The other night I finally saw Hot Tub Time Machine, and I gotta agree with Roger Ebert: Solid Fucking Flick. But since I can yoke literally anything to our beloved Seahawks, the 1986 setting of the film (including the Broncos/Browns AFC title game, which was actually in January of 1987), made me think... What if those white-hot '86 Hawks actually had made the playoffs?
Long-time readers probably know that I love the 1986 Seahawks more than any squad in team history besides the 2005 NFC Champs. Here's a rambling explanation why. Please read it if you aren't familiar with the mythical '86 Seahawks. Back? Good.
The excruciating reality is that if Nick Lowery had missed a single FG, and if Buffalo had won an OT game at Cincy instead of the Bengals, The Seahawks would have rolled into the postseason. This is the history that never happened...
December 28, 1986: AFC Wild Card Game
Seahawks 31, Jets 14
On November 17, Seattle was 5-6, and had just lost 34-7 to Cincinnati. The Jets were 10-1 and an all-New Jersey XXI seemed like a real possibility. However, while the Seahawks were kicking more ass than Sledge Hammer!, the Jets lost 5 games in a row, all by at least 14 points. NYJ's defense gave up at least 45 points three times during this stretch, but were still home favorites over the surging Seahawks.
Bobby Joe Edmonds set the tone by returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and the rout was on. Jacob Green and Joe Nash both sacked Pat Ryan twice, and rookie fullback John L. Williams scored his first two NFL touchdowns. The fading Jets didn't put up much of a fight... The next game at Cleveland wouldn't be so easy.
January 3, 1987: AFC Divisional Playoff
Seahawks 23, Browns 20 (OT)
The Seahawks were double-digit underdogs heading into decrepit Cleveland Municipal Stadium, and for 57 minutes the top-seeded Browns were in control. Schottenheimer kept it conservative in an attempt to hold a 20-10 lead, and it seemed to be working until Norm Johnson banged through a 50-yarder to cut the lead to 7. Seattle's ensuing onside kick failed, but Cleveland was stopped cold on 4th-and-inches when Fredd Young stuffed Kevin Mack in the backfield.
Seattle took over at their own 41, and with 1:31 left and no time outs, needed a touchdown to tie. Against the din created by 81,000 Cleveland fanatics, Dave Krieg completed all 5 pass attempts on the climatic drive, three of which were hauled in by Steve Largent. The future Hall-of-Famer's spectacular, toe-dragging 17-yard TD catch tied the game with only 22 seconds left.
The Browns took a knee and settled for OT. They would never get the ball back.
Edmonds once again came through for Seattle, returning the OT kickoff to midfield. Krieg dropped a 35-yard bomb into Darryl Turner's hands, and three plays later Johnson's 30-yard attempt was true. The ancient stadium fell as silent as a tomb, and Seattle was headed to Mile High Stadium for their 3rd meeting of the season with the hated Broncos.
January 11, 1987: AFC Championship Game
Seahawks 31, Broncos 27
Three weeks earlier, the Seahawks steamrolled Denver in the regular season finale 41-16. The AFC title game seemed to pick up right where that game left off, with Seattle converting two early Elway interceptions into Curt Warner TD runs. After one quarter, Seattle led 17-0. At the half? 24-7. The 4th quarter started with the Seahawks comfortably ahead 31-13, and Coach Knox repeated Schottenheimer's error from the week before: He sat on the ball and hoped the clock would run out before Seattle's lead evaporated.
Then John Elway terrorized every Seahawks fan alive...
With 10 minutes left, an Elway touchdown scramble. Then a meek Seattle 3-and-out. With 5 minutes left, Elway drove a dart into Steve Watson's chest to cut the Seattle lead to 31-27. Mile High Stadium was shaking like David Byrne in his big suit, and it looked like the Seahawks were set to pull one of the biggest choke jobs in playoff history.
Another brief possession, then a Seattle punt. The Broncos had just under three minutes to drive 80 yards. Twice it appeared the Seahawks would stop Elway, only to see Denver convert on 4th down. The Orange Menace made it all the way to the Seattle 12, and had a first down with 35 seconds left.
Elway spotted Mark Jackson open in the back of the end zone. Touchdown. Super Bowl... but then a flash of white: Eugene Robinson, diving in front of Jackson for the game-clinching interception. Silence in Denver... Delirium in Seattle. The Seahawks were headed to Super Bowl XXI.
January 25, 1987: Super Bowl XXI
Seahawks 24, Giants 23
A giant horde of Twelves greeted the Seahawks when they arrived at Sea-Tac after winning the AFC title, and if you paid attention to the national press, those were practically the only people who gave Seattle a chance in XXI. The New York Giants were the class of the NFL, and to the football elite it didn't seem particularly relevant that NYG's last defeat was at the Kingdome three months earlier.
"The Seahawks needed four Simms interceptions to win by 5 at home," the conventional wisdom went... "it was a fluky win that won't be repeated." The focus of the pre-XXI hype was almost entirely on the Giants, and the Seahawks took the field at the Rose Bowl with a palpable "us against the world" mentality. They were 15-point underdogs, and despite the west-coast setting, the crowd was overwhelmingly tilted towards New York.
NYG's defense was the best in the league against the run, so Dave Krieg would have to play the game of his life for Seattle to have a chance. Curt Warner was held to 47 yards on 15 carries, but Milton College's most famous graduate went 22-25 for 268 yards and three touchdowns. In what was instantly regarded as the greatest Super Bowl ever, two teams on a combined 19-game winning streak went to war for 3+ hours.
The Seahawks led 21-14 with 7 minutes left when Lawrence Taylor made what looked like a game-changing play: LT sacked Krieg in the end zone and forced a fumble; in the ensuing chaos the ball skittered out of bounds for a Giants safety. Phil Simms found Mark Bavaro for the go-ahead touchdown with less than three minutes on the clock, and it looked like the Seahawks would have to settle for the respect gained from a valiant but losing effort.
Then the play that would make John L. Williams a football immortal: The bubble screen. JLW rambled 64 yards down to the Giants 14-yard-line behind a series of perfectly executed downfield blocks. Only Lawrence Taylor's spectacular effort to catch Williams from behind kept Seattle out of the end zone. A Norm Johnson chip-shot put the Seahawks up 24-23 with 1:58 left.... unfortunately, that left plenty of time for Simms to get NYG in FG range.
The largest TV audience since the M*A*S*H finale was riveted to the final drive. It came down to a 41-yard game-winning FG attempt by Raul Allegre with 3 seconds on the clock... Snap. Hold. Kick. Wide right. BARELY wide right.
The Seattle Seahawks were Champions of the World, and Dave Krieg was headed to Disneyland. From Anchorage to Boise, fans celebrated like Ewoks singing Yub-Nub. The victory parade in Seattle drew a crowd of 500,000 delirious Twelves. The Lombardi Trophy was ours, and nothing would ever be the same.
Coach Knox retired on top a week after the XXI win, and was replaced by DC Tom Catlin. In the wake of a Super Bowl win, the Seahawks gambled a late-round pick on Heisman Trophy winner (and Kansas City Royals outfielder) Bo Jackson. It paid off with a spectacular rookie campaign, highlighted by a 257-yard explosion on MNF against the hated L.A. Raiders.
The Seahawks rolled to a 13-2 record in 1987, but couldn't overcome an injury to Jackson in the divisional playoff win over Houston. Denver got its revenge in the AFC Championship. In 1988 the Seahawks returned to the Super Bowl only to lose a heartbreaker to Joe Montana and the 49ers.
Seattle's decline started in the 1990 playoffs with Jackson's career-ending injury in a playoff loss at Buffalo. After a sub-par 1991 campaign, Catlin and Super Bowl MVP Krieg were run out of town. The Nordstrom family made a splash by luring Miami University coach Dennis Erickson back to the Pacific Northwest with millions of dollars and the promise of total control. Erickson's series of weak drafts and dubious free agent signings led to his firing after the 1996 season, and the Nordstroms replaced him with Patriots Head Coach Bill Parcells.
Hey, it could have happened.