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November 30, 1992: Any Port in a Storm

Can the Seahawks put together a victory over the Broncos, in spite of themselves?

George Rose/Getty Images
November 30, 1992

By 1992, the last remnant of Seattle's offensive trio—Steve Largent, Dave Krieg, and Curt Warner—had departed.  Warner went to join the Rams in 1990 and spent an ineffective year there.  Largent retired in 1989.  And Krieg left the team during the offseason to join the Kansas City Chiefs.  And abstract concepts such as "winning" and "playoffs" had completely left the team entirely.

The "new" Seahawks were solely of Ken Behring's creation, and conspiracy theorists out there would have plenty of evidence in 1992 that Behring was attempting to destroy the franchise so he could move the team to the sunnier (and more profitable) climes of Los Angeles.

Part one of the conspiracy theory would go something like this: Dan McGwire, Kelly Stouffer, and Stan Gelbaugh, the unholy triumvirate of craptacular quarterback play.  Ken Behring thought Dan McGwire would become the team's starting quarterback, and historical records seem to indicate he said this to other people with a straight face.  As Seahawks fans would learn, McGwire, who was huge at 6 feet, 8 inches tall, ran as if some higher power had permanently tied his shoelaces together.

Of course, McGwire, the heir apparent to take over for Dave Krieg, couldn't even make it out of preseason, losing his supposed starting job to Kelly Stouffer and Stan Gelbaugh.  Think about that for a second: the first-round draft choice could not perform marginally better than either Kelly Stouffer or Stan Gelbaugh.

Part two of the conspiracy would be Behring's hiring of Tom Flores to be the team's coach.  At first, Seahawks fans were excited: hey, this was a guy who coached the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 1983!  But the "1983" part would be the damning part of the equation, and, by the time 1992 came around, Flores had been out of football for five years.  It showed.  Flores spent most games pacing the sidelines, chewing his nails, and looking generally befuddled.  "Who are these people dressed in blue?" he seemed to wonder, "and why are they running like that?"  The game had simply passed him by; he would post a 14-34 record in his three seasons, a .292 win percentage.

And so, fans cursed Behring while simultaneously placing their hopes on the fragile body of Kelly Stouffer, who would soon be injured, replaced by McGwire, who himself would be injured, ceding the job to Stan Gelbaugh.

By the time Gelbaugh took over, the Seahawks had already embarked on several record-breaking adventures, and none of the good records, either.  These were the shit records, like the collection of polka music LPs my wife inherited from my father-in-law.  You have to keep them, because they're "important," even though you dare not look at the oddly jocular faces peering out at you from behind their accordions.  And you sure as hell don't tell anyone that you have these records.

At one point in the season, the offense scored fewer points than the number of times it punted.  And they would finish the season with an NFL low 140 points scored.  It always amuses me when modern Seahawks fans deride the offense when they go three-and-out.  Along with other great nicknames in the NFL, such as The Steel Curtain and The Purple People Eaters, the Seahawks offense should have been called Three and Out.  Not intimidating, but truthful at least.  Watching the offense perform, especially with Kelly Stouffer as their uninspiring leader, was like watching a toddler try to put together an eight-cylinder diesel engine: there's simply no conception of reality at work, and slamming the pieces together over and over again ain't gonna cut it, little guy.

Teams, at times, seemed to literally invite the Seahawks offense to score, parting ways on the line or just letting a receiver run free.  It was like those inspiring stories where the sick child gets to score a touchdown and live out his dream, except, in the case of these Seahawks, they would break free on a route and then drop the pass.  And the team would finish 2-14.  The next worst team in the AFC West was the Oakland Raiders, who put together a respectable 7-9 record.  In other words, the Seahawks weren't bad, they were really fucking bad.

Except for the defense.  In a conundrum as thick and unwieldy as the Gordian Knot, the Seahawks defense was dominant, finishing the season near the top statistical ranking in every category.  Most of this was due to the presence of two men: the right half of Cortez Kennedy and the left half of Cortez Kennedy.

Truly, modern audiences who never saw Cortez Kennedy play missed one of the greatest defensive players of all time.  The quickness of Michael Bennett and the size of Brandon Mebane coupled with the strength of Walter Jones would be the best way to describe him.  Even when defenses double-teamed Kennedy, which was every damned play, he was still pushing his way into the backfield.  Quarterbacks constantly had to leave their spot for fear that an offensive lineman would be pushed back into them.  In two short years, when Seattle would bring in the fearsomely large Sam Adams, running up the middle would become an impossibility.

So, when Monday Night Football came to Seattle in 1992, it really may have planted the seed in the mind of NFL schedulers about flex scheduling.  The Seahawks had won only one game before, against the equally hapless New England Patriots (who themselves would also finish 2-14).  The Seahawks were set to face the Denver Broncos, who themselves were wounded, but still struggling for a playoff spot.

Broncos team mascot John Elway was too injured to play, and, thus, the odious task of sullying oneself by taking the same field and pretending the other team had a chance fell to Tommy Maddox.  Fans of both teams were treated to the spectacle of two inept offenses slugging it out.  Every other fan went to bed early.

At the half, the Seahawks had converted 1 out of 7 third downs.  Kelly Stouffer was 7 of 11 for 52 yards and 1 interception.

Going into the fourth quarter, Seattle was trailing, which was their métier, 13-3, and Stan Gelbaugh entered the game with about nine minutes left.

This should be the part where we talk about how Gelbaugh energized the team and put together an impressive comeback, about how he appeared, for a brief time, like the quarterback of the future (and, considering the quarterback of the near future was going to be Rick Mirer, it's hard to tell if that is a compliment).  But, alas, this is not to be.  Gelbaugh managed the comeback much like he approached every game: very, very carefully and by falling ass backwards into good fortune.

After another three-and-out, Tommy Maddox threw an interception to Eugene Robinson.  A sudden burst forward for 14 yards by John L. Williams coupled with 15 yards in penalties from the Broncos, and, suddenly, the Seahawks were in the relatively uncharted waters of the Broncos' half of the field.  Here be touchdowns, Gelbaugh, go forth and slay the opponents and bring forth conquest that will be the stuff of legend!

Gelbaugh, suddenly aware of his place in history, hit two passes in a row for a 40-yard gain, putting the Seahawks at the Broncos' 18.

Then, Gelbaugh regressed back to the mean, throwing two incompletions.  John Kasay kicked a field goal, and Seattle had closed the gap to a slightly less numbing 13-6.

Another Bronco drive stalled, and Seattle got the ball back in Denver territory after a horrible punt and a 15-yard facemask penalty.  Suddenly, the game got interesting with just over a minute left.  Could the sad sack Seahawks severely bruise the Broncos and their playoff hopes?  Could Stan Gelbaugh be the hero?

Certainly, there have been finer scripts for a come-from-behind victory written in Seahawks lore, but this one, for those fans caught in a 2-14 season, where the owner hated the team, where Dan friggin' McGwire was the heir apparent, where the offense was still trying to figure out how to handle such an oddly shaped ball, this moment would be sweet, the quick aspirin that temporarily assuages the headache.

Yes, Stan Gelbaugh tied the game.  And he did it on fourth and goal from the three on a pass to Brian Blades, who would remain in older Seahawks memories as the guy who fought his brother, Bennie, a safety for the Lions, on the field.  And by "fought," I mean actual dragging-to-the-ground fisticuffs.  The irony was rich that day because the announcers had the talking point of family ties between the Blades brothers.

Anyway, I digress, and I did so before the end of the game, in which Seattle stumbled and bumbled their way through overtime, aided by the Broncos' own stumbling and bumbling.  A Seahawks three-and-out, a Denver three-and-out, and then it happened: Seattle drove down the field to the Denver 15.

And John Kasay missed the field goal.

So the game, unmercifully, continued.  The teams swapped three-and-outs again.  Gelbaugh stepped back and decided he was going to end the game right here, dammit, with just over six minutes left.  He fired a bullet that was ... intercepted.

And here is where I like to fantasize that the NFL brass had been jostled out of bed by frantic network executives.  "This game is going on forever!" they cried, and so the commissioner or the head of officiating, or whoever the hell he was, picked up a red bat-phone style device and told the officials to put the game out of its misery.

The interception was waved off, with illegal contact the excuse, and a few plays later, Kasay hit the redemptive field goal.  Seattle won their final game of the season with a full month left to play.  They would lose to Denver again, 10-6, with Elway coming back to save his team by throwing three interceptions and generally looking befuddled or happy or confused or hungry or something; it's hard to tell what emotions reside in that face.

So, thus ends the saga of one of the worst best games in Seahawks history, a 16-13 overtime win. Those 16 points represent the third-highest score for the team that year, coming in behind two 17 point performances.  Yes, that is correct: in 1992, Seattle only scored 17 points twice that year (losing both games) and 16 points once.

There are positives to take away from the season, mostly Cortez Kennedy, who would win the NFL defensive MVP award.

As for the rest of the team not nicknamed ‘Tez, the pain would continue.  Rick Mirer would get drafted second overall, hailed as the new Joe Montana, a prophecy that rang true, if Montana could never read defenses and spent most of his career flailing his arms wildly in the backfield on every pass.

Stan Gelbaugh's magic, such as it were, would fade in much the way that a local magician who has three tricks would go from the venue of the community library to just showing up at a local restaurant and making balloon animals for tips.

A 2014 season manned by Stouffer, McGwire, and Gelbaugh will forever be an ignominious benchmark.  For games like these, and for times such as a 2-14 seasons, the positives are often polished by the pain and disgust, and so the unwatchable and nearly unwinnable game will forever remain in the minds of Seahawks fans as a bright shining moment (which we will never choose to watch voluntarily) in the middle of the doldrums of the 1990s.