January 27, 2014

Post-Traumatic Elway Disorder

For younger Twelves, Sunday's Super Bowl pits our Seahawks against one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and the most formidable team the AFC can offer up. For Twelves over 30, XLVIII represents even more than that. Not only would victory make our Hawks World Champions- It would also be the final, decisive victory over the cruelest tormentor our franchise has ever faced: John Elway.

Think for a moment about how much you LOATHE Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh. Us olds in the Twelve Army hated John Elway every bit as much, and sadly our moments of victory over him were rare and fleeting. We never got to see Dave Brown tip an Elway pass to Fredd Young to seal an AFC Championship Game victory at the Kingdome. This is a tale of pain and frustration, of near-ruined childhoods and bloodlust. This is the story of how Washington native John Elway became Public Enemy No. 1 in his home state. Our victory at MetLife Stadium Sunday night will mean just a TINY bit more to Twelves who endured 15 years of torture inflicted by the one we all ended up calling "Mr. Ed." Here's why:

The story begins back in the AFC West, where the Seahawks competed from 1977 to 2001. Before realignment sent Seattle to an NFC West they'd swiftly start dominating, they toiled for a quarter-century in a division they'd win TWICE. That's it. TWICE. Neither division title brought much in terms of bragging rights, either. In both 1988 and 1999, they won the division with a 9-7 record and promptly lost their first playoff game. Over the same era, Denver would win NINE AFC West titles, go to 6 Super Bowls, and win two of them. The Seahawks also had an intense rivalry with the Oakland/L.A. Raiders, but once John Elway became Denver's starting quarterback Seattle's path to the top of the AFC West was effectively roadblocked.

Those two AFC West titles for Seattle? One came in a down year for Elway where he threw 19 interceptions and posted a 71.4 passer rating. The other came the year after he retired. Seahawks fans hated Elway for the same reason Cleveland Cavaliers fans hated Michael Jordan: No matter how good we were, he'd almost always find a way to beat us. Both players had a knack for conjuring what felt like unearned victories out of thin air, and it is absolutely MADDENING to be vanquished that way.. over and over and over again.

Elway was almost the greatest hometown sports hero Washington had ever seen. Born in Port Angeles, he spent a huge chunk of his childhood in the Evergreen State. After a stellar career at Stanford, Elway was billed as a "once-in-a-generation" prospect. After stating that he'd opt to play baseball if drafted by the winless (and hopeless) Baltimore Colts, an intense bidding war developed for the top pick in the 1983 NFL Draft. As chronicled in the great ESPN 30 for 30 documentary "Elway To Marino," Elway was eager to be drafted by the Seahawks, and a deal was in place to make that happen, until Seattle management decided they'd rather make a trade putting them in position to draft Penn State running back Curt Warner. While Dave Krieg was still one of the best quarterbacks of the 1980s, and Warner was a highly productive back for most of seven seasons, it's not hard to imagine how different the history of the NFL (and the Seattle Seahawks) would be if Chuck Knox and Mike McCormack had executed the Elway trade with Baltimore.

When Elway entered the league, I was a eight-year-old baby Twelve living in the Tri-Cities. When the Hawks stomped Denver in the 1983 AFC Wild Card game, the rookie Elway couldn't even beat out journeyman Steve DeBerg for the playoff start. After that 31-7 blowout win, Krieg and Warner certainly seemed more valuable than Elway and Denver's forgettable collection of ballcarriers.

Things immediately shifted in 1984- Curt Warner blew out his knee on kickoff weekend, and Elway blossomed into one of the NFL's most dangerous weapons. 1984 was the start off fifteen seasons of Elway-generated misery for the Twelve Army... but I'll get back to that in a minute. In those 15 campaigns, Elway would win more games, pass for more yards, and throw more touchdowns against the Seahawks than he did against any other team. While Browns fans are more famous for their rabid, bug-eyed hatred of John Elway than Twelves are, the Seahawks were the team the Broncos climbed over to reach all those playoff games against Cleveland.

Growing up in the Tri-Cities, I felt SURROUNDED by little bastards in Orange jerseys, who delighted in taunting me after every Denver victory over my Hawks and using me like a cash machine. All they'd have to do was tell me "SeaChickens SUCK!" I'd reply "Oh yeah? Wanna bet on it?!?" A huge chunk of my allowances growing up went right into the pockets of little snot-nosed Elway jock-sniffers, which further stoked my wrath toward that horse-faced, leather-skinned cretin.

Of course, 15 years after retiring with two Super Bowl rings, Elway is Denver's Executive VP of Football Operations. He's built the team that the Seahawks will face in XLVIII, and he bested PCJS in the competition for Peyton Manning's services two years ago. Countless older Twelves like me are horrified by the notion of not only losing our 2nd Super Bowl in eight years, but by the notion of JOHN ELWAY being the one hoisting the Lombardi Trophy over our (figuratively) battered bodies. Conversely, an XLVIII win would also represent a small measure of payback against the man who has been our most formidable foe for my whole life as a Twelve. Here's a look back at some of the lowest (and highest) points of Seattle's rivalry with Elway and the Broncos. Enjoy!

1984- Round One
11/25/84 Seahawks 27, Broncos 24
This was one of the best matchups of the 1984 season, with the 10-2 Seahawks visiting the 11-1 Broncos. The fireworks started with an 80-yard Dave Krieg-to-Darryl Turner bomb on the FIRST PLAY for a 7-0 Seattle lead. Krieg would incinerate the Broncos, accumulating 406 passing yards, tossing three TDs and nary an INT. This was also the best regular season game of Steve Largent's Hall of Fame career: 12 catches for 191 yards and a score.

The Hawks built up a 27-17 lead in the 4th, but it looked like young Elway would pull off a soul-crushing comeback. Denver scored to pull within three, and had a chance to send the game to OT on the final play. Rich Karlis booted the ball with his bare foot... it looked good... then faded... faded... CLANG! the upright. NO GOOD! Seahawks win! Seattle was in control of their own playoff fate with three games left. Win all three, and they'd nail down home field advantage through the AFC playoffs.

1984- Round Two
12/15/84 Broncos 31, Seahawks 14
The Seahawks dropped the penultimate game of the '84 season at Arrowhead (of course), but could still win the AFC West and a first-round bye with a home win over Denver. The Seahawks had been undefeated at home in 1984, and were favored to defeat Elway and the Broncos. It was a deeply weird game in which Dave Krieg clearly outplayed Elway (who threw four interceptions)- But one of Krieg's interceptions was returned for a touchdown, and Denver was able to capitalize on Seattle's other two turnovers as well. The Broncos rolled to a 31-14 win, and the Twelve Army's collective rage towards Elway was kindled.

1986- Round One
10/26/86 Broncos 20, Seahawks 13
While Elway was busy laying waste to Seattle's defense for 321 yards passing, Dave Krieg completed only 6 passes for 26 yards. He'd get yanked in favor of Gale Gilbert, who'd lead Seattle on a tantalizing touchdown drive that convinced Chuck Knox to bench Krieg in favor of Gilbert. After two starts where Gilbert would generate two measly touchdowns, Krieg got his job back, and lead the Seahawks on a furious 5-game rally to end the 1986 season.

1986- Round Two
12/20/86 Seahawks 41, Broncos 16
In the Kingdome rematch, the surging Seahawks shredded the Super Bowl-bound Broncos. Curt Warner galloped for 192 yards and three touchdowns, and Krieg was 17-for-24 for 238 yards and two more scores. Elway would get sacked twice and be held to 187 yards passing while competing less than half his passes. The pain of missing the playoffs would be somewhat alleviated by watching Elway and the Broncos get blown out by the Giants in Super Bowl XXI.

1987- Round One
9/13/87 Broncos 40, Seahawks 17
The Seahawks acquired standout Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth in the offseason, and he immediately endeared himself to the Twelve Army by vowing to hit Elway as hard as he could every chance he got. The Boz would plant Elway in the Mile High Stadium turf twice, but those brief flashes of pleasure were smothered in a blowout loss to the Broncos. Elway threw for 338 yards and four touchdowns, and a competitive 20-17 game at halftime turned into a demoralizing 40-17 loss.

1987- Round Two
12/13/87 Seahawks 28, Broncos 21
I was at this game, and I happened to be about 10 feet away from the Broncos team bus as they arrived at the Kingdome. I was in awe of Tony Dorsett, but when Elway came off the bus it took all of the self-control I could muster as a twelve-year-old to keep myself from making a doomed Jeff Gillooly-esque run at his knees. Thankfully, I restrained myself and the Seahawks secured a late-season win that kept their playoff hopes alive, with the game-clinching score coming on a reverse flea-flicker that climaxed with a 40-yard TD strike from Krieg to Ray Butler. Once again, I'd have to console myself by watching the Broncos ultimately fail in Super Bowl XXII.

1988- Wow! A sweep!
12/11/88 Seahawks 21, Broncos 14
9/4/88 Seahawks 42, Broncos 14
The first of only two Seattle season sweeps of the Broncos... If Denver had won either of these games, they would have won the AFC West and Seattle has one less banner hanging from the Seahawks Stadium rafters. The Broncos were two-time defending AFC Champions, and huge favorites over Seattle at Mile High on Kickoff Weekend 1988, but Krieg was mistake free while Elway barfed up three turnovers, and the Hawks escaped with a 21-14 win. One chilling sidenote was Mike Harden's vicious illegal hit on Steve Largent, which broke his facemask, knocked out a few teeth and drew a huge fine from the NFL.

The rematch in Seattle three months later was no contest: Warner and John :L. Williams both rambled for over 100 yards rushing, and Dave Krieg was 19/22 with two TDs and no picks. Oh... and Largent got his revenge, DESTROYING Mike Harden with a perfect (and legal) hit on an interception return.

In a four year span from 1986-1989 the Broncos went to three Super Bowls. In 1988, the Seahawks rose up and smote them right out of postseason contention.

1993- Typical Elway
11/28/93 Broncos 17, Seahawks 9
This was the only time EVER that I arrived late for a Seahawks game. I hit Seattle about 12:30, and drove right into the gaping maw of pre-game traffic, which I usually miss by being ridiculously early. So I found myself sitting on the ramp off I-90, within sight of the Dome, gridlocked. I didn't get into the stadium until a few minutes into the first quarter, but there was no score yet. Yay!

I got to my seat in the 300 level, just in time to see the pivotal play of the game, and of Seattle's season. I hadn't even sat down yet... It was 3rd and long for Denver from midfield. 65,000 twelves combined to make a deafening roar, and it looked like Antonio Edwards was going to force a 3-and-out or a turnover with a vicious blindside hit on Elway...

Somehow, Elway pulled a Ben Kenobi, sensed his impending doom, ducked under Edwards and fired a perfect 50-yard TD strike to Shannon Sharpe. 7-0 Denver, but it felt like 70-0. The Hawks would get it together, sacking Elway 4 times (including once for a safety) and picking him once, but once Rod Bernstine punched it in late in the 4th to make it 17-9 the game and Seattle's season was over (nope, no two-point conversions in the NFL until 1994, boys and girls). The Seahawks would finish with a 1-4 Death March towards a disappointing 6-10 finish, while Denver once again made the playoffs. This game is still one of my most unpleasant memories of being a Seahawks fan.

1995- We Got Him (For Once)!
12/10/95 Seahawks 31, Broncos 27
This win not only kept Denver out of the playoffs, but it also was the greatest comeback in team history (until that win over Tampa Bay earlier this season), against our Tormentor-In-Chief. I was going to Western at the time, and living in the Fairhaven dorms. It was final exam time, and instead of cramming I was glued to the Hawks/Broncos throwdown. As the game went on, my textbooks started to look more appealing than witnessing another Elway-administered beatdown.

Denver led 20-0 at one point, and even after a Peterson FG, it was 20-3 at the half. Denver was deep in Seattle territory early in the 3rd, about to make it 27-3. The Hawks gambled on D, sending Robert Blackmon on a safety blitz. Blackmon obliterated Elway and Antonio Edwards scooped up the fumble and rambled 83 yards for a TD that completely shifted the momentum. I leaned out my dorm window and brayed like a farm animal after that one... Seattle still trailed 27-17 in the 4th, but rallied for two late touchdowns, leading to more out-the-dorm-window screaming. Simply amazing.

What Elway-related memories/trauma can you add to this, my fellow Twelves?


Laird of Madrona said...

One of the handful of games I saw in the Kingdome was that Largent payback hit on Harden. The old man could dish it out.

neurocell said...

I joined the Air Force in April of '88. I was stationed outside of Anchorage, AK that following August. I was so stoked because they played all he Seahawks' games.

I was watching the Denver game at Elmendorf AFB's Fire Station 1. The only Denver fan was off that day. I was the only Seahawk fan. I watched the entire game. Everyone else left because it was a blowout. Guys would wander back in, and stay when they saw that it was close, they'd stay. When Largent laid out Harden, EVERYONE was going crazy. A couple guys became Hawk fans then. They all told me how awesome he was. it was so freaking satisfying.

The '86 season hurts so much. Losing to the Jets for the first time in franchise history. Falling to 5-6. Watching Pete Axehelm tell everyone that the Hawks would win out, while the Jets wouldn't win again. Everyone laughing at him, and then forgetting it when it came true. The Seahawks beating both Super Bowl participants. Sitting at home, because they lost the tie breaker with the Jets. The worst part was if the Patriots would've lost, then the Jets would've won the East, and the Hawks would've won a four way tie breaker with NE, KC, and Cincinnati.

We've lost one game tie breakers, half a freaking game tie breakers to Denver. I want me some payback. I want me some championships.

Go Hawks.

Mike L said...

What about that Monday night game in, maybe 92? It was the year the Hawks were something like 2-14, before they drafted Rick Mirer. They beat the Broncos in the Kingdome on Monday night and it was delicious.

DKSB said...

That was great, Mike... But Elway didn't play in that game. He was hurt, so Tommy Maddox started for Denver.

DKSB said...


neurocell said...

We did it!

I cannot describe how I feel.

Thank you Seahawks.