Was Richard Sherman’s ‘Immaculate Deflection’ most significant Seahawks’ play ever?

Posted Apr 7, 2014

In the 38-season history of the Seahawks, the pass Richard Sherman deflected in the end zone to ice the NFC Championship ranks as one of the team’s most significant plays. But was it the most significant?

It was a play that had to be seen to be believed, but one that becomes more unbelievable every time you see it.

With 30 seconds remaining in the NFC Championship game, and the Seahawks holding a six-point lead, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick passed to Michael Crabtree in the back corner of the south end zone at CenturyLink Field. The pass never got to Crabtree, because All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman made a leaping deflection and big-play linebacker Malcolm Smith made the interception.

The play on Jan. 19, 2014 – which has been dubbed the Immaculate Deflection – punched the Seahawks’ ticket to Super Bowl XLVIII, where they stifled the highest-scoring offense in NFL history while dismantling the Denver Broncos 43-8.

The readers of overwhelming voted Sherman’s slap of the ball the best play of the best season in franchise history. But was Sherman’s deflection the most significant play in franchise history?

That’s saying a lot, and asking a lot of you to decide. After all, the Seahawks’ first Super Bowl victory was built on one big play after another – Percy Harvin’s 30-yard dash on the Seahawks’ second play of the game; the tempo-setting hit by All-Pro strong safety Kam Chancellor on leading receiver Demaryius Thomas on the Broncos’ third play; Russell Wilson’s 37-yard completion to Doug Baldwin, which the second-year QB lofted over 12-time Pro Bowl and seven-time All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey, on third-and-5; Chancellor’s interception of a pass from 13-time Pro Bowl, seven-time All-Pro and five-time league MVP Peyton Manning; rush-end Cliff Avril hitting Manning as he threw, allowing linebacker and eventual Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith to intercept the pass and return it 69 yards for a TD; Harvin returning the second-half kickoff 87 yards for a TD; cornerback Byron Maxwell forcing a fumble, that Smith recovered, by poking the ball from Thomas’ grasp after a 23-yard pass play; the extra efforts by Jermaine Kearse and Baldwin to get into the end zone after taking passes from Wilson.

But, as we stated in the story that accompanied the best-play-of-the-season poll, none of those plays happen without Sherman’s play that assured the Seahawks would be in the Super Bowl. And you agreed, as the “Immaculate Deflection” got 63.6 percent of your votes, compared to 7.6 percent for Harvin’s kickoff return, 6.1 percent for Kearse’s pinball TD reception and 1.8 percent for Smith’s interception return.

But what if we expand the scope from the 2013 season to cover the Seahawks’ inaugural 1976 season through their 38th season? And, what if we change “best” to “most significant” play? Best comes with too many variables. But the significance of a play can be measured – or at least argued – in terms of when it happened and what it led to.

We not only can, but will, make a case for five other significant plays in the 38-year history of the franchise and then let you make the call. Again.

Jordan Babineaux’s stop of Tony Romo short of a touchdown and a first down in the 2006 wild-card playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys –

We start here because you voted this the best play of the decade for the 2000s. And rightfully so.

The Seahawks were leading 21-20 with 1:14 remaining in the game and Martin Gramatica was positioning himself for what would be a chip shot of a game-winning field goal. But Romo, the Cowboys’ QB and also Gramatica’s holder, bobbled the snap. He retrieved the ball and took off to his left – 2 yards shy of the goal line and just 1 away from picking up a first down.

Then, along came the player his teammates had dubbed “Big Play Babs.” Breaking from the opposite end of the line, Babineaux somehow avoided a block by the Cowboys’ kicker and – after an all-out lunge that left him parallel to the turf – tripped up Romo. Short of the goal line. Short of the first down. Just shy of victory.

And all in what seemed like half-a-blink that took an eternity.

“It did happen fast,” Babineaux said after that season. “I’d say the biggest thing was that I was able to avoid Gramatica from getting enough of me to get Romo. If he made the block, Romo would have walked in.

“It was crazy, man. I still remember how loud the stadium was when Romo went down. The place just erupted.”

Steve Largent’s 100th touchdown catch –

We have to go all the way back to 1989 for this one, not to mention old Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. In the final season of his Hall of Fame career, Largent caught his final TD pass in a seven-point victory over the Bengals. It came in the 14th game of his 14th season.

On a second-and-7 play from the Bengals’ 10-yard line with 49 seconds left in the first half, Dave Krieg went to Largent in the back of the end zone, and Largent went up – arms fully extended – to grab the pass. The catch broke the NFL’s 44-year-old career record for TD catches that was set by Don Hutson and had been tied by Largent two weeks earlier on a 31-yard pass from Krieg in a loss to the Broncos in Denver.

After hitting the century mark, Largent marked the occasions with two gestures that defined what made Largent the player who now has an award named after him and is presented annually to the person who “best exemplifies the spirit, dedication and integrity of the Seahawks.”

In the hallway outside the Seahawks’ locker room, Largent presented his No. 80 game jersey to radio play-by-play man Pete Gross, who was battling cancer that would claim his life in 1992.

“I was shocked. I’m still in shock,” Gross, who joined Largent in the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor in 1992, said at the time. “Steve said he admired me and what’s been happening with me and in my life.”

Largent then told the reporters gathered about his locker, “To be honest with you, I’m sitting here right now and I’m more excited about winning the football game than I am breaking the record.”

The holding call against New York Giants tackle John Tautolo at Giants Stadium in Week 15 of the 1983 season –

Say what? Just wait, there’s more. The penalty nullified Jeff Rutledge’s touchdown pass to Earnest Gray on fourth-and-7 with less than 30 seconds to play. Rutledge’s pass following the penalty was incomplete. So the Seahawks not only won the game, 17-12, it put them in a position where if they won their regular-season finale against the New England Patriots at the Kingdome the following week they would advance to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

The player Tautolo held on the pivotal play was none other than Jacob Green, then a fourth-year defensive end who would finish his 12-season stay in Seattle as the Seahawks’ all-time sack leader.

“Jacob had been complaining the whole game: ‘Ref, he’s holding me. Ref, he’s hold me,’ ” Paul Johns, a wide receiver on that ’83 team, said recently. “Jacob stayed on the ref, kind of like in a basketball game. And when we really needed it, they called it – finally.”

Without that call, the Seahawks don’t beat the Giants. If they don’t beat the Giants, they don’t advance to the postseason for the first time, as a wild-card team. They don’t beat the Broncos on Christmas Eve at the Kingdome for the franchise’s first playoff victory. They don’t go to Miami, where they upset the defending AFC Champion Dolphins to advance to the AFC Championship game in their first season under coach Chuck Knox.

Curt Warner’s 2-yard touchdown run in the upset of the Dolphins in that 1983 AFC divisional playoff game –

This was one of those plays that doesn’t happen without the “holding call heard ’round the Pacific Northwest” in Week 15 of the regular season. It also doesn’t happen without a 16-yard completion from Krieg to Largent on third-and-2 – Largent’s first reception of the game – or their 40-yarder to Dolphins’ 2-yard line with less than two minutes to play.

But it did happen, and it gave the Seahawks a 24-20 lead – not to mention one of the bigger upsets in NFL playoff history, as they entered the game a double-digit underdog. Then there’s the unfathomable fact that it would remain the Seahawks’ only road playoff victory until the 2012 team beat the Washington Redskins in a wild-card game.

Significant? It was that, and then some.

“When we came down here, nobody gave us a chance,” Knox said at the time, and after being carried off the field at the Orange Bowl on the shoulders of his players. “They thought we were going to be blown out. Even after the Dolphins went ahead late in the fourth quarter, I thought we would come back. Our whole bench thought we would come back. We have been coming back like that all season. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this team.”

Marshawn Lynch’s earth shaking 67-yard touchdown run that ignited seismic activity near the Seahawks’ home stadium –

The Seahawks’ Beast Mode back is rarely stopped on first contact, so you were thinking we could leave Lynch off this list? He has had so many significant runs in his first four seasons with the Seahawks. But, like Largent’s 100th TD reception, this one comes with ample style points.

It came in a 2010 wild-card playoff game at CenturyLink Field and against the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints – a team that had beaten the Seahawks 34-19 in The Big Easy in Week 11 of that season. Lynch’s run, where he broke tackle after tackle and deposited one defender on his backside with a nasty stiff-arm, set off a celebration that literally made the earth move under his feet.

But that run also was a prelude of what was the come for the Seahawks. It silenced some of the snickers that accompanied the Seahawks being the first team to win its division with a losing record (7-9). It set the stage for the playoff run in 2012 and the run to the Super Bowl in 2013.

“It was ‘17 Power,’ right up the gut, and a play you usually don’t expect to pop for 67 yards,” Pro Bowl center Max Unger said before the Week 13 rematch with the Saints last season. “They call those little-bigs, where it can be a little play – a couple-yard gain – or it can be a bigger gain.”

Or, it can turn into an earth-shaking gain.

“That was insane,” Unger said. “The fact that people are talking about it three years later, I don’t know what I can add to that.”

But, was it the most significant play in franchise history? Or does that honor go to Sherman’s “Immaculate Deflection”? Or “Big Play Babs” biggest play? Or Warner’s run that capped the upset of the Dolphins? Or the holding call that led to that? Or Largent’s 100th TD reception? You make the call.