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1976: The NFL comes to Seattle
They came from every possible avenue: Veteran allocation draft; college draft; free agents; trades; castoffs from other NFL teams.
What this eclectic collection of players comprised was the Seahawks’ inaugural team in 1976.
“We were quite a group,” recalls Jim Zorn, the left-handed quarterback for the Left Coast expansion team. “Some of the guys on that team didn’t want to be here. Some of them probably didn’t belong here. But that was our team.”
|1976 IN REVIEW|
Record: 2-12 (fifth in the NFC West)
Owner: Nordstrom family (majority owners)
Coach: Jack Patera
Captains: OT Norm Evans (off.), LB Mike Curtis (def.), LB Ed Bradley (ST)
MVP: QB Jim Zorn
Man of the Year: Evans
Leading passer: Zorn (208 of 429 for 2,571 yards, with 12 TDs and 27 interceptions)
Leading rusher: Sherman Smith (537 yards)
Leading receiver: Steve Largent (54 receptions for 705 yards)
Leading tackler: FS Dave Brown (111)
Interception leaders: Brown and CB Rolly Woolsey (four each)
Sack leader: DT Steve Niehaus (9½)
Leading scorer: K John Leypoldt (43 points)
Pro Bowl selections: None
National honors: Zorn, NFC offensive rookie of the year; Niehaus, NFC defensive rookie of the year
The very-first Seahawks team, which played its games in the concrete-topped wonder that was the Kingdome for a no-nonsense Bud Grant protégé of a coach – Jack Patera.
It wasn’t quite 1776 in terms of historical essence, but don’t try telling that to the NFL-starved fans of the Pacific Northwest.
“We only won two games that first year,” said Zorn, now quarterbacks coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. “But you would have thought we almost went to the playoffs. That’s how enthusiastic not only we were, but the fans were.
“Everybody was excited.”
Even if everybody didn’t exactly know everybody else’s name.
The faces surrounding Zorn in those first huddles were a muddled collection that included a future Hall of Fame wide receiver (Steve Largent); a college QB who was learning to play running back, and doing it at the NFL level (Sherman Smith); and a line comprised of a rookie (center Art Kuehn) and veterans obtained in the allocation draft (tackles Norm Evans and Nick Bebout and guards Bob Penchion and John Denmarie).
“The very first game, I didn’t even know some of the running backs names,” Zorn said. “I’d say, ‘Hey, No. 44 (Ralph Nelson), you’re behind me.’
“It was wild. It was just wild.”
On defense, it was a variation on the same disjointed theme – a mix of rookies (tackle and first-round draft choice Steve Niehaus) and veterans from other teams (linebackers Mike Curtis and Ed Bradley and free safety Dave Brown). Brown (111), Curtis (107) and Bradley (101) were the leading tacklers, while Niehaus produced 8½ sacks in the 14-game season en route to being named NFC defensive rookie of the year.
What the original Seahawks lacked in victories, and cohesiveness, they compensated for with a little flash and a little dash – especially on offense, where coordinator Sam Boghosian and QB/receivers coach Jerry Rhome played to the strengths of their players.
Which was Zorn-to-Largent, 54 times.
“Jim was a perfect fit for that offense, because of his ability to throw on the run and being a mobile quarterback,” said Smith, who now coaches the Seahawks’ running backs on coach Pete Carroll’s staff.
“That offense fit him, and he fit that offense.”
Both the Seahawks’ wins came in a four-game span at midseason – 13-10 in Tampa over the expansion Buccaneers, as Curtis blocked as field goal 42 seconds remaining; and 31-13 over the Atlanta Falcons at the Kingdome, as Smith became the Seahawks’ first 100-yard rusher (124). Other than that, the defense surrendered at least 30 points seven times – including 51 in a Week 11 loss to the New Orleans Saints; while the offense generated more than 20 only five times.
But it didn’t seem to matter, to the fans or the players.
“Looking back, that’s what I’m most proud of – just to be part of a new franchise,” said Zorn, who was named NFC offensive rookie of the year and continued to quarterback the Seahawks for the next 6½ seasons.
“With the expansion draft and the way some others got to the team, we were a bunch of misfits, really, that didn’t necessarily fit into any one program. But we kind of made our own program.”
While making history in the process.