The Seattle Seahawks came into existence in 1976 and by the early 1980s, they were starting to enjoy some success under head coach Chuck Knox. They made the playoffs three times from 1983-87, and won 48 regular season games. But the one thing the franchise had not done was win a division title. The 1988 Seattle Seahawks might have been the weakest of the organization’s playoff teams in the 1980s, but they were also the only ones to bring home the AFC West crown.
Chuck Knox was the head coach during this period of success and his focus on building a strong running game gave him the nickname “Ground Chuck.” Curt Warner was the focal point of the running attack and went for over 1,000 yards in 1988. Warner got capable support from John Williams, who tacked on 87 more. Both runners did this in spite of the lack of a single Pro Bowl player on the offensive line.
Dave Krieg was the quarterback, though the seven games he missed with a separated shoulder created a revolving door that included Kelly Stouffer and Jeff Kemp. Krieg did play well when he was healthy, finishing with a 18/8 TD-INT ratio and getting a Pro Bowl spot. His primary receivers were the young Brian Blades and the veteran Steve Largent. Seattle’s offense finished 12th in the NFL in points scored.
The defense was a little weaker, ranking only 16th. They lacked any Pro Bowl players, though defensive end Jacob Green recorded nine sacks. The most notable name on the defense otherwise, was 23-year-old linebacker Brian Bosworth, a hyped player out of Oklahoma, who became more renowned for being a bust.
Seattle opened the season at Denver, who had won the AFC title each of the last two years with John Elway at quarterback. The Seahawks set an early tone for the season by controlling the ground game, with Williams rushing for 79 yards, Warner adding 72 and getting a 21-14 win on the road. The following week, Seattle forced six turnovers against the Kansas City Chiefs and won their home opener 31-10.
There was now real opportunity to get off to a fast start, as the next game was at San Diego. The Chargers, along with the Chiefs, were the only teams that were not serious contenders in the AFC West (where Seattle was aligned with the division’s current four teams). But Krieg threw three interceptions, one of them taken to the house and ended up getting hurt in a 17-6 loss. The Seahawks came home to play the future Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers and were crushed 38-7.
Warner stepped up at Atlanta the following week and rushed for 110 yards, while the defense forced four turnovers in a 31-20 win over a bad team. A road trip to Cleveland was the battle of two playoff teams playing with backup quarterbacks—Browns’ starter Bernie Kosar was also out. Stouffer at least played mistake-free, while his defense got two interceptions and the Seahawks won 16-10.
The tough schedule continued, with games against NFC West contenders in the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams.
The result was two losses. The running game was shut down at home in a 20-19 loss to the Saints and the entire team played poorly in Los Angeles, not scoring a touchdown until a blocked field goal was returned in the fourth quarter of a 31-3 game.
Seattle won the home rematch with San Diego, as Stouffer played a mistake-free game and forcing three turnovers was the difference in a 17-14 victory. But playing a very good Buffalo Bills team, the Seahawks were crushed on the ground one week later, giving up 206 yards, and losing 13-3 at home.
The up-and-down quality of the season continued over the next two weeks. Seattle beat a good team in the playoff-bound Houston Oilers, winning 27-24. Williams, who rushed for 102 yards, took off on a 44-yard jaunt to tie the game late and then a field goal won it. But the Seahawks then lost to a bad team by the same score, this time giving up the late field goal after tying the game 24-24 in the fourth quarter.
Seattle was 6-6, but mediocrity was the order of the day in the AFC West. Denver and the Los Angeles Raiders were also 6-6, and the Raiders were coming to the Kingdome on the Monday Night after Thanksgiving.
The running game was in high gear, as both Warner and Williams cleared the 100-yard mark. Seattle trailed 27-21 after three quarters, but the pounding wore the Raiders down, Krieg threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes and the Seahawks got a big 35-27 win. They promptly gave it back with a loss at New England, who would finish 9-7, because Seattle was held to 20 yards rushing.
Seattle, Denver and the Raiders were all 7-7, but with the Seahawks playing both teams to close the season, they controlled their fate. And they really controlled the Broncos at home in Week 15—Warner ran for 126 yards, Williams ran for 109, Krieg went 19/22 for 220 yards and the result was a 42-14 win.
The game eliminated Denver, but even though the Raiders also lost, their finale with Seattle in the Los Angeles Coliseum was still winner-take-all. The Seahawks’ defeats to the Chargers and Chiefs meant Seattle would lose a divisional record tiebreaker if it came to that.
Fortunately, Krieg continued his fantastic play of the final two weeks in this game he threw for 410 yards and four touchdowns. Williams got involved in the passing game, catching seven passes, including taking one 75 yards for a score and giving his team a 37-20 lead in the fourth quarter. The Raiders tried to rally, but the Seahawks held on for a 43-37 win. At long last, they were division champs.
There was no playoff run this season. Seattle went to the top-seeded Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC Divisional Playoff and fell behind 21-0, because they were dominated on the ground. The Seahawks scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns, but a missed extra point in the era of no two-point conversion, made a 21-13 deficit late almost insurmountable. That’s where the game and season ended.
The 1988 Seattle Seahawks were the last of the first really good teams in franchise history. The team did not get back to the postseason until Mike Holmgren came aboard as head coach eleven years later. But at least the ’88 team got the burden of never winning a division title off the franchise’s back.