He was benched and then cut. His franchise passing records were surpassed, not just once but twice.
But there is one connection between Jim Zorn and the Seahawks that is indelible: The left-hander was the original quarterback for the Left Coast expansion team during its NFL infancy, a whirl-and-wing-it passer whose talents were a near-perfect match for the eclectic mix of players who comprised the team’s offense from 1976-82.
That alone should garner Zorn consideration for the franchise’s 35th Anniversary team, which will be selected by the readers of Seahawks.com.
While others did it longer, with the productivity to match, Zorn did it first – and in foremost fashion.
“Jim was a perfect fit for that offense, because of his ability to throw on the run and being a mobile quarterback,” said Sherman Smith, the Seahawks’ original running back who is now coaching the position on Pete Carroll’s staff.
“That offense fit him, and he fit that offense.”
Zorn passed for 3,000-plus yards in three consecutive seasons (1978-80) and completed nearly 60 percent of his throws in 1981. His overall numbers for completions (1,593), yards (20,122) and touchdown passes (107) were surpassed by Dave Krieg (2,096, 2,132 and 195), who in turn saw his records for completions (2,293) and yards (26,433) broken by Matt Hasselbeck last season. But Zorn still ranks third in all three categories, and he was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor in 1991 – which says more about his lasting impact on the franchise than any statistics.
Now 57, Zorn is the quarterbacks coach for the Baltimore Ravens, after an ill-fated two-season stint as head coach of the Washington Redskins – which followed a seven-season stay as QB coach for the Seahawks.
Zorn doesn’t just bleed Seahawks blue, he is a major artery that connects the team’s present with its past. Even thought he was born in Whittier, Calif., and attended Cal Poly-Pomona, he adapted to and embraced the Seattle lifestyle so completely that Zorn could be the poster boy for everything that makes this area so special.
In fact, Zorn did the interview for this story on his cell phone – while pulling his kayak out of Lake Washington.
“I have all fond memories of being a Seahawk player,” he said. “Look what playing for the Seahawks and living in this area has meant to my life.”
Zorn met his wife, Joy, while playing for the Seahawks and, regardless of where his jobs have taken them, their family always has considered the Seattle area home – Rachael, 31, who has made them grandparents twice; Sarah, 26, who got married in March; Danielle, 22, who works for former Seahawks wide receiver Steve Largent; and Isaac, 15.
Zorn’s first tour with the Seahawks began to unravel midway through the 1983 season. He was struggling, so then-coach Chuck Knox went to Krieg at halftime of a Week 8 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Kingdome. Krieg got the start the following week, directed an upset over the eventual Super Bowl champion Raiders in Los Angeles and “The Man from Milton” never glanced back at the QB he had replaced.
Zorn was then released after the 1984 season. He spent one season with the Green Bay Packers, another with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers and then played one game in 1987 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before getting into coaching – which led to his second tour with the Seahawks.
“Getting cut wasn’t the hard part,” Zorn said. “The hard part was being a backup.
“And then getting cut and having Chuck just say, ‘Hey, I think I made a mistake. I didn’t realize the kind of leadership role you had on this team.’ I didn’t know whether he was telling me that to make me feel good when I was walking out the door, or that was something he really believed. In any consolation, it kind of irritated me. But most of life, you learn from the past, but you have to live in the present. So I don’t regret or hold anything that happened to me with animosity.”
Zorn’s place in franchise history was never tarnished – despite the abrupt end and some rocky initial steps as a first-time starter for an expansion team.
“First of all, it was very exciting. It was just like a dream come true to be able to be in an NFL huddle,” Zorn said. “All of that really was a thrill.”
He then laughed while adding, “But I do remember calling a few plays (in the huddle) and walking up to the line of scrimmage wonder what I’d just called. You know, ‘What did I just say?’ I’d called a bunch of plays in college, of course. But to be in charge and to be the guy that had to help a NFL team get the ball down the field and across that goal line; now that was really different.”
So were the other faces in that huddle – a muddled collection that included a future Hall of Fame receiver (Largent); a college QB who was learning to play running back, and doing it at the NFL level (Smith); and a line comprised of a rookie (center Art Kuehn) and veterans obtained in the allocation draft (tackles Norm Evans and Nick Bebout and guards Bob Penchion and John Denmarie).
“The very first game, I didn’t even know some of the running backs names,” Zorn said. “I’d say, ‘Hey, No. 44 (Ralph Nelson), you’re behind me.’ It was wild. It was just wild.”
But also wildly entertaining.
“We only won two games that first year,” Zorn said. “But you would have thought we almost went to the playoffs. That’s how enthusiastic not only we were but the fans were. Everybody was excited.
“Looking back, that’s what I’m most proud of – just to be a part of a new franchise. With the expansion draft and the way some others got to the team, we were a bunch of misfits, really, that didn’t necessarily fit into any one program.
“But we kind of made our own program.”
And Seahawks history in the progress.