Fredd Young and Rufus Porter followed strikingly similar paths to their berths on the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team.
Each was a two-time Pro Bowl special teams player – Young in 1984 and ’85; Porter in 1988 and ’89. Each developed into an impact linebacker – Young leading the team in tackles for three consecutive seasons (1985-87) and being voted to the Pro Bowl as a linebacker in 1986 and 1987; Porter leading the team in sacks in 1991 and registering 90 tackles in ’92.
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The Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team, as selected by the readers of Seahawks.com:
So it’s not surprising that when the readers of Seahawks.com voted for the 35th Anniversary team, Young and Porter were second in the balloting at inside and outside linebacker. Young got 1,625 votes to finish behind middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (3,539), while Porter’s total of 1,383 earned him the spot opposite Chad Brown (2,605) on the outside. Each made the team as four linebackers were included because the Seahawks played a 3-4 front from 1983-89 and have been using a 4-3 since 1990, as they did from 1979-82.
Porter also was the overwhelming choice as the special teams player with 1,251 votes – 840 more than Young, the runner-up. Porter is the only player voted to two spots on the reader-selected team.
“Rufus was just a full-speed guy,” said Norm Johnson, the kicker on the 35th Anniversary team. “He obviously had great athletic ability. I spent 18 years in the NFL, and I’ve been around only a handful of guys that had that knack like Rufus.
“Not every team has a guy that can have a nose for the ball and can still make plays when everybody figures out who he is and they’re trying everything to take him out of the play. It’s a knack for avoiding and knifing through and still finding the ball. It’s amazing, and Rufus was one of those amazing guys.”
Porter, who made the team as an undrafted rookie in 1988, led the Seahawks in coverage tackles in each of his first two seasons – 16 as a rookie and 13 in 1989.
Johnson also played with special teams standout Elbert Shelley in Atlanta, and Shelley went to four Pro Bowls for the Falcons.
“Shelley had the same kind of knack,” said Johnson, who kicked for the Falcons from 1991-94. “Everybody knew where he was, but he’d find a way to the ball and make big plays. He’d do it time and time again, just like Rufus.
“Rufus was amazing.”
Porter obviously wasn’t just a special teams player. He was a special player.
Former coach Chuck Knox recognized that and used Porter as a rush-end in passing situations. That’s how Porter ended up with 37½ sacks, which ranks seventh on the team’s all-time list.
“It was Chuck Knox who came up with the idea to use Rufus as a pass-rusher,” said Eugene Robinson, the free safety on the 35th Anniversary team. “On third downs, they put him at end and told him to go rush the passer. He then became All-World.”
Robinson then repeated, “All-World,” adding, “And you know why? You couldn’t stop him. He was unstoppable. And it had nothing to do with his size; it had everything to do with his heart.”
So it sounds like Robinson endorses Porter being voted to two spots on the team.
“Easily. Easily. Easily,” Robinson said. “No doubt.”
The only doubt ever associated with Porter during his seven-season stay with the Seahawks was whether he’d ever be around for Year One. Porter joined the Seahawks in 1988, when there was not an 80-man roster limit for training camp. He was the 108th player added to the roster late that offseason. But it didn’t take long for the undersized linebacker from Southern University to show that he belonged.
While Porter entered Seahawks history through the backdoor, Young came through the main entrance – as a third-round draft choice in 1984 out of New Mexico State. He was around for only four seasons, before being traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a pair of first-round draft choices that were used to select tackle Andy Heck (1989) and became part of the deal that allowed the Seahawks to trade up in drafting Cortez Kennedy (1990).
But Young left quite an impression. After being voted to the Pro Bowl as a special teams player in his first two seasons, Young went as a linebacker the next two seasons, when he registered 118 and 121 tackles. He also was voted All-Pro in 1987.
“Fredd was an unbelievable athlete – just an unbelievable athlete,” said Joe Nash, the nose tackle on the 35th Anniversary team. “I can remember Fredd running down on a kickoff and not looking up, as he should have been doing. They had a guy running up to try and knock him out, because Fredd was so good at covering kicks.
“So Fredd wasn’t even looking and the guy came up to hit him. Fredd ran through him, and over him. I don’t know if Fredd stepped on him as he passed, but the guy never touched Fredd. He was a phenomenal special teams player and a great linebacker.”
Young earned a reputation for being a freelancer as a linebacker. You know, do whatever it takes to make the play, even if that means disregarding what you’re supposed to be doing on the play. But defensive coordinator Tom Catlin used fellow inside ’backer Keith Butler to cover for Young.
“One of the great things for Fredd was that he had a great coach to mentor him, as well as a really good guy playing next to him for a lot of career,” Nash said. “Keith Butler was the brains of the linebacker corps back then.”
Which allowed Young to “go do what he does,” as Robinson put it.
“Let me tell you about my boy Fredd Young,” Robinson said. “Fredd Young – and this was one of the knocks on him – didn’t study as much. OK, I’ll give you that. However, coach Catlin built the defense around him and his ability to make plays.
“When he would call something, we would cover our edges so Fredd could go do what he does – which was make big plays. For Catlin to do that, that tells you something about Fredd as well as coach Catlin. He would call plays specifically for Fredd Young and we would rotate the defense back to Fredd’s side.”
The method to this perceived madness? “That allowed Fredd to go eat,” Robinson said, his voice rising. “And that’s what you do with your best players; you put them in position so they can go ahead and eat.
“And Fredd ate well. He was absolutely dominant.”
Just like Rufus Porter was in his specialty role on defense. And that was Porter and Young – two special teams standouts who became special players.