John L. Williams’ un-fullback-like production stood between Mack Strong and a berth on the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team. As usual, Strong beat the odds – not to mention Williams.
Mack Strong’s best block might have come after his 14-season career with the Seahawks had ended.
When the readers of Seahawks.com were asked to select a 35th Anniversary team, Strong was the overwhelming choice at fullback – over a player who put up overwhelming statistics for the position, John L. Williams.
Blue and Green Dream Team
The Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team, as selected by the readers of Seahawks.com:
WR Steve Largent
LT Walter Jones
LG Steve Hutchinson
C Robbie Tobeck
RG Bryan Millard
RT Howard Ballard
TE John Carlson
WR Bobby Engram
WR Brian Blades
QB Matt Hasselbeck
RB Shaun Alexander
FB Mack Strong
DE Jacob Green
DT Joe Nash
DT Cortez Kennedy
DE Michael Sinclair
OLB Chad Brown
MLB Lofa Tatupu
ILB Fredd Young
OLB Rufus Porter
CB Marcus Trufant
CB Dave Brown
NB Shawn Springs
SS Kenny Easley
FS Eugene Robinson
K Norm Johnson
P Rick Tuten
KOR Steve Broussard
PR Nate Burleson
The significance of his latest against-stiff-odds accomplishment is not lost on Strong, who joined the Seahawks in 1993 as an undrafted free agent and spent his rookie season on the practice squad. That just happened to be Williams’ eighth and final season with the team.
“I had tremendous respect for John L. – how he played the game and what he meant to this organization,” Strong said Tuesday. “When I came out to Seattle, I’d only heard of three people on that team – Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy and John L. Williams.
“So just being able to play with him was a huge honor and I feel like I learned a lot about how to be a pro just from watching him. So to be in the category with him is a real high honor for me.”
Williams was a freakishly talented player who averaged 572 rushing yards and 59 receptions for the Seahawks after being their first-round draft choice in 1986. He led the team in rushing once (741 yards in 1991) and receiving three times (74 receptions in 1992, 73 in 1990 and 58 in 1988). He finished with 4,579 rushing yards, which ranks fourth in franchise history; and 471 receptions, which ranks third. He was the choice at the position on the Seattle Post Intelligencer’s 25th Anniversary team in 2000.
He used his long, powerful arms to fend off defenders with a devastating stiff-arm that had to be seen to be believed – and tasted to fully appreciate. He also came up with one of the better lines in franchise history when asked what the L. in his name stands for.
“It doesn’t stand for anything,” he said. “It just kind of sits there.”
Strong? His career bests in rushing (174 yards in 2004) and receiving (29 in 2003 and 2006) didn’t come close to Williams’ career averages. While then-coach Chuck Knox made the long trek to Florida to give Williams the eyeball test prior to the 1986 draft, the Seahawks signed Strong in ’93 after every team in the league had passed on him in the draft.
But when the votes for the reader-selected 35th Anniversary team were tallied, it was Strong with 2,971 and Williams with 1,729.
Strong views his selection as one more confirmation of an improbable 14-season career that he anticipated would last one or two.
“To carve out the career that I was able to have and to be a part of some of the best teams in franchise history, it’s a real plus,” Strong said. “All of that together, I think it just really validates my career a little bit – for people to think of me as being one of the top players at my position in the history of this organization.
“It’s a pretty high honor.”
The best way to evaluate Strong’s impact on the franchise while playing for three different coaches – Tom Flores, Dennis Erickson and Mike Holmgren – is not with rushing yards and receptions. His contributions are better appreciated when you look at the impact his efforts had on those around him.
He blocked for three 1,000-yard rushers – Chris Warren, Ricky Watters and Shaun Alexander.
“For sure, I take some pride in that,” Strong said. “All those guys had different styles and temperaments and personalities. There’s a special bond between tailbacks and fullbacks. You’ve got to know each other really well and you kind of have to know how each other thinks for it to work really well.
“I was able to get along with all those guys and appreciate them all. They all brought something different to the team. So I was just glad to be in front of those guys to clear the way. They made my job a lot easier.”
Strong played in 201 games, for some of the best – and also a few of the worst – teams in franchise history. Only defense tackle Joe Nash played in more games (218) and for more seasons (15) than Strong.
“You think about 201 games, that’s a lot of moments,” Strong said when asked for a most memorable, or two.
As a blocker, he opted for the 2002 game against the Minnesota Vikings when Alexander scored five touchdowns – all in the first half, to set a league record.
“That was unbelievable,” Strong said. “Games like that, offensive linemen and everybody, you really feel a part of that. You really feel like you had a hand in somebody else being that successful.”
As a runner, Strong made an even more obvious choice: His career-long 32-yarder to ice the 2005 playoff win over the Washington Redskins.
“That kind of sticks in my mind as a career highlight,” he said. “But honestly, there were a lot of them and it’s hard to choose just one.”
Strong was presented with the Steve Largent Award that has been given annually since 1989 to the player who best exemplifies the spirit, dedication and integrity of the Seahawks an unprecedented five times. He also was voted to the Pro Bowl twice and All-Pro once.
These days, he spends his time being a “Mr. Mom,” as he put it, because his wife, Zoe, just completed her degree in psychology and has been accepted to graduate school at the University of Washington. He also does motivational speaking, corporate team-building training and, during the season, TV and radio analysis for the Seahawks.
Despite the physical nature of the position he played and the way he played it, Strong always was a gentleman, if not always a gentle man.
“Mack has the greatest ‘switch’ that I’ve ever been around,” said Alexander, the tailback on the 35th Anniversary team. “You know, just that ability to go from being good ol’ Mack to going out there and being a monster on the field.”
Strong’s performance and personality transcended units and even NFL generations in the locker room.
“Mack Strong, he’s a guy I always admired,” said Lofa Tatupu, the middle linebacker on the 35th Anniversary team – and also current team – who played three seasons with Strong.
“And Mack played at a time when fullbacks were used like fullbacks. When they had the ‘iso’ and the ‘power.’ It wasn’t like, ‘OK, he’s a fullback. But he’s going to go out catch a couple passes in the flat.’ And Mack’s couple run plays were the dive up the gut. So he’s a guy I always just really appreciated.”
Perhaps no one appreciated the aptly named Strong more than Alexander. From 2001-05, Alexander ran for 7,504 yards and scored 98 touchdowns – including a franchise-record and league-leading 1,880 yards and a then-NFL record 28 TDs during the Seahawks’ run to the Super Bowl in 2005.
His tour guide through the record books was Mack Strong. One crushing lead block at a time, and one after another after another after another. In fact, toward the end of his career, teammates began ribbing Strong that he was two inches shorter than when he joined the club because of all those lead blocks he had thrown and all those collisions with linebackers.
“I’m going to mourn, because that’s my buddy,” was Alexander’s reaction when Strong finally retired during the 2007 season because of a neck injury. “You don’t replace a legend. You go, ‘OK, this is going to be different.’ ”
Because Strong not only was different, but a difference-maker.
“Mack has been everything,” Alexander said. “He was the perfect mentor, on and off the field.”
And now, the fullback on the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team.