The key, though, was time, time to get Turner deep on the first one, time to find Largent in traffic in the middle, time to win the game the only way the Seahawks could, since turnovers weren't going to be much of a factor this day. And that's where the offensive line came in.
To understand what Seattle did you've got to look at the background of coach Chuck Knox. Knox began his coaching life in pro football as an offensive line coach with the AFL's New York Jets in 1963, working for Weeb Ewbank, and he was way ahead of his time. Guys like Winston Hill and Sam DeLuca and big Sherm Plunkett, who'd been in other pro camps, used to rave about Knox's ideas, about the way he'd get them pass blocking by steering the defensive linemen with their hands—in an era that was still locked into the old fists-in-tight, elbows-out technique of the 1950s.
"Someday people will find out what a great coach Knox is," Hill used to say.
The offensive line unit that kept Krieg upright for 44 throws defies the current dictum that says you have to have high draft choices. Four of the five starters are imports. Blair Bush, the center, came from the Bengals, who wanted to make room for Dave Riming-ton. Left guard Reggie McKenzie, the 34-year-old warhorse, came with Knox from Buffalo, where he'd been the leader of O.J.'s Electric Company in the early 1970s. Frank Kush gave up on Bob Pratt, the right guard, in Baltimore. Right tackle Bob Cryder was a New England reject this year. Only Ron Essink, the left tackle, is a homegrown Seahawk, a 10th-round draft choice in 1980. When he went down with a bruised knee in the third quarter on Sunday, the Seahawks brought in Sid Abramowitz, who had been cut by the Colts this season.
The core of the unit, guard-center-guard, is small—too small by modern NFL standards. Bush is the heaviest at 252. McKenzie, who's listed in the program at 255, actually plays at closer to 240. Big, muscular defensive lines—like the Raiders', for example—give them trouble; they get their sacks. But against the Broncos the Seahawks matched up.
Give Knox's line coach Ray Prochaska some credit. Prochaska, who broke into pro football as an end with the Cleveland Rams in 1941, has been with Knox for 12 years, five with the Rams, five with the Bills and two with the Seahawks. There's no communication problem there.
The drama of Sunday's game was not lost on Largent, the heart and soul of the Seahawks, the club's leading receiver for every year of its existence—and some of them were very hard years indeed. "Just to play in a game like this, with two teams that have records like these, does something to you," Largent said. "In the old days I'd sit at home, watching everyone else in the playoffs, and I'd think, 'Hey, I'm as good as that guy.' It was very discouraging."
For Denver, the big topic during the week had been turnovers, the way the Seahawks could pop the ball loose, the way their defense forced them—and their special teams. The Broncos nodded and smiled and said, "Yeah, we have to be careful," but Denver's a pretty good turnover-creating team itself, and Bronco quarterback John Elway was coming off a roll, his 16-for-19, five-TD performance against the Vikings the week before. "He had them whining for mercy," linebacker Tom Jackson said. The Seahawks got a brief look at Elway as a baby last year—mop-up action in two games—but this was a different QB, a tougher and more confident one.
Elway spent Sunday afternoon digging himself out of a hole. He never had a lead to work with, and he didn't have the protection Krieg enjoyed. In the second quarter he brought the Broncos back to 10-10 on a five-play drive built around two sizable throws (41 yards to rookie wideout Ray Alexander and a 19-yard corner route to Butch Johnson for the score) and a 15-yard roughness penalty on defensive end Jacob Green. The Broncos tied it again at 17-all in the third quarter on a four-play series featuring a slight flimflam job—Elway rolled right and threw a crossfield screen pass that halfback Gerald Willhite broke for 63 yards.
Krieg, in the middle of a six-straight completion streak, put the Seahawks back in front, 24-17, two series later. The payoff was the three-yarder to Largent early in the fourth quarter. Then disaster struck Denver. A turnover. Not a forced one, which the Seahawks are so good at, or a sloppy one, but a turnover that was really an incomplete pass.