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On Sept. 3, 1984, as Curt Warner cut sharply on the Kingdome's artificial turf, his right knee went poof. So did the SEATTLE SEAHAWKS' running game. If ever a guy was married to the run it was the Seahawks' coach Chuck Knox. Three weeks later his speedy wideout, Paul Johns, who was leading the team in receptions at the time, injured his neck. Goodby, Johns. Time to retrench, regroup, rededicate.
The Seahawks did exactly that, making the playoffs with a 12-4 record. The running attack spun its wheels (the leading rusher was a blocker, fullback David Hughes, who finished 56th in the NFL), so for the first time a Knox team passed more times than it ran. Dave Krieg, the Cinderella quarterback from Wisconsin's Milton College, threw for 32 TDs, more than he had gotten in his previous four years and second only to Dan Marino. Rookie Daryl Turner from Michigan State became the team's long-ball threat, the only NFL receiver who averaged better than 20 yards a catch and scored 10 touchdowns. The defense, with essentially the same people, improved from 27th in 1983 to sixth.
There was a different outlook, though. The Seahawks got nasty. They hit everything that moved and a few things that didn't. All of a sudden the giveaway-takeaway ratio became a catchphrase in the Northwest. The year before, they had sneaked into the playoffs by virtue of 13 Raider turnovers against them, but now they were forcing them with a frenzy. No one in the league was close. Their special teams also played like maniacs.
All the good guys are back this year, plus a healthy Warner. The top draft pick, 220-pound fullback Owen Gill, gives the Seahawks still more depth for the ground game. They have stars like tackle Ron Essink and middle guard Joe Nash, and superstars like strong safety Ken Easley, defensive end Jacob Green and wideout Steve Largent, who's coming off-one of the great seasons (74 catches, 12 TDs) of a nine-year career. The question is, will they have the same intensity, the same hunger? If not, look out, because the AFC West is a jungle waiting to swallow the unwary.
Four veterans were holdouts in camp. One was Bruce Scholtz, just coming into his own as a formidable outside linebacker. The Seahawks had plans to move him inside, but they had to put that on hold. Now for another of those nagging questions—why is Knox still skeptical about Krieg, despite the wonders he has performed? Last year the Seahawks played footsie with Warren Moon for a while; this year they had former Oakland Invader Bobby Hebert out for a long look. It makes you wonder.
The last memory of the DENVER BRONCOS is of a battered quarterback painfully pulling himself off the turf in a losing playoff effort against the Steelers. Critics say that coach Dan Reeves should have yanked John Elway and gone with a healthy guy, but if the Broncos lost the game that day, they won something else. Hear what veteran linebacker Tom Jackson says about that game:
"It was significant for Elway's career and his relationship with the team. There had been questions about his toughness, but he showed us a lot. I think everybody's behind him now."
The implication is that perhaps everyone on the Broncos wasn't an Elway fan before that. He hadn't hung around town the year before. Some people felt he could have worked harder in the off-season. This year he changed. He acted like a guy trying to make the club. He lifted weights, studied, toughened himself up. In camp his passes whistled. Receivers talked about the Elway Cross as if it were a badge of honor—the little cross mark the ball leaves when it strikes the ribs with great force.
Elway was a productive quarterback in the surprising 13-3 '84 season, but here are two more major reasons for Denver's success—Mike Shanahan and Alex Gibbs, the rookie assistant coaches Reeves lured from the college ranks. Shanahan had a big hand in the offense; he wasn't afraid to buck the boss. Gibbs took an offensive line that looked like a sieve and turned it into a Panzer division. The running game went from 23rd to 10th, sacks dropped from 55 to 35. The Broncos are still a receiver or two away from the big banana, but they might have found a couple in their top draft pick, Steve Sewell, a large guy coming out of the backfield, and second-round selection Vance Johnson, whose 4.38 on grass this summer was the fastest clocking in Denver history.
Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle Bill Maas has this blunt observation on the 1985 season: "If we can win our first three games we'll go to the Super Bowl."