious 300 Level bleacher seat in the Kingdome in 1978.
We had just moved to Seattle the previous summer and my dad scored us some tickets for a couple of Seahawks games that season. The first was the ‘Hawks’ first-ever, glorious, 27-7 victory over the Oakland Raiders. The following week was a game we figured they had no chance of winning: a visit by the defending Super Bowl not-champion Broncos, led by geriatric quarterback Craig Morton.
Shockingly the Seahawks led at halftime, fell behind, and eventually tied it on a late Efren Herrera field goal that forced overtime. The Broncos took the overtime kickoff and moved downfield to somewhere in the vicinity of the goal line. But lo and behold, a miracle: Denver’s Jim Turner shanked a field goal to give the Seahawks a chance to win.
Not quite. A defensive lineman named Dave Kraayeveld mistakenly remained on the field for the field goal attempt, was flagged by the zebras, and Turner made good on his second try.
So there you have it: the Seahawks’ original 12th Man.
The ‘Hawks, in their third year, ended up with their first winning season at 9-7. But how might history have changed had the Seahawks won that game? Denver won the division that year at 10-6, so if the season had played out the same way, it would have meant … playoffs?!
Rooting for professional sports teams often seems like cheering for a load of laundry, as if it only matters what names are on the jerseys and not who the men are that fit inside of them. My love affair with the Seahawks wasn’t that way.
That was near the end of the era when players were not all millionaires. Seattle quarterback Jim Zorn was a member of our church, Mercer Island Covenant, though if you didn’t know “who he was,” you wouldn’t have known the Seahawks’ quarterback walked among us mere mortals (as my teenage self saw it).
His “aw shucks” demeanor was legitimate. He’d come to church in blue jeans before it was the cool thing to do. Occasionally his buddy Steve Largent would be with him. No one swarmed them for autographs.
He’d usually be spotted tooling around town in his white VW Bug and if you happened to pull up to the next gas pump he’d chat at you like you were just another one of his neighbors, which we were.
Days after his wife Joy gave birth to their first daughter, he stood up in church, raised his arms over his head in triumph and said, “Well, she finally had it.”
Of course, we cheered.
He was generous with his time and, when I got up the gumption one year to ask for his help with a youth group fundraiser, he handed me a check for 10 times the amount I’d asked for.
So rooting for the Seahawks, more so than with the Sonics, Mariners or Sounders, became a deeply personal thing.
When Zorn got benched in favor of Dave Krieg in the midst Seahawks’ first playoff run, 1983, it was indeed a downer. But not only was Zorn classy in his handling of his new role, the ‘Hawks were filled with other guys I couldn’t help but root for, even as I found out as much as I could about them. Kenny Easley, Dave Brown, Jacob Green, Curt Warner, Yakima native Dan Doornink, even current “voice of the Seahawks” Steve Raible, were more than just blue jerseys. The late Pete Gross, the ‘Hawks’ original play-by-play man, who I’d met at my junior high school’s career day that first year we were in town, was as nice a guy as you could imagine.
The Seahawks’ first playoff game was against the loathsome Broncos and rookie quarterback John Elway (who got mop-up duty in Seattle’s 31-7 victory). I’ve always thought the noise in the Kingdome that day structurally damaged the place. I was convinced an era of Seahawk dominance had begun, especially after they reached the AFC Championship game that year.
Alas, it was not to be. Warner blew up his knee the following year and was never the same, though the Hawks ran up a 12-4 mark that was a franchise best until 2005. Elway turned into … well … JOHN ELWAY … possibly the most loathed athlete in Seattle for nearly two decades (at least until A-Rod left town). That was especially galling, considering the Seahawks’ inability to scratch out more than the occasional victory, serving as tasty morsels of inferiority during the Broncos’ repeated runs to the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks muddled about in mediocrity for years before bottoming out in the mid-90s with a 2-14 season. But even that year, horrific as it was (they never scored as many as 20 points in a game), turned out OK in the end: the Seahawks beat the Broncos – on Monday Night Football, no less – in overtime. Granted, that was Seattle quarterback Stan Gelbaugh taking on Bronco immortal Tommy Maddox in a “hide the women and children” un-classic.
Times have changed. The Seahawks and Broncos haven’t been divisional rivals for 10 years. The Kingdome is gone, replaced by the even-louder CenturyLink Field. Heck, they even left town for a few days for Los Angeles, only to return when Paul Allen came in on his white horse to rescue the team.
This generation has discovered a new icon of all that is evil in the world, the San Francisco 49ers. Social media turns every word into a potential firestorm of controversy and sometimes we know more about these guys than we’d like.
Some things are remarkably similar: Russell Wilson, both in playing style and from what I have seen of his public persona, has a lot more in common with Zorn than than any Seahawk quarterback since.
The ‘Hawks even played in a Super Bowl eight years ago. That, as we all know, went horribly awry (though somehow it’s hard to gin up that kind of hatred for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the failings of the officials in that game).
The possibility of losing to the Niners in the NFC title game last week was so revolting as to make the game a stomach-churning exercise of anxiety-induced misery. Thankfully, disaster was averted. But there is something for us old-time Seahawk fans that would be so, so satisfying to see all of those Elway-fueled years of frustration and humiliation cleansed by a Super Bowl victory over the Broncos. After all, it was Elway, now Denver’s General Manager, who seduced and imported Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, beating the Seahawks even to that particular prize.
Enough is enough.
In the name of all that’s right and good in the world – or if not that, at least in the names of Ring of Honor immortals Zorn, Krieg, Largent, Warner, Easley, Green, Brown, Gross, Cortez Kennedy, Chuck Knox, and Walter Jones – let’s get this done.