The Seattle Seahawks were a steady, if unspectacular contender through much of the 1980s. They made the playoffs in 1983 and 1984. Even though 1985 and 1986 were non-playoff years they still produced a combined record of 18-14. The 1987 Seattle Seahawks fit into the general pattern, as they returned the postseason and then lost in the wild-card round.
Head coach Chuck Knox loved to run the football and the featured back was Pro Bowler Curt Warner. In 1987 Warner rushed for 985 yards and in a strike year where most regular players only played 12 games that was good for third in the league.
Warner had a reliable running mate in John Williams, who ran for 500 yards and also caught 38 passes out of the backfield. Steve Largent was another Pro Bowler and also a future Hall of Fame wide receiver. Largent finished in the Top 10 in the league for both receptions (58) and yardage (912) at age 33.
Dave Krieg was at quarterback and he was both high-percentage, his 61.7% being an elite number at the time. And he could get the ball downfield pretty well, with 7.2 yards-per-attempt being in the upper half of NFL quarterbacks. What Krieg did not do well was protect the football. His TD-INT ratio was 23/15 and he was intercepted on 5.1% of his passes, one of the league’s worst.
In spite of the mistakes and in spite of lacking Pro Bowl talent on the offensive line, the Seahawks could put points on the board and they ranked sixth in the NFL in scoring in 1987.
Seattle’s defense was led by inside linebacker Fredd Young, a 1st-team All-Pro who finished with nine sacks. Defensive end Jacob Green was a terrific pass rusher in his own right, getting 9 ½ sacks and ranking among the league leaders. Green also went to the Pro Bowl. Strong safety Kenny Easley wasn’t a Pro Bowler in 1987, but he intercepted four passes and was only three years removed from being Defensive Player of the Year.
The Seahawk D also got a modest boost from a much-hyped rookie in linebacker Brian Bosworth. “The Boz” has become known as one of the league’s more notorious busts with one particular humiliation from this season that we’ll get to standing out. But he wasn’t all bad as a rookie, with four sacks. The defense overall was in the middle of the league, ranking 14th.
Prior to 2002, Seattle was in the AFC West along with that division’s four current teams. That made a season opener at Denver a big divisional battle, particularly with the Broncos coming off a breakthrough Super Bowl trip with John Elway.
Krieg threw a pair of first-quarter touchdown passes and the Seahawks were up 14-7. But Krieg would also be intercepted three times, the team lost a couple fumbles and the secondary was torched by Elway. They lost 40-17. Seattle quickly got back on track when they came home and blasted Kansas City 43-14, muscling their way for 223 yards on the ground.
The players went out on strike after Week 2. The Week 3 games were all canceled and replacement players were brought in to resume action on October 4. The temporary quarterback was Bruce Mathison. He showed Krieg’s ability to make big plays, for better or worse. At home against Miami, Mathison threw three interceptions, but also for 326 yards. Wide receiver Jimmy Teal was the favored target, catching nine balls for 137 yards. Seattle won 24-20.
Knox had a tougher time getting the running game up to speed and the replacement Seahawks were pummeled up front by the Bengals, losing the rush yardage battle 270-90 and the football game 17-10. By this point, the resolve of the regular players was starting to wilt and some veterans were crossing the picket line. One of them was Seattle’s backup quarterback Jeff Kemp, who had also started and won games the previous year in San Francisco when Joe Montana was hurt.
Kemp was head-and-shoulders above the replacements on the Detroit Lions, going 20/27 for 344 yards. He threw three touchdowns in the first quarter alone and Seattle won 37-14. The strike ended and the regular players came back for the following week. But in what would prove to be a tight AFC playoff race, the replacements winning two of three was a big edge.
Seattle’s regulars made a triumphant return on the road at the Los Angeles Raiders. Young brought an interception 50 yards to the house, Warner ran for 112 yards and the Seahawks were up 28-zip by halftime, en route to a 35-13 win .
Krieg was efficient in a 28-17 home win over the playoff-bound Minnesota Vikings. He was 11/17 for 148 yards and three touchdowns, while Warner ran for 94 yards. But the other side of Krieg returned the following Monday Night in the Meadowlands against the Jets. He was erratic, the team committed four turnovers and the result was a 30-14 loss to a subpar team.
Seattle returned to the friendly confines of the Kingdome for three straight games, starting against the lowly Green Bay Packers. Warner ran for 123 yards and the Seahawks won 24-13. Then they crushed fellow AFC West contender San Diego 34-3, thanks to an overwhelming 277-17 rush yardage advantage.
The final Monday Night of November would be a game that lived on in NFL lore, though not for any reason a Seattle fan would be proud of. The Raiders were having a lousy year, but they did have running back Bo Jackson. This game would be remembered for two plays—one was Jackson running squarely over Bosworth to get a first down.
When you watch it on replay, it’s really not that big of a deal—it’s nice move forward by Bo to get the yardage after contact, but the aftermath portrayed it as a major humiliation for the Boz. The other play was a big deal—Jackson took off on a 91-yard touchdown run and ran all the way into the tunnel, disappearing for a few moments. Seattle lost 37-14.
In spite of the prime-time beatdown, the Seahawks were still 7-4 and leading a packed race for the final playoff spot. Within the division they were a half-game back of the Broncos and a full game behind the Chargers. But Seattle made the whole wild-card picture a lot tighter when they went to Pittsburgh—a mediocre team, but one of those giving chase—and lost 13-9. In the cold weather, neither team threw the ball and Seattle was surprisingly outrushed, 209-135.
A home game with Denver was now close to a must-win. The defense showed up ready to play, sacking Elway five times. Krieg finished 23/33 for 238 yards, with #2 receiver Ray Butler going over a hundred yards receiving. In a 14-14 tie in the third quarter, Krieg threw consecutive touchdown passes and the Seahawks got a badly needed 28-21 win.
San Diego was starting to collapse and now joined Seattle with an 8-5 record, both teams a half-game back of Denver for first place. Pittsburgh was also 8-5 in the push for the two wild-card spots and an array of teams were 7-6.
It wasn’t a comfortable spot for Seattle, with the head-to-head loss to Pittsburgh and a tough road game in Chicago coming up. The Bears were in the midst of their 1984-88 high point under Mike Ditka’s leadership, but for the second straight week the Seahawks delivered a clutch performance against one of the league’s best.
Krieg went 17/26 for 214 yards and no interceptions. Williams rushed for 117 yards. Seattle won 34-21 in Soldier Field, while Pittsburgh and San Diego both lost. The Seahawks weren’t in the dance, but they led the wild-card race and still had a crack at catching the Broncos for a division title.
After taking control of their playoff fate against outstanding teams, Seattle gave it back with a terrible performance in Kansas City in the early time slot on the final Sunday. The pass defense fell apart, allowing over 300 yards in the air to Bill Kenney. Warner had a decent game, rushing for 85 yards and the Seahawks were only down 24-20 at the half. But it got away in the second half and the final was 41-20.
Now the Seahawks had to watch and hope. The Houston Oilers had won their final two games and at 9-6 had tiebreaker position and clinched one of the wild-card spots. San Diego would grab the second spot if they won at Denver. Fortunately for the Seahawks, the Chargers were in a free fall, while the Broncos still had a lot to play for—they needed a win to hold off the Cleveland Browns for the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Denver shut out San Diego 24-0 and Seattle was returning to the postseason.
Knox’s previous two playoff appearances had seen Seattle enjoy success, winning a combined three games and reaching the AFC Championship Game in 1983. Oddsmakers showed respect, installing the Seahawks as a 2 ½ point favorite in the Houston Astrodome.
Krieg threw an early touchdown pass to Largent and stayed away from interceptions. But with Warner unable to play and Williams ineffective, the Seahawks were on the wrong side of a 178-29 rush yardage differential. Largent caught seven balls for 132 yards, but Krieg’s 16-for-38 performance was erratic.
Even so, the Oilers missed chances to put the game away when they missed a couple field goals and the Seahawks were within 20-13 in the fourth quarter. With 1:47 to go and starting from his own 20, Krieg led an 80-yard touchdown drive and hit Largent with the tying score. But it was Houston who ultimately got the win in overtime with a field goal.
It was still a return to the playoffs for the 1987 Seattle Seahawks and one year later they won the first division title in franchise history.