April 30, 2015

Almost Hawks: Brett Favre, Steve Young, Drew Bledsoe and the NFL Draft Crapshoot

It's widely expected that Florida State Quarterback Jameis Winston and Oregon Quarterback Marcus Mariota will go #1 and #2 in the first round of tonight's NFL Draft. If history is any indication, one of them will be a hugely successful NFL QB (A Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb or Andrew Luck), and the other will be a spectacular failure (A Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch, or Robert Griffin III). In 1993 the Seahawks and Patriots held the top 2 picks in the draft, and both were in desperate need of a franchise quarterback. The Patriots would land a signal-caller who would only be surpassed in New England football annals by Tom Brady. The Hawks? The TL;DR version is that they drew the short straw. But you came here for the long version, didn't you?

The 1992 Seahawks were one of the worst teams to ever see a gridiron. There were bright spots in 1000-yard rusher Chris Warren, a surprisingly stout defense, and in the dominant performance of NFL Defensive Player of the Year Cortez Kennedy- But no team in the 16-game schedule era scored as few points as the '92 Hawks. Before the 1992 season, long-time Head Coach Chuck Knox was jettisoned because he refused to bench the still-serviceable Dave Krieg (this followed Knox being overruled in the Seattle War Room on Draft Day 1991: He wanted the Hawks to draft Brett Favre and groom him to take over for Krieg. The team went with noted Ent Dan McGwire instead). Hated ex-Raiders Coach Tom Flores took over, and a Cerberus of incompetent quarterbacking (McGwire, Kelly Stouffer, and Stan Gelbaugh) combined for this stat-line in 1992:

2323 yards, 9 touchdowns, 23 interceptions, 48.3 pass completion rate, and a 48.9 passer rating.

Only two years after spending a first-rounder on McGwire (while Favre was getting started on a Hall-of-Fame career in Green Bay), Seattle's most pressing need was at QB. Thanks to their putrid 2-14 campaign in '92, the Hawks held the 2nd pick in the 1993 NFL Draft. They picked after New England thanks to a 10-6 win over the Patriots in September of 1992, and that result would have massive consequences for both teams.

Washington State's Drew Bledsoe was touted as possibly the next Dan Marino. The kid out of Walla Walla (I grew up in the Tri-Cities, and I remember watching Bledsoe absolutely torch my Richland Bombers while I was a freshman at RHS in 1989) had three explosive seasons in the Palouse before declaring himself eligible for the '93 draft. Like most Twelves, I hoped that the homegrown Bledsoe would end up setting records in the Kingdome,

Notre Dame's Rick Mirer wore Joe Montana's #3 for the Fighting Irish, and Mirer was compared to the SF Hall-of-Famer ad nauseam leading up to the draft. Like Montana, Mirer was a mobile QB who was effective with his legs as well as his arm. In fact, San Francisco was so enamored with Mirer that they wanted to trade Steve Young to the Seahawks for the #2 pick in the 1993 draft. The Niners' plan was to keep Montana to groom Mirer, but Montana was already dead-set on moving on from San Francisco after perceived slights from the front office during the 1992 season- So Young stayed in the Bay Area, Montana was traded to Kansas City, and the Seahawks kept that draft pick.

New England took Bledsoe #1, and Seattle snapped up Mirer with the subsequent pick. I remember quickly moving from disappointment to optimism- Sure, it would have been nice to see Bledsoe in Seahawks blue, but Mirer was going to be just a great... Maybe even better, right?

Early on, it looked like Seattle might have snagged the better quarterback. In a week 3 contest at Foxboro, Mirer outplayed Bledsoe and the Hawks ground out a 17-14 win. In late October the teams would play again at the Kingdome, but Bledsoe would miss the rematch with an injury. The Seahawks trailed 9-3 late in the 4th quarter, but Mirer led the Hawks to the winning TD with only seconds left. The dramatic win got Seattle to 4-3, already doubling their win total from the previous season. The Patriots fell to 1-6, and the whispers they might have taken the wrong quarterback began.

The Hawks would crater with a 2-7 stretch to finish 1993 at 6-10, but Mirer would be named AP AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year. 1993 would end up as his Seattle peak. He never built upon the potential he flashed in his rookie season, but the Hawks would somehow convince the Bears to give up a 1st-round pick for him in February 1997 (allowing Seattle to take both Shawn Springs and Walter Jones in the 1997 Draft).

By 1996, Bledsoe was established as an elite NFL quarterback. He'd lead the Patriots to Super Bowl XXXI and go on to set franchise passing records that would stand until Tom Brady rolled into town.

It's bracing to reflect on how close we came to seeing Brett Favre, Steve Young or Drew Bledsoe in a Seahawks uniform. How different is franchise history if Knox won the War Room argument? If Montana stayed in SF? If we had lost at Foxboro in '92?

Since we're already speculating wildly: Who's more likely to become a Bledsoe or a Mirer? Mariota or Winston? Will a blockbuster trade like the one we didn't see in '93 go down tonight?

What do you think, sirs?

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