A season that began so well ended with coach Tom Flores being fired – and Mike Frier paralyzed – after the Seahawks lost nine of their final 12 games to finish 6-10 for the second consecutive year.
They had a 1,545-yard rusher and an 81-catch receiver. They also had two linebackers combine for 255 tackles. Then there was the Pro Bowl punter.
So how did the 1994 Seahawks finish 6-10, costing coach Tom Flores his job after only three seasons – and a 14-34 record?
1994 IN REVIEW
Record: 6-10 (fifth in AFC West)
Owner: Ken Behring
Coach: Tom Flores
Captains: C Ray Donaldson (off.), FS Eugene Robinson (def.), FB Tracy Johnson and snapper Trey Junkin (ST)
MVP: RB Chris Warren
Man of the Year: WR Brian Blades
Largent Award: Blades
Leading passer: Rick Mirer (195 of 381 for 2,151 yards, with 11 TDs and 7 interceptions)
Leading rusher: Warren (1,545 yards)
Leading receiver: Blades (81 receptions for 1,086 yards)
Leading tackler: MLB Rod Stephens (128)
Special teams tackles: LB Dean Wells (16)
Interception leader: CB Patrick Hunter, Robinson, CB Orlando Watters, LB Terry Wooden (3)
Sack leader: DE Michael Sinclair (4½)
Leading scorer: K John Kasay (85)
Pro Bowl selections: DT Cortez Kennedy, P Rick Tuten, Warren
All-Pro: Kennedy (first team); Warren, Tuten (second team)
National honors: none
As good an answer as any was played out in a locker-room scene the week of the season finale against the Browns in Cleveland, and then replayed during that 35-9 loss on Christmas Eve.
A rash of injuries in the secondary forced the Seahawks to start five different combinations in the final five games, and sign two defensive backs the week of the finale – Dion Lambert and Del Speer. They joined a jerry-rigged group that already included former first-round draft choice Terry Taylor and Tony Brown, who had been re-signed and signed earlier in the season.
After the Wednesday practice that week, secondary coach Paul Moyer rushed into the locker room to summon Lambert and Speer for a much-needed, crash-course meeting. Moyer was stopped by his own frustration as he tried to remember the names of his newest players. He finally gave up and, pointing emphatically at Lambert and then Speer, said, “You and you, come with me.”
Taylor and Brown already were starting because of injuries to cornerbacks Patrick Hunter, Carlton Gray, Nate Odomes and Orlando Watters. Backup safety Rafael Robinson started against the Browns because strong safety Robert Blackmon was out with a strained hamstring, leaving Lambert to start at free safety – after three days of practice. Also out: free safety Eugene Robinson (torn Achilles) and backup safety Dave McCloughan (sprained ankle); as well as backup safety Forney Duckett (strained hamstring), who had been signed the previous week.
Even Lambert admitted, “Some of the guys don’t know my name, and I don’t know theirs.”
Needless to say, when the Seahawks went to their nickel package against the Browns it was a plugged nickel.
So when Moyer called a certain coverage during the lopsided loss on a Saturday afternoon at old Cleveland Stadium when the wind chill was 22 degrees, Taylor frantically waved his arms and hollered to the sideline, “We can’t play that defense.” Pointing at the newest players, just as Moyer had on Wednesday, Taylor added, “Him and him don’t know it.”
Even before re-reaching that point of exasperation, it was over. Any chance the Seahawks had of winning that finale. The season. And, a few days later, Flores’ six-year stay in Seattle – the first three as president/general manager, the final three as general manager/head coach.
Flores actually announced his own firing, offering, “I’m not here to justify anything. I’m just here to tell you what happened. I’m not here to justify my existence.”
If there had been any justice, things would have gone better for Flores – and the Seahawks under him. His tenure was marked by class and honesty off the field, but simply not enough victories on it.
“The only barometer that we’re judged by – by anyone, including yourselves – is whether you win or lose,” he said at the time. “And we didn’t win. There were lots of empty seats in the stadium. So somebody has to be blamed. That’s the way this business operates.”
In another odd twist, the Seahawks did part of their business that season at Husky Stadium because the Kingdome was closed from July 19 to Nov. 5 after ceiling tiles fell. So their first three “home” games were played on the University of Washington campus.
The season also was marred by a December car crash near the team’s facility in Kirkland that left defensive tackle Mike Frier paralyzed; Pro Bowl running back Chris Warren with cracked ribs; and Lamar Smith, Warren’s backup, with a broken ankle.
Frier’s teammates played that week – against the Indianapolis Colts at the Kingdome – with his No. 92 scribbled on their wristbands and the tape covering their shoes. The Seahawks lost the game, 31-19.
“We thought we were prepared to play and rally around a tragedy,” said right tackle Howard Ballard, the team’s big addition in Plan B free agency that offseason. “I think everyone had the wreck out of their minds by the time the game started, but we made too many mistakes.
“None of us have ever gone through something like that accident and it probably was a distraction. Maybe everyone was trying too hard to play a good game under the circumstances.”
Things began better than they ended for Flores and the Seahawks in ’94. They opened on the road by drubbing the Redskins 28-7 in Washington, as Warren got his 1,545-yard season off to productive start by rushing for 100 yards and two touchdowns; and the Raiders 38-9 in Los Angeles, as Rick Mirer passed for three TDs and Warren ran for two more.
The Seahawks followed a loss to the San Diego Chargers in their “home” opener by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-13 in Week 4. But that 3-1 record quickly became 3-3 and then 3-7 as they lost six in a row. The skid was halted when fullback Mack Strong scored with 42 seconds to play to give the Seahawks a 22-21 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and they made it two in a row when John Kasay kicked a 32-yard field goal with 1:42 left in a 10-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
But they dropped three of their final four. It was not a fitting end, or the end anyone envisioned when owner Ken Behring brought Flores to Seattle after he had won two Super Bowls and 83 regular-season games in nine seasons (1979-87) as coach of the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders.
“It was a very painful and agonizing decision,” said David Behring, Ken’s son who became club president in 1993. “It’s not something that I wanted to do. It’s something that we felt we had to do to take the team in a new direction. We just weren’t advancing and improving as fast as we had hoped for.”
The Seahawks’ six-win season had come despite the running game ranking third in the league, thanks to Warren’s then-club record rushing total; a plus-4 turnover ratio; and playing a fifth-place schedule.
There were other numbers that didn’t add up to six, either.
In addition to his AFC-leading yardage total, Warren also caught 41 passes and scored 11 TDs, both career bests at the time. In the lone down-the-stretch victory, he ran for 185 yards and a TD in a two-point win over the Oilers in Houston – even though he was playing with the cracked ribs.
Brian Blades also set a single-season record with his 81 receptions, including an AFC-best 33 on third downs, despite playing with bruised ribs and an assortment of other injuries so lengthy that former trainer Jim Whitesel would just write “everything” next to Blades’ name on the weekly injury report.
Punter Rick Tuten got some overdue Pro Bowl recognition after punting 91 times for 3,905 yards and dropping a then-club record 33 inside the 20-yard line.
Linebacker Terry Wooden, despite coming off the field in passing situations, led the team in tackles for losses (11½), shared the lead in interceptions (three) and finished second in solo (94) and total tackles (a career-high 127; and one less than linebacker Rod Stephens).
Defensive tackle Joe Nash, at 34 and in his 13th season, was expected to be a situational player. Instead, he started all 16 games for the third consecutive season and seventh time in his career. He had 48 tackles to finish second to Pro Bowl tackle Cortez Kennedy (70) among the D-linemen.
Kennedy was voted to the Pro Bowl for a fourth consecutive season, which seemed fitting after he demolished four players on one snap in the season-opener against the Redskins.
Mirer threw more TD passes (11) than interceptions (seven) for the only time in his four-year stint with the Seahawks. The former first-round draft choice also needed season-ending surgery after fracturing the thumb on his left hand in that fateful Week 14 loss to the Colts.
But it wasn’t enough to win more than six games, or save the jobs of Flores and his 12 assistant coaches.
“The total sweep was a surprise,” Kennedy said after the Dec. 29th purge. “But the Behrings, they own the football team and they do what they want to do and life goes on.
“To see Tom go out like this, it’s hard. To see the whole staff go, it’s sad.”