Greater Seattle has not conducted a formal poll on the subject, but there is little doubt that the chief topic of conversation these days among bartenders from Puyallup to Bremerton, and among the beer drinkers in downtown Sedro-Woolley, concerns a pair of teetotalers named Jim Zorn and Steve Largent. They play quarterback and wide receiver, respectively, for the Seattle Seahawks, and while Zorn to Largent may not have the ring of Unitas to Berry, they are working on it.
Zorn to Largent is one of the most devastating passing combinations in the NFL, and the two Seahawks are the principal reason why Seattle's football fans seem to be walking around with their heads somewhere in the clouds above Mount Rainier. Zorn to Largent—it's sounding better every minute—produced four completions for 57 yards last Sunday in the sold-out Kingdome while the Seahawks were being upset by the Baltimore Colts 17-14.
Largent has caught 46 Zorn passes for 793 yards and five touchdowns this season. For his part, southpaw Zorn, who threw for 119 yards against Baltimore, now leads the AFC in passing yardage with 2,246 and trails NFL leader Roger Staubach by only 152 yards. In addition, Zorn also has rushed for 269 yards.
Thanks primarily to Zorn-to-Largent, Seattle has rapidly become the NFL's model expansion franchise. In their first year, 1976, the Seahawks won two games—two more than expansion-brother Tampa Bay won—and in 1977 they had a 5-9 record, winning more games than Kansas City, Buffalo, Green Bay, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and the New York Jets. This season Seattle has a 5-6 record, with victories over such teams as Oakland and Minnesota. And two of Seattle's losses—to Denver and Baltimore—were by the margin of a field goal.
When the Seahawks routed the Raiders 27-7 in Seattle last month, they intercepted four Ken Stabler passes and treated the Raiders so rudely that Oakland Guard Gene Upshaw announced, "Y'all can quit calling those guys an expansion team. They ain't that anymore."
On the whole, the Seahawks hardly seem characteristic of any football team. They are heavy into Bible study, prayer, hospital visits and off-season charity basketball games. Coach Jack Patera has yet to face a disciplinary problem. And if Zorn is any example, the Seahawks are a very unpretentious group; the quarterback owns a 1955 Bentley coupe but prefers to drive a '72 Volkswagen with 96,000 miles on the odometer, and he appears in only one TV commercial—for Sam's Tire Service.
Patera, an old linebacker who coached Minnesota's defensive line for seven seasons before Seattle hired him in 1976, and General Manager John Thompson, who came to Seattle via the front office of the Minnesota Vikings and the NFL's Management Council, have built the Seahawks on a solid base. They already have discarded 32 of the 39 players Seattle was forced to take in the 1976 expansion draft, going instead with young draft choices. Both the coach and the GM were criticized last year when, in a complicated maneuver, Seattle gave up the draft rights to Tony Dorsett in exchange for three high-round selections, but now they are receiving applause for the deal. They used the Dallas picks to draft Guard Tom Lynch, Offensive Tackle Steve August and Middle Linebacker Terry Beeson—and all are starters.
Also selected in the draft were Seattle's two durable running backs—6'4", 225-pound Sherman Smith, who ripped through the Chicago Bears for a club record of 152 yards two weeks ago, and 6'3", 216-pound David Sims, who leads the AFC with 10 touchdowns, including both Seattle TDs against Baltimore, and has rushed for more than 100 yards in one game three times this season. In all, 19 of the 45 Seahawks are Seattle draft choices.
Statistics aside, the 25-year-old Zorn and the 24-year-old Largent may well be the biggest bargains ever acquired by an expansion franchise in any sport. Zorn and Largent found one another late in the summer of 1976 when Seattle was shuttling dozens of players through its first training camp. Both bore the stamp of "reject."
In 1973 Zorn led the nation's small colleges in total offense as a running quarterback for Cal Poly of Pomona, but he was ignored by every NFL team in the 1975 draft. Signed later that year as a free agent by Dallas, he was the Cowboys' last cut as Dallas had to make room on its roster for newly acquired Running Back Preston Pearson. Zorn subsequently signed with Seattle before the expansion draft.