The 1983 Seattle Seahawks: Beating Back Elway & Marino In The Playoffs

The 1983 Seattle Seahawks are a special team in the history of this franchise. They were the first Seahawks team to make the playoffs and when they got there, they knocked off a couple rookie quarterbacks named John Elway and Dan Marino, making them wait for future glory.

Start reading today. 

Seattle entered the NFL in 1976 and while they’d had a couple 9-7 seasons, neither had been good enough to get into the postseason. Chuck Knox, who spent the better part of the 1970s producing division championships for the Los Angeles Rams, became the head coach in 1983 and the turnaround was instant.

Knox was known as “Ground Chuck” for his emphasis on running the football and with the third overall pick in the draft he took running back Curt Warner out of Penn State. Warner would run for over 1,400 yards, make the Pro Bowl and frankly deserved more MVP consideration than he got, considering not a single offensive lineman was a Pro Bowler.

The top receiver was the shifty and savvy Steve Largent who caught 72 passes for 1,074 yards and tight end Charle Young provided another target. The defense was anchored by an outstanding young strong safety in Kenny Easley. The 24-year-old UCLA product was 1st-team All-Pro and one year later he would be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Easley got help up front from defensive ends Jacob Green and Jeff Bryant, who did a fantastic job pressuring the quarterback. In spite of playing in a 3-4 scheme that often makes it difficult for down lineman to get free on the edge, Green had sixteen sacks while Bryant tacked on eight more.

And the quarterback? That was a work in progress. Jim Zorn was the starter when the season opened, but he lost his job to Dave Krieg. In either case, the principal task of the quarterback in this offense was to place the football in the arms of Warner. But the midseason change to Krieg bore big dividends down the stretch and in the postseason.

To look at the talent, you would think Seattle was a defense-first team that controlled tempo with their running game. The latter was certainly true, but the offense did rank sixth in the NFL in points scored, while the defense ranked 24th.

Prior to the realignment of 2002, Seattle was in the AFC West, along with the division’s four current teams. They opened the year at Kansas City. The Chiefs weren’t very good and at the time no one thought the Seahawks were either. Zorn threw the ball 43 times, while Warner only ran it 12 in a 17-13 loss.

The following week was when some promise started to emerge. The New York Jets would be a mediocre team this season, but at the time they were coming off two straight playoff appearances and a trip to the AFC Championship Game. Seattle was a (+9) underdog in old Shea Stadium. Warner ran 24 times for 128 yards, while Zorn was only allowed to throw 15 passes. The defense forced seven turnovers in a 17-10 win.

Warner again ran well at home against San Diego. The Chargers were another team off a good recent run, four straight playoff seasons, but that would tumble hard this year. Seattle won the rushing battle 206-99, keyed not only by Warner, but David Hughes. They led 34-17 in the fourth quarter and hung on 34-31.

Seattle fell back to .500 at home with a 27-17 loss to the powerful Washington Redskins, defending Super Bowl champs and on their way back this season, as Warner only ran for 34 yards. But the Seahawks turned it right back around with a 24-9 win at Cleveland. Seattle trailed 10-9 after three quarter, but got four turnovers, including a 73-yard interception return by Green.

The return trip to San Diego ended in a 28-21 loss. Zorn played well, going 25/41 for 295 yards, with Young having a big day with seven catches for 140 of those yards. But getting into a passing battle wasn’t Seattle’s game, Zorn also threw a Pick-6 and they let a 21-7 lead get away.

Two games in three weeks were coming up with the Los Angeles Raiders, who had been the AFC West’s best team in the strike-shortened year of 1982 and were on their way to a Super Bowl run this season. Seattle won 38-36 in a surreal home game. The Seahawks recovered five fumbles, intercepted three passes, got a punt return for a touchdown from Paul Johns, 3 ½ sacks from Green and won in spite of Zorn throwing for thirteen total yards.

The move was made to go with Krieg—apparently the “he was good enough to win” line wasn’t getting Zorn off the hook here. Krieg’s first start wouldn’t be a gimme, with a playoff-bound Pittsburgh Steeler team coming to the old Seattle Kingdome.

Krieg played well, going 13/20 for 214 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, frequently hooking up with Johns down the field. But those yards came late as the Seahawks dug a 24-0 hole and a rally came up short, at 27-21.

But they bounced back and showed their mettle on the last Sunday of October by going into the Los Angeles Coliseum and taking out the silver-n-black 34-21, by getting back to a muscular running game. Warner had 101 yards, while Hughes ran for 69. Easley had both a sack and interception, while the Seahawk defense picked off four on the day.

Warner continued to run through divisional opponents in facing contending Denver, as he rolled up 134 yards against the Broncos. With Krieg providing real air support, 14/23 for 216 yards, Seattle won the game that would prove to be a playoff preview, 27-19.

Just when things were rolling along, a two-week road trip brought Seattle back to earth. They played the Cardinals, who were then in St. Louis, and couldn’t stop the passing game of Neil Lomax-to-Roy Green. The Cards were an above-average team at this time and this was a genuinely good passing game, so there was no shame in the 33-28 loss. Or in the 38-27 loss at Denver, where Krieg threw for 418 yards. But the defense couldn’t stop Gary Kubiak, the future Bronco head coach, playing in place of Elway, in a 38-27 loss.

No shame is one thing, but Seattle was down to 6-6 and desperately needed a win. A wild game with Kansas City ensued at the Kingdome. Krieg got into a passing battle with Bill Kenney. Those usually didn’t end well for the Seahawks, and on the yardage count Krieg threw for 280 while Kenney had 311.

But the ground game was not forgotten—Warner had his biggest game of the year, piling up over 200 yards and Seattle won in overtime, 51-48. It gave the Seahawks some cushion to lose to a 12-win Dallas Cowboys team, 35-10 the following week and still keep in contention.

There were two games to play and while the Raiders had bounced back from their two losses to the Seahawks to get control of the AFC West, the two wild-card spots were firmly in play. Denver, Cleveland and Buffalo were all 8-6, with Seattle, New England and the New York Jets giving chase at 7-7. One piece of good news for the Seahawks was this—they had the tiebreaker edge on the Broncos and all tiebreakers begin by sorting out the division standings first.

A game with the awful New York Giants seemed ideal, but Seattle came “thisclose” to blowing the opportunity. After Krieg threw an early touchdown pass to Largent and another to Johns for a 14-3 lead, but Warner couldn’t get rolling and the Giants chipped to within 17-12. When they got a fourth-down touchdown pass with thirty seconds left the Seahawks looked done.

But all game long, Green had been telling the officials he was being held and at this decisive moment he got the call. The touchdown was called back, Seattle held and won the game. The rest of the week in the NFL went just as well for them. The Browns and Bills both lost, as did the Jets.

Denver still had control for the top wild-card spot, but Seattle would play New England head-to-head in the final week, and the Seahawks had tiebreaker position—the season finale at home was win-and-you’re-in.

It’s probably not a stretch to say that until February 2015 in Glendale, this Seahawks-Patriots battle was the most significant game in the history of these two franchises. Fortunately for Seattle fans, the 1983 game was won with enough room to spare that no one had to debate if Warner should or should not have gotten the ball at the decisive moment.

Seattle took a 10-0 first half lead, keyed by Krieg’s 46-yard touchdown pass to Largent. It was 10-6 at the half, but Krieg threw another touchdown pass, this one to running back Dan Doornink in the third quarter. Krieg finished 13/21 for 230 yards and no mistakes. Largent caught seven passes for 133 yards. And Warner just kept chugging along, 116 yards on 26 carries. The final was 24-6 and the Seahawks were going to the playoffs.

The AFC wild-card game would be on Christmas Eve and Seattle fans got yet another present—Denver lost their season finale at Kansas City, so the playoff game would be in the Kingdome.

Seattle was a 3 ½ point favorite and they came out and established their ground game immediately. Warner got the ball on six of the first eight plays and it paved the way for Krieg’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Largent. Denver went with veteran Steve DeBerg over Elway to start the game—Elway was up-and-down in his rookie year, and DeBerg answered with a touchdown pass of his own before the first quarter was out.

Two turnovers forced by the Seahawk defense were huge in the second quarter. An interception by Kerry Justin set up a field goal. And just before the half, with the Broncos poised to tie or take the lead, Seattle recovered a fumble at the 5-yard line.

Seattle took over the second half. Krieg threw touchdown passes in the third and fourth quarters, finishing a pinpoint 12/13 for 200 yards. Warner gained 99 yards on the ground. Elway came in to try and stop the bleeding and went 10/15 for 123 yards, but Seattle just kept pulling away to a 31-7 win.

Now it was on to Miami on New Year’s Eve afternoon. It was a drizzly day in South Beach, which worked to the advantage of the run-oriented visitors, who were a (+8) underdog to Marino, whose rookie year had been considerably better than Elway’s.

The first quarter went by scoreless. Miami scored first, but Seattle special teams first blocked the extra point than got field position with a 59-yard kickoff return that led to a go-ahead touchdown. Marino threw a TD pass in the second quarter, Warner answered on the ground in the third and it was 14-13 heading into the fourth quarter.

Seattle was winning the turnover battle and were ahead 3-0 at this point. Warner would finish with 113 yards, while Krieg ended up 15/28 with 192 yards and when the Seahawks nudged ahead 17-13 and got control of the ball deep into the fourth quarter, their chances were looking good.

Then Krieg threw an interception deep in his own end and Miami scored a go-ahead touchdown with 3:43 left. But the Seahawk quarterback redeemed himself. Playing against a good defense in less than ideal throwing conditions, he threw a 40-yard strike to Largent, the big blow on a touchdown drive that ended with Warner’s 2-yard touchdown run.

Seattle then recovered a fumble on the kickoff, booted a field goal, recovered another fumble off the next kickoff and ran out the clock. Their magic ride was taking them to the AFC Championship Game and Round Three against the Raiders.

The clock finally struck midnight a week later. Whatever issues the Raiders had gone through in midseason were resolved now and the game was never close. Warner only ran for 26 yards, while counterpart Marcus Allen went up for 154 yards. Krieg finished 3/9 for 12 yards and three interceptions before Zorn finally returned to duty. The score was 20-0 at half and ended 30-14.

It was still an amazing year for the 1983 Seattle Seahawks. They had made the playoffs, won a couple games against young quarterbacks that were already high-profile and set the stage for some modest success in the 1980s. They made the playoffs again the following year and though they never reached the conference championship game until realignment sent them to the NFC, the folks of the Pacific Northwest got a taste of winning football.