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1981: When football was fun

Posted Jul 19, 2011

Michael Jackson had the most productive of his eight seasons with the Seahawks, but the former linebacker recalls little of what transpired in that forgettable 6-10 season.

Michael Jackson was a run-’em-down, knock-’em-down defender.

He had done his tackling-machine thing as a linebacker at the University of Washington, and before that as a safety at Pasco High School. Jackson completed the in-state trifecta in 1979, when the Seahawks selected him in the third round of the NFL Draft. While playing outside as well as middle linebacker, he would lead the team in tackles for three consecutive seasons, including a career-high 141 in 1981.

And what does Jackson remember about the most-productive of his eight seasons with the Seahawks?

“Nothing,” he said with a straight face, before adding with a smile, “That was a long time ago. You’re making me feel old.”

1981 IN REVIEW

Record: 6-10 (fifth in AFC West)

Owner: Nordstrom family (majority owners)

Coach: Pack Patera

Captains: WR Steve Largent (off.), CB Keith Simpson (def.), S Don Dufek (ST)

MVP: Largent

Man of the Year: DT Manu Tuiasosopo

Leading passer: Jim Zorn (236 of 397 for 2,788 yards, with 13 TDs and nine interceptions)

Leading rusher: Theotis Brown (531 yards)

Leading receiver: Largent (75 receptions for 1,224 yards, nine TDs)

Leading tackler: LB Michael Jackson (141)

Special teams tackles: TE Mike Tice (11)

Interception leader: FS John Harris (10)

Sack leader: DE Jacob Green (12)

Leading scorer: Largent (60 points)

Pro Bowl selections: Largent

All-Pro: none

National honors: SS Kenny Easley, AFC defensive rookie of the year

With Jackson, however, it wasn’t just the ’81 season that slips his mind. When he walked away from the game after the 1986 season, he left his memories behind, as well.

“I don’t really talk about football anymore, and I don’t watch it at all,” he said. “I’m the anti-athlete.”

Asked to elaborated, Jackson added, “I’m just this weird guy. I have a lot of memories, but I keep them to myself. I’m not sure how that happened, it just did. When I retired, I retired because my kids were starting to be fun and my knees were starting to ache.”

The circumstances surrounding that ’86 season also played into the decision, because Jackson had lost his starting job on the right side to Greg Gaines and the team was unable to grant his request to be traded.

“The fact that football was beginning to be a job to me, and not fun – because I always played for fun – it was like, ‘Well, why do this?’ ” he said.

Instead of “this,” Jackson tried “that” – broadcasting NFL games for NBC in 1987. But the gig lasted only one season, for the same reason.

“I thought I still wanted to be in the game, but I found that I couldn’t really broadcast very well because I wouldn’t study, because I didn’t want to watch football,” he said. “And if I didn’t want to watch football, what the hell am I doing broadcasting football? It didn’t make any sense.

“That’s where I find myself now. I’m just totally removed. I don’t know anything that’s going on. I don’t know any of the players.”

But in an ’81 season that produced few moments worth remembering, Jackson definitely was one of the players worth knowing – and watching.

Coming off a 4-12 record in 1980, the ’81 team struggled to a 6-10 record – in what would be Jack Patera’s final full season as coach. The Seahawks lost six of their first seven games, including five in a row. They rallied to win three of the next four, only to lose three of their final five.

Jackson had his 141 tackles, including 99 solo stops, to pace the defense. Kenny Easley, the team’s first-round draft choice, was named AFC defensive rookie of the year after collecting a career-high 107 tackles and intercepting three passes. Defensive end Jacob Green had 12 sacks among his 87 tackles, the first of six double-digit sack seasons for the franchise’s all-time leader. Free safety John Harris intercepted a career-best 10 passes, returning two for touchdowns, and had 91 tackles.

But the Seahawks yielded 388 points, fourth most in the NFL; and allowed opponents to convert 48.6 percent of their third-down situations.

Steve Largent paced the offense by catching 75 passes for 1,224 yards and nine touchdowns – and added the only rushing TD of his 14-year Hall of Fame career. He was voted team MVP, for the third of what would be five times; and selected to the Pro Bowl, for the third of what would be seven times.

But the running game averaged 99.6 yards – seventh-lowest in club history; and Theotis Brown led the team with 531 rushing yards – the second-lowest total for a 16-game season in franchise history.

Quarterback Jim Zorn missed the final three games after breaking an ankle, cracking the door for what would become a 19-season NFL career for Dave Krieg – who had made the team as a rookie free agent in 1980. Before he was injured, Zorn threw more TD passes (13) than interceptions (nine), only the second time he accomplished that in his nine seasons with the Seahawks.

But the Seahawks scored 14 or fewer points in seven games.

On special teams, rookie Paul Johns led the team in punt-return average (11.1 yards) and Will Lewis was the leading kickoff returner (18.9) for the second consecutive season. But veteran kicker Efren Herrera scored fewer points (59) than Largent (60), as he missed five of his 17 field-goal attempts and also a couple of PATs.

As a team, the Seahawks rallied for a 24-21 victory over Pittsburgh in Week 10 by scoring two TDs in the fourth quarter on short runs by Brown and holding the Steelers scoreless in the second half; and they scored on their final eight possessions in Week 11 to drub the division-winning San Diego Chargers 44-23 on “Monday Night Football.” That would be their only two-game winning streak of the season, and only the second in the past two seasons.

But they also were shut out by the New York Giants (32-0) at the Kingdome in Week 7 and also surrendered 30-plus points in four other games. One of those games was a 34-24 loss to the Packers in Green Bay, as David Whitehurst – the father of current Seahawks QB Charlie Whitehurst – passed for three TDs and ran for a fourth.

It was that kind of give-and-take season: Take a little, but give up a little more.

Which only made Jackson’s contributions that much more memorable, even if he can’t remember them. His 141 tackles remain the fourth-highest single-season total in club history – behind Terry Beeson, 153 in 1978; Chad Brown, 150 in 1998; and Anthony Simmons, 147 in 2000.

Jackson had eight games with double-digit tackles, including a 16-tackle performance in the season finale against the Cleveland Browns, when he also had a sack and forced two fumbles; and a 15-tackle effort in that Week 11 win over the Chargers, when he intercepted a pass and stopped Chuck Muncie for no gain on a fourth-and-goal play in the third quarter when the Seahawks were leading 24-17.

And Jackson remembers none of it?

“I do remember leading the team in tackles for three years in a row,” he said. “And I just remember how much fun it was for me.”

Game Rewind: Seattle Seahawks