Mike Holmgren went on the offensive during Seattle's banner draft
When Mike Holmgren left the Packers to run the Seahawks in January 1999, the last thing he expected to be facing two years into his tenure was a 15-17 record and a crucial NFL draft. Well, almost the last thing.
More startling was the lump that his wife, Kathy, found in one of her breasts recently. A lumpectomy was performed last Friday, the day before the draft, and after meetings with his staff ended that afternoon, Mike didn't stick around to chat up potential trades involving Seattle's two first-round picks, the seventh and 17th selections. He went to the hospital to be with Kathy and then took her home on Friday night.
"Kathy is an oncology nurse, so she is very pragmatic about this," said Mike, who along with his wife wouldn't find out test results until this week. "She is so courageous. She has said to me, 'Come on, you've got the draft!' This puts the draft in perspective."
Holmgren may have been worried about Kathy, but no one in Seattle's draft room could tell last Saturday morning. "Listen up," Holmgren said a few minutes before it was time to make his first choice, rising from his chair and addressing the 40-odd coaches and front-office types. "When we get to our spot, we're expecting a call. So keep it down."
He was ready to deal, just as he had been this off-season when he dived into the free-agent market to bolster a defense that was weak up the middle, adding tackles Chad Eaton (late of the Patriots) and John Randle ( Vikings), middle linebacker Levon Kirkland ( Steelers) and strong safety Marcus Robertson ( Titans). He also had traded for the promising but unproven quarterback he had mentored in Green Bay, Matt Hasselbeck. In the draft he hoped to add three impact players: a game-breaking wide receiver, a run-stopping defensive lineman and a clinging cornerback.
Earlier in the week he could have traded up to the No. 2 spot ( Arizona's) or the No. 3 ( Cleveland's). Figuring, however, that at least one of the quartet the Seattle staff wanted most—defensive tackles Gerard Warren and Richard Seymour, wideouts Koren Robinson and David Terrell—would be available at No. 7, he turned down both offers. Then on Saturday, with the Seahawks on the clock, the 49ers called, looking to move up two spots to get Cal defensive end Andre Carter. A no-brainer, Holmgren thought. Warren and Seymour had been chosen, but Robinson and Terrell were still on the board, so Holmgren knew one of the receivers would be around at No. 9.
Holmgren made the deal, the Bears took Terrell with the eighth pick, and Robinson, the immature game-breaker from North Carolina State, fell into Seattle's lap. The 6'1", 211-pounder was suspended twice for academic-related problems by Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato, so at a pre-draft meeting Holmgren looked the wideout in the eye and said, "I'm 10 times tougher than Coach Amato will ever think of being. I'll be on you every day. Can I depend on you?" Robinson replied, "Don't worry about me, Coach. Football's important to me."
It didn't appear the Seahawks would be as lucky with their other first-round pick. Two other defensive linemen they liked, Damione Lewis and Marcus Stroud, were plucked at Nos. 12 and 13, respectively. On the clock again, Seattle was considering Texas tackle Casey Hampton, but the highest-rated guard, Michigan's Steve Hutchinson, was available too. " Hutchinson is a guy we could plug in at left guard and start for 10 years," Seahawks offensive coordinator Gill Haskell whispered. Then the phone rang again. It was Eagles coach Andy Reid, who had the 25th...pick and was offering Holmgren the first choice in the third round if he would agree to swap first-round positions.
To Holmgren's right, billionaire team owner Paul Allen, who associates say loves the draft almost more than the games, was reciting Hutchinson's honors—two-time All-America, four-time All-Big Ten, Lombardi Award finalist. "And he's nasty!" Allen said, making Holmgren laugh.