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The Drive: One night in 1984, Part 2

Dave Krieg

I greatly dislike the imposition of a fist bump. Please, should we ever meet, do not dangle your fist in front of me. I do not wish to “bump it.” We may, if you’re inclined, shake hands.

I do my best not to nurture petty annoyances but they sprout up anyway. One such annoyance is the proliferation of the word “hydrate.” People do not drink water anymore. They form a chemical compound of water and themselves, I guess, which they call “hydrating” and which imparts something pseudo-scientific to the otherwise eighth-grade Sewickley notion that, y’know, if you’re thirsty you should drink water.

Jack Patera did not see the common sense in this essential act of maintaining homeostasis. God knows why. In training camp Patera would refuse water breaks for his Seahawks teams. This weird refusal lends a sinister air to the coaching career of Patera. He also, it is said, was no fan of the National Football League Players Association.

But he was a pretty good coach, really. A good coach whose career ended badly, as is often the case with good coaches. The Seahawks have enjoyed mostly good coaching, a few periods of great coaching, and little instability. Jim Lawrence Mora, known to his inner circle of dirtbags as “Playoffs Jr.”, was surely Seattle’s worst coach. His one season in charge was not Seattle’s worst season, but he has achieved little overall in his career. He is also, excepting interim coach Mike McCormack, the only coach to serve just one season in Seattle.

Patera helped Seattle gain respectability far before it was due. He won coach of the year in 1978 after Seattle rode an endless series of gadget plays to a 9-7 record. Tom Flores oversaw Seattle’s worst three-season run, but that was a case of a good head coach giving all of his years of ending badly to the Seahawks. It wouldn’t be wrong to sight Ken Behring from a hovering chopper either if we’re assigning blame for Seattle’s particularly putrid performance in the early 90s. Maybe everyone was just a little too sad and strung out to play football, idk.

But, if we can forgive Patera’s cruelty in service of building toughness, and Dennis Erickson’s four years of grim respectability, and forget that one season in which Mora marked Olindo Mare for Azazel, the Seahawks have enjoyed great stability and success from their head coaches. Chuck Knox was not the most successful but he was arguably the best.

If you are to understand just how hopeful any rational Seahawks fan would be in October of 1984, you must understand that. Knox had steadied what looked like a spiraling franchise, and his first two years coaching the Seahawks would stand for over twenty years as the greatest two-year run for the team. To explain, let me first establish a method of reasoning.

Sports fans often resort to a clumsy kind of algebra in order to understand exactly how good a team or player is or was. When the 2017-2018 Celtics overachieved (seemingly) after Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were lost for the season, it became popular to project Boston as a contender this season. When this last season they underachieved (seemingly), likely irreparable damage was done to the perceived value of Hayward and Irving. Why?

Celtics - Irving and Hayward = Eastern Conference Finalist.

Celtics + Irving and Hayward = Lost in Eastern Conference Semifinals.

I.e. worse, and thus we ask ourselves: Do these two star players somehow have negative value?

It’s an imperfect measure but sports are overrun with imperfect measures of performance. Emotionally, at least, this reasoning is viscerally sound. It doesn’t trigger a gag reflex.

In 1983, the Seattle Seahawks finished 9-7 but made it to the AFC Championship Game. Partway through the season, the Seahawks changed quarterbacks. Dave Krieg wasn’t a hotshot rookie or anything, but in ‘83 he was 24 turning 25, and had handily outperformed Jim Zorn. Krieg’s 6.14 ANY/A bested any performance by Zorn (not relatively though—Zorn balled out in 1979, achieving a 118 ANY/A+ (118% of league average); the Seahawks best performance in that particular metric until Matt Hasselbeck’s 120 in 2005). If Krieg had developed like many young quarterbacks develop, it was quite possible he would soon be a star.

Curt Warner was a star. If not quite Eric Dickerson’s equal—Dickerson was selected second in the 1983 draft; Warner: third—by no stretch overshadowed by the future Hall-of-Famer. The ‘83 Seahawks finished 7-4 with Krieg starting, including two playoff wins and, almost equally as notably, two wins over the eventual Super Bowl Champion Oakland Raiders. This is where clumsy algebra becomes relevant.

Young Seahawks team which beat the eventual Super Bowl Champion twice (and lost in humiliating fashion once) + star running back entering his second season + star coach entering his second season + young and improving quarterback entering his first season as the confirmed starter = ???

I’ve misused the phrase “young dynasty” once to my chagrin. But could I of talked in 1983, I may have been tempted to call the Seahawks a young dynasty in the making. As it turned out, the 1984 Seahawks were already falling apart. Krieg, a scrambler with a good deep ball, never mastered the art of evading sacks. He never really built on that first great season. Warner blew out his knee. Green carpet stretched over concrete, it would seem, did not ensure healthy knees quite as well as grass.

That neck injury ended Paul Johns’ career.

But, just as bloody sputum doesn’t mar our reading of Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” the slow decline and thwarted hopes of the Knox’s Seahawks doesn’t really need to mar our enjoyment of this game. It’s all bones in the Abbey at this point. Seattle was 6-2 closing in on 7-2. They were young, talented and fun. Patera hadn’t been able to build a contender with his bag of tricks, but Knox’s commitment to defense and running the ball—though unpopular with the press of the time—was creating what seemed like the foundation of a perennial contender. Warner was lost for the season but Knox and offensive coordinator Ray Prochaska had built a very effective ersatz running game. Mike Holmgren would do something very similar in 2007, and in both seasons Seattle’s offense thrived.

Seattle’s defense was outstanding. O.J. Simpson, in pre-fall form calling Monday Night Football, said the Seahawks line of Jacob Green, Joe Nash and Jeff Bryant were arguably the best in the NFL. No one could have known the sad future of Kenny Easley. Well ...

My point is, to best appreciate this game, you would have to have been alive and an engaged Seahawks fan in 1984. I am guessing that is not possible for a whole lot of you. Which is why, starting next week, I am going to write up my tape analysis as if I am writing in the fall of 1984, and all of the beautiful potential of a now long-ago team is ahead of them.