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1983: The Sledgehammer to the Foundation

I've come to this piece about the 1983 season after a very successful post about receivers and their value. I say successful because it sparked almost 200 comments and some good back and forth and though I took my lumps, it was nice to see I'd pushed a button and gotten a reaction. I wanted to continue this trend and talk about 2-minute offense or comeback drives and how they are successful, but I found that as I took notes and started writing, it came across as bland and I had to make a bunch of assumptions to make it work, at least in my own mind.

So instead, I put on my time travel cap and thought of the most famous comeback drive in history for the Seahawks. You older 12th men and women may know where I'm going here, but before I reveal it, a little back story.

I wrote an article last year entitled '1980: The Season of Pain' in which I described a team coming off back-to-back 9-7 campaigns and really looking primed to make the playoffs, and on being the media's dark horse out of a then cluttered and unpredictable AFC West (make sure to note that when speaking of the Seahawks before the 2002 realignment). The 1980 season was, as the title implies, painful. The team won only four games and in a three game home stand lost all three by a combined 9 points.

After another failed season and then a bad start to the 1982 campaign, Jack Patera was fired. This paved the way for a franchise-altering move. The Seahawks secured the services of Chuck Knox. Chuck would then go out in the 1983 draft and trade his first three picks in the draft to move up and take Curt Warner. He then made a move to snag the bengals starting center Blair Bush. There were a few more to come, but the biggest one, and the one that changed the destiny of this team, wouldn't come until the halfway point of the regular season.

After eight starts, Chuck Knox pulled the plug on Jim Zorn and announced Dave Krieg as the starter. Jim Zorn was still a solid thrower, he was even in the 8th year of his NFL career, at least twice the natural athlete of Krieg, whose claim to the position in terms of previous success was anything but assured even with the coach's blessings. I didn't recognize Knox as having too much guts to make this switch, but I never considered all the risks involved. Jim Zorn had led that team and been it's facilitator of offense for seven seasons prior, and Knox gave him a chance but took the position away when he didn't perform. What if the team rebelled? What if Krieg fell flat on his face? What if the team started to really slide?

Well none of that happened, thankfully, and unlike later days in the Seahawks future, this QB controversy ended the day that Krieg took the field. (Although, some fans really still to this day really dislike Krieg, but this topic is for another day).

So what was the biggest reason for the switch? It's pretty easy to see from a hindsight view. Jim Zorn learned to live life as an NFL QB on the run, literally. By 1983, he developed some very bad habits and seemed to panic at even the slightest hint of pressure. This often broke down the offense as a whole and then only tended to get rid of the ball to Steve Largent in that type of situation.

Contrast that with Krieg, who despite being sacked on average of about five times per game and hit every which way, stood tall and commanded a chaotic pocket. Throwing twice as many touchdowns as Zorn, 18 to 7, and running fewer times than Zorn, 16 attempts for Krieg to Zorn's 30 attempts.

Krieg played without fear, as noted by all of his teammates at the time - including Steve Largent, but it's raved about by Chuck Knox heading into their first playoff game against Denver. This is the quote shared by one of the announcers for the game (who's name escapes me this very moment):

"Coach Knox said to us before we watched practice - Look, you won't like a lot of what this guy does in practice. He's not gonna wow you with anything special, but something happens in that huddle, in the game the guys respond to his energy and his toughness and you better pay attention to that as a coach or you might lose your team."

In a followup quote from Knox a year later he puts a stamp on it when he says that Dave Krieg's best attribute is that:

"He plays absolutely fearless."

Dave was not the ideal QB. He was surprisingly weak-armed and had zero natural skill to put touch on anything; receivers had to be really aware on shorter passes because EVERYTHING floated on him in that range even in his prime. However, it was the simple fact that Dave let a play have a chance before screaming and running around like it's 3rd and forever and it was the playoffs that allowed the offense to find it's legs. It was that simple.

So the Seahawks go into Miami, against a young, high-powered well-coached Dolphins team and dominated that group for a about 44 minutes. A costly interception by Dave Krieg set up a go-ahead score. I have to say as a personal note, that being able to sit down and appreciate the entire game instead of the highlights gave me an even better perspective of the man who led that team to a pretty ballsy comeback.

Dave Krieg really was delivering a below par performance. He just didn't get in sync with his throws and the more I watched, the more I began to question how he found so much success later on. He was almost as bad as Charlie Whitehurst on three consecutive drives, missing all third-down throws he attempted. That interception happens and had they lost that game, there was no one to pin it on but Dave Krieg. Not the running backs, not the wideouts, this was Dave's game, win or lose.

The comeback was so amazingly improbable, despite knowing the outcome before hand, watching the entire game, I was floored and I even cried out in amazement at what transpired. Dave Krieg connected with Steve Largent on two throws for that combined for 56 yards, but what some people don't know is that Krieg almost botched the first completion.

It was a simple 10 yard in-route over the middle, but Dave throws it almost into the ground. Largent, as he often did in his career with Zorn, went to his knees, hands like a hoover and snagged it from disaster. Krieg looked stricken by the throw, his body language clearly signaled his devastation. I knew what would happen now, but in the moment I kept thinking, "Just how the hell does this even happen?"

All the near misses and poor throws, all the momentum that built only to be stunted by a bad play in a key spot? Largent's heroic bailout of Krieg on his only reception of the game? It all led to this next pair of plays.

Dave goes back to throw and has all day. He throws nearly as soon as he sets himself right and in a blink, Largent snaps the ball out of the air between two defenders - one who was so turned around he didn't even put his arms out until Largent was catching the ball. I have to admit, I paused the game because I was laughing so hard at how absurd this was.

Curt Warner's subsequent sweep run for a touchdown went unnoticed by me really because I was in awe of what had happened on the previous play.

Despite all that had happened, all the bad plays all the poor throws, all the times he failed to help his team, I never saw a hint that Dave Krieg gave any thought about any of this when he cut it loose to Steve down the sideline. There was no hesitation to let it go, despite almost spiking the ball on the previous play. He just let it go. A tough thrower who etched a mark in my favorite team's history by being completely oblivious to his circumstances and living in a key moment without a single doubt or a shred of fear.

The quote from Chuck Knox above about Kreig's fearlessness reminds me of the Seahawks current coach, Pete Carroll, and his total belief in the philosophy of 'playing in the absence of fear'. It's something he talks about constantly and has tried to ingrain into his players over the last decade since he developed his current methodology. You may or may not put much stock into sports philosophy but the guy running the Seahawks does, so it bears mentioning.

From Pete:

"A head coach's primary objective is to orchestrate the overall mentality of his team. Great teams commonly display an air of confidence that separates them from others. They have earned the right to be confident through their hard work and success. The best teams utilized that confidence to share a feeling where they not only expect to win, they know they are going to win. That knowing is what allows a team to play in the absence of fear.

In my time as a coach I've learned that possibly the greatest detractor from high performance is fear: fear that you are not prepared, fear that you are in over your head, fear that you are not worthy, and ultimately, fear of failure. If you can eliminate that fear-not through arrogance or just wishing difficulties away, but through hard work and preparation-you will put yourself in an incredibly powerful position to take on the challenges you face.

I am a firm believer in the idea that more often than not, people will live up to the expectations you set for them, and when it comes to our players, we set those expectations extremely high from their first day in the program-often even well beyond what the player himself thinks he can achieve-and we make sure they know it. High expectations are one of the most powerful tools we have. But we also understand that, if those expectations are unrealistic, inappropriate for the individual player in question, or so overwhelming and long term that players don't have the opportunity to enjoy smaller accomplishments along the way, then we are just setting our players up to fail.

Ideally, we want to create an atmosphere or a culture where our players can perform in the absence of fear. It is my job to orchestrate this "knowing we are going to win" mentality. Achieving that means finding ways to prove to players that they can rely on themselves and their teammates to perform at the highest level in the face of any challenge-even losing.

While the Win Forever philosophy sounds great when things are going well, what happens when things go wrong? How do you Win Forever given that everyone loses sometimes? The reality is that, no matter how well you practice, how fully you develop your philosophy, or how effectively you recruit, you will lose now and then. What separates those who have a true Win Forever outlook from those who don't is the ability to approach that challenge of losing with the same competitive spirit with which they approach everything else. When I say that "everything counts" or that every challenge in life is a chance to compete, I mean it. I don't' mean "everything except losing." - Win Forever

Regardless, the historical parallels between the philosophy of Knox and Carroll is interesting. I also think the fact they took over the franchise in similar state, of seemingly rudderless entity, and both in just their first season pushed them to the playoffs, shows that players buy into that philosophy too.