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The pass is prologue

Nov. 20, 1978
Nov. 20, 1978

Table of Contents
Nov. 20, 1978

Nebraska
Rangers
Bill Lee
Ron Boone
College Football
Golf
Conservation
Pro Football
Running
Dogs
USC
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

The pass is prologue

Things are looking up in Seattle, where the Zorn-to-Largent aerial circus has made the Seahawks a worthy opponent

Greater Seattle has not conducted a formal poll on the subject, but there is little doubt that the chief topic of conversation these days among bartenders from Puyallup to Bremerton, and among the beer drinkers in downtown Sedro-Woolley, concerns a pair of teetotalers named Jim Zorn and Steve Largent. They play quarterback and wide receiver, respectively, for the Seattle Seahawks, and while Zorn to Largent may not have the ring of Unitas to Berry, they are working on it.

This is an article from the Nov. 20, 1978 issue Original Layout

Zorn to Largent is one of the most devastating passing combinations in the NFL, and the two Seahawks are the principal reason why Seattle's football fans seem to be walking around with their heads somewhere in the clouds above Mount Rainier. Zorn to Largent—it's sounding better every minute—produced four completions for 57 yards last Sunday in the sold-out Kingdome while the Seahawks were being upset by the Baltimore Colts 17-14.

Largent has caught 46 Zorn passes for 793 yards and five touchdowns this season. For his part, southpaw Zorn, who threw for 119 yards against Baltimore, now leads the AFC in passing yardage with 2,246 and trails NFL leader Roger Staubach by only 152 yards. In addition, Zorn also has rushed for 269 yards.

Thanks primarily to Zorn-to-Largent, Seattle has rapidly become the NFL's model expansion franchise. In their first year, 1976, the Seahawks won two games—two more than expansion-brother Tampa Bay won—and in 1977 they had a 5-9 record, winning more games than Kansas City, Buffalo, Green Bay, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and the New York Jets. This season Seattle has a 5-6 record, with victories over such teams as Oakland and Minnesota. And two of Seattle's losses—to Denver and Baltimore—were by the margin of a field goal.

When the Seahawks routed the Raiders 27-7 in Seattle last month, they intercepted four Ken Stabler passes and treated the Raiders so rudely that Oakland Guard Gene Upshaw announced, "Y'all can quit calling those guys an expansion team. They ain't that anymore."

On the whole, the Seahawks hardly seem characteristic of any football team. They are heavy into Bible study, prayer, hospital visits and off-season charity basketball games. Coach Jack Patera has yet to face a disciplinary problem. And if Zorn is any example, the Seahawks are a very unpretentious group; the quarterback owns a 1955 Bentley coupe but prefers to drive a '72 Volkswagen with 96,000 miles on the odometer, and he appears in only one TV commercial—for Sam's Tire Service.

Patera, an old linebacker who coached Minnesota's defensive line for seven seasons before Seattle hired him in 1976, and General Manager John Thompson, who came to Seattle via the front office of the Minnesota Vikings and the NFL's Management Council, have built the Seahawks on a solid base. They already have discarded 32 of the 39 players Seattle was forced to take in the 1976 expansion draft, going instead with young draft choices. Both the coach and the GM were criticized last year when, in a complicated maneuver, Seattle gave up the draft rights to Tony Dorsett in exchange for three high-round selections, but now they are receiving applause for the deal. They used the Dallas picks to draft Guard Tom Lynch, Offensive Tackle Steve August and Middle Linebacker Terry Beeson—and all are starters.

Also selected in the draft were Seattle's two durable running backs—6'4", 225-pound Sherman Smith, who ripped through the Chicago Bears for a club record of 152 yards two weeks ago, and 6'3", 216-pound David Sims, who leads the AFC with 10 touchdowns, including both Seattle TDs against Baltimore, and has rushed for more than 100 yards in one game three times this season. In all, 19 of the 45 Seahawks are Seattle draft choices.

Statistics aside, the 25-year-old Zorn and the 24-year-old Largent may well be the biggest bargains ever acquired by an expansion franchise in any sport. Zorn and Largent found one another late in the summer of 1976 when Seattle was shuttling dozens of players through its first training camp. Both bore the stamp of "reject."

In 1973 Zorn led the nation's small colleges in total offense as a running quarterback for Cal Poly of Pomona, but he was ignored by every NFL team in the 1975 draft. Signed later that year as a free agent by Dallas, he was the Cowboys' last cut as Dallas had to make room on its roster for newly acquired Running Back Preston Pearson. Zorn subsequently signed with Seattle before the expansion draft.

Largent, who relies more on guileful moves than burning speed to get open, led the nation in touchdown pass receptions his last two years at Tulsa, then was drafted in the fourth round in 1976 by Houston. The Oilers paid little notice to him in camp, however, writing him off as being too slow. Jerry Rhome, now the club's offensive coordinator, was the coach of Seattle's quarterbacks and receivers that season. He had been an assistant at Tulsa when Largent was catching all those TD passes, and Rhome no doubt saw another Howard Twilley in him. Rhome broke 16 NCAA passing records when he played for Tulsa in the early '60s, and Twilley was his No. 1 target. Labeled as "too slow" by pro scouts, Twilley was only a 12th-round draft pick by the Miami Dolphins. He played with the Dolphins for 11 seasons. In any event, Seattle acquired Largent from Houston for a "future draft choice," which turned out to be an eighth-round selection in 1977.

Largent caught 87 passes for 1,348 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first two seasons with Seattle. In 1977 he averaged 19.5 yards a reception, third best in the AFC.

Zorn won the job as Seattle's No. 1 quarterback in the Seahawks' very first exhibition game when he came off the bench to turn a 24-0 wipeout by the San Francisco 49ers into a 27-20 shoot-out. Zorn went on to be the NFC's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1976 (Seattle has now been shifted to the AFC), and has started 35 of the Seahawks' 39 regular-season games.

He missed four games last season after suffering a knee injury while trying to tackle Cincinnati's Lemar Parrish along the sideline, Parrish having intercepted one of his passes. "I learned a great lesson while sitting out those four weeks," says Zorn, who knows he should have tried to shove Parrish out of bounds. "I've got to be more intelligent than that. I lost my temper, and I learned a lot. It was good for me to sit out because I found out that I don't like sitting out."

For Zorn, life in the pocket has been easier this season than in the past, because of the development of the Sea-hawks' young line. He is extremely mobile, though, and never hesitates to run with the ball himself. "I've got one great ability," he says. "I can get out of a tough situation when the pocket collapses."

After Zorn ran the Lions wild with his scrambles and passes in Seattle's 28-16 win in September, Detroit Defensive Tackle Doug English said, "The thing I can't comprehend about Zorn is the way he can pinpoint his passes when he's on the dead run. The game would have turned out a lot differently if they weren't right on the money. I got to say that the guy is a super quarterback."

While Zorn appreciates such accolades, he tries to pay them little notice. "I never envisioned anything like what's been happening," he says. "You just can't conceive of it. I never got down once that first season when we won only two games, because I was having so much fun out there. I'm still having fun now that we're winning more games, too. But what I don't understand is all the publicity. It's really wild. Why should I get all the publicity? I'm glad our team is getting it, but me individually? I'm only a reflection of what our team is."

Throughout the Northwest, and even up in Anchorage, where the Seahawks have an Alaska fan club, Zorn is admired for his character as much as his football skills. He personally answers all his fan mail, including letters from kids that ask, "Can I have your torn jersey?" ("No, it goes back to the equipment man.") Zorn also thanks reporters for interviewing him, and he is so unselfish with his time that only recently has he become selective about speaking engagements. The requests are numerous; Zorn could give a speech a day for the next six months in the Seattle area alone.

Largent says, "The personality of our team is directly related to the age of our players. We're a loose, young, enthusiastic team that's building confidence in itself. We've got kind of a fragile makeup right now, but the more we win, the more confidence we get."

There are a lot of Seattleites who will drink to that.

PHOTOThere's little Jim Zorn can't do with a football.PHOTOSteve Largent, whose trademark is craftiness, not speed, came to the Seahawks stamped as a reject.