They called it magic in Miami. When looking for success on the road in the postseason, the Seattle Seahawks might not want to not lean on recent history. They are 1-8 all-time away from Seattle, having lost their past eight playoff games on the road or at a neutral site.
But Seattle’s lone victory 27 years ago came in a situation similar to this season, and it could serve as a blueprint for Pete Carroll’s team as it prepares for Sunday’s NFC divisional matchup at Chicago.
Like this week’s contest, the Seahawks were heavy underdogs when they traveled to Miami to take on the Dolphins and legendary head coach Don Shula at the Orange Bowl on Dec. 31, 1983.
The Seahawks had clinched the first playoff berth in franchise history by winning their final two regular-season games to finish 9-7, making the playoffs as an AFC wild-card team.
They hosted Denver the next week and beat the Broncos handily, 31-7, in front of a rowdy Kingdome crowd, setting up a matchup with the 12-4 Dolphins. The AFC East champs were favored by 81/2 points, with few NFL observers giving Seattle much chance to compete against the team led by a rookie quarterback named Dan Marino.
The Seahawks are 91/2-point underdogs against the Bears on Sunday.
Starting quarterback Dave Krieg said the team didn’t get into Miami until 4:30 a.m. on Friday; their charter flight was delayed because of a mechanical issue. They got a few hours of sleep and woke up at 9 a.m. for a short Friday walk-through on a sloppy Orange Bowl field, then played at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
“They got Shula, Dan Marino and all of that stuff,” Krieg said. “It was a bit misty at the Orange Bowl, an overcast day that was more Seattle-type weather than the usually sunny Miami. And I like playing in that kind of weather.
“The fans were crazy, not like back in Seattle, but it wasn’t far behind. The fans were amped up.”
Along with being heavy underdogs, the ’83 team also had a first-year head coach in Chuck Knox. And just like Pete Carroll brought in his former players this year, Knox brought in veterans from his previous stops with the L.A. Rams and Buffalo – including offensive linemen Blair Bush and Reggie McKenzie, fullback Cullen Bryant and tight end Charle Young – to help teach the younger players his hard-nosed approach.
“They brought in a different mentality along with our leadership, because they had played under Chuck and they knew what Chuck wanted and what he needed,” said receiver Paul Johns, who still works in the organization’s community outreach program. “He brought a winning attitude. He basically just said he was going to teach us how to win.”
It worked, and Knox had Seattle in the postseason in his first year, as Carroll does this season.
Led by rookie running back Curt Warner, Knox’s Seahawks used a dynamic running attack and took advantage of five Miami turnovers to stun the Dolphins, 27-20. Johns finished with four catches for 60 yards and, along with McKenzie, helped carry Knox off the field as Seattle celebrated and Dolphins fans looked on in stunned silence.
“Once you start getting ahead, the belief that you can win kicks in,” Krieg said. “The same thing happened in our game. We got a couple big plays, we got ahead, and we ended up winning the game.
“Right after that game, I remember doing the interviews. I was just talking so loud and so fast, I still had that game atmosphere still an hour after the game talking to TV reporters.”
The Seahawks players weren’t the only ones who thought they could win. The Nordstrom family, owners of the team at the time, had chilled bottles of champagne waiting on the plane, and hundreds of fans greeted the team at Sea-Tac Airport.
Seattle played in the AFC Championship game the next week against the Raiders, just one win away from the Super Bowl, but lost, 30-14, after having beaten the Raiders twice during the regular season.
Even in defeat, Seattle had put itself on the map as a team to be reckoned with, not just a team known for fake field goals and trick plays.
“I think ’83 opened a lot of eyes in the public,” Johns said. “I think the football community knew us, but the nation didn’t. We weren’t looked at as a gimmick team anymore. I think that legitimized us for a while.”
Twenty-seven years later, the Seahawks find themselves again looking for respect – and a playoff win on the road.