A TURN FOR THE BETTER THE SEAHAWKS WERE LOSING GAMES AND FANS IN BUNCHES, UNTIL A BLOCKED KICK BROUGHT NEW HOPE

November 18, 1996

They played the clip on the Diamondvision just as soon as the
doors to the Kingdome opened on Sunday. They showed it with rap
music, tried it with rock, interspersed it with images from
Rocky, then rewound it and played it one more time right before
the kickoff. Just one week earlier the Seattle Seahawks had
achieved their first worthy highlight of the 1990s: defensive
end Michael McCrary's block of an Oilers field goal try with
four seconds remaining, which safety Robert Blackmon returned 61
yards for a score and a 23-16 Seattle victory. And the Seahawks
were using it before Sunday's 42-23 blowout of the Minnesota
Vikings like a campaign ad on election eve.

It has been a long time, you see, since the Seahawks had
anything but Court TV footage to broadcast. This was a doomed
team four ticks away from falling off the NFL's radar screen.
They had embarrassing off-the-field problems, a dilapidated
stadium, an owner threatening to leave town, crowds so small
that players could hear their children talking in the stands
and, with the Oilers about to kick a 37-yard field goal to win
the game, the very real prospect of their fifth losing season of
the '90s.

Instead, the defeat was averted, the season saved, fan apathy
brought to a halt and new stadium plans pushed into overdrive. A
team had been saved by that eternal verity of sport: No game is
over until time has run out. For the Seahawks it was the
equivalent of Edgar Martinez's two-run double in the bottom of
the 11th that beat the Yankees in the 1995 playoffs and saved a
sinking Mariners franchise.

"I've seen a single play turn around an entire season before,"
says Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson, the former coach at the
University of Miami. "I remember how two wide-right field goals
against Florida State carried us to great seasons. But that was,
seriously, nothing quite like this."

Indeed, the Seahawks rode the momentum from McCrary's play all
the way back to mediocrity. Before 50,794 fans--nearly 15,000
more than had shown up the previous week--Seattle converted four
turnovers into 29 points, rolled to its fourth win in five weeks
and, at 5-5, climbed out of the AFC West cellar for the first
time this season. "It seems like everything that could have gone
wrong with this team during the last few years, did," says
defensive end Michael Sinclair, who leads the team in sacks,
with nine, and helped hold the Vikes to 15 yards rushing.
"Finally, it seems like we're starting to get some breaks. Our
faith has been renewed. The ball has started bouncing our way."

It sure did. Seattle's first touchdown was set up when a fumble
by Vikings' punt returner David Palmer fell at the feet of
Seattle safety T.J. Cunningham. The Seahawks then scored two
more TDs in the final 1:21 of the first half, both after
interceptions of Warren Moon passes. The second was an errant
throw tipped by wideout Cris Carter that went directly into the
chest of linebacker Winston Moss. Two plays later tailback Steve
Broussard raced in from the 26 to make it 28-7.

Finally, on a fourth-quarter punt, Palmer veered to his left to
block Seattle's James McKnight only to have the ball hit him in
the back and roll right into the arms of Seahawks tight end
Ronnie Williams. Three plays later quarterback John Friesz
zinged a 22-yarder to wideout Ricky Proehl that made the score
42-7. The Seahawks, minus-10 in the takeaway/giveaway category
during the first five games of the season, are plus-7 in the
last five.

The Seahawks are also 4-1 since Friesz took over for Rick Mirer.
A seven-year veteran who was a redshirt freshman during
Erickson's last year at Idaho, Friesz completed 22 of 33 passes
for 263 yards and two scores on Sunday. He's exactly what this
team needed: a guy so un-Seattle he shaved his goatee. "I'm just
doing what I do best," Friesz said last Friday, "which is to
come in and not screw up the game."

Still, Friesz wasn't Seattle's first choice to replace Mirer,
the No. 2 pick in the '93 draft, who threw one TD and nine
interceptions in his first five games. The Seahawks first
courted ex-Falcon Jeff George with a six-year, $30 million
contract. But George, a guy so self-centered he makes former
Seahawks linebacker Brian Bosworth seem humble, opted to sit out
the season rather than play for Seattle. Blown off by Jeff
George? You can't get much lower than that. "It was a circus, to
say the least," says Erickson. "They should have put a tent over
us."

It was just one more pratfall in a three-ring season for the
Seahawks. In March owner Ken Behring shipped the team to Anaheim
and started workouts near Disneyland, only to be forced back to
Seattle by the NFL. A month later, Microsoft cofounder Paul
Allen, a Seattle native and billionaire who owns the Portland
Trail Blazers, purchased an option to buy the Seahawks that runs
until next July. And over the summer wideout Brian Blades was
acquitted of manslaughter charges in the July 1995 shooting of
his cousin in Florida. "People in this town are definitely upset
with the owner," said wideout Joey Galloway. "But when you add
in all the off-field problems we've had, it really puts a cloud
over the whole team."

But this cover, like the Puget Sound fog that retreats from
Seattle each morning, may finally be lifting. Allen is the kind
of guy who lives for stuff like the McCrary footage (which, by
the way, shows McCrary had his eyes closed when he blocked the
kick), and the hope is that it will spur him to pull the trigger
on the sale much earlier than July.

This will happen only if the NFL owners vote to drop their rule
that prohibits cross-sport ownerships and Allen approves of
whatever remedy is proposed for the Kingdome, which fans are now
calling the Kingdump. On Dec. 5 the county's stadium renovation
panel is scheduled to issue its final recommendation, which is
likely to be to abandon the dome and spend approximately $200
million to convert Husky Stadium on the nearby University of
Washington campus. The 76-year-old facility would get a complete
facelift, including the addition of 100 luxury suites and a
retractable roof.

And, of course, a brand-new Diamondvision so that fans can enjoy
the Block That Saved Seattle for years to come.

COLOR PHOTO: TOM LYNN Lamar Smith, a 223-pound third-year pro, rumbled through the Vikings for a game-high 90 yards. COLOR PHOTO: PATRICK MURPHY-RACEY The Saints, like the Falcons, can't catch a break, much less a pass right on the numbers. [New Orleans Saints player and Cincinnati Bengals player in game] COLOR PHOTO: PHIL HUBER Mills is a standout on special teams, even though he excels at blending in. [John Henry Mills] COLOR PHOTO: CORKY TREWIN [Dave Krieg]

COMING UP

PACKERS at COWBOYS
A preview of the NFC Championship Game? Despite leading the NFC
in takeaways, with 29, Green Bay has failed to force a turnover
in its two games. The Pack will need a few to snap a six-game
losing streak at Texas Stadium.

DOLPHINS at OILERS
The league's biggest impact rookies on either side of the ball,
Miami middle linebacker Zach Thomas and Houston running back
Eddie George, go head-to-head. The Dolphins must get their
running game untracked versus a D yielding a league-low 80.5
yards rushing.

BRONCOS at PATRIOTS
When these two met in Foxboro last season, Denver waxed New
England 37-3. The Broncos' John Elway is 8-0 against New
England, which has the NFL's most porous pass defense.

REDSKINS at EAGLES
Philadelphia, which was beaten by Buffalo on Sunday, has not
lost two in a row since Games 3 and 4 of the '95 season. Against
a Redskins defense that gave up 615 yards to the Cardinals, Ray
Rhodes's team should halt another losing streak at one.

PANTHERS at RAMS
To make the playoffs in just its second year, Carolina needs to
win one of its three remaining road games. St. Louis provides
the best opportunity, but a Rams team that erupted for 59
points, the NFL's highest scoring total in the '90s, can't be
taken lightly.

THE SAME PATH TO NOWHERE

Their stadiums lie east of the Mississippi, but they compete in
the NFC West, so maybe the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans
Saints are destined to forever be on the wrong side of things.
Certainly they have found themselves on the wrong side of more
outcomes than any of the other franchises in the Super Bowl era.
Since Atlanta entered the NFL in 1966 and New Orleans followed a
year later, they have lost 279 and 262 games, respectively. The
next closest loser is the New York Jets, with 256 defeats since
'66.

This Sunday, when these two meet in Atlanta for the 55th time
(the Falcons hold a 30-24 edge in the series), they will have
more in common than their bottom-of-the-barrel records--New
Orleans is 2-8, Atlanta 1-9. Over the past 30 years, there have
been other pitiable parallels between the two teams. Consider:

--Inaugural game: Both lost at home to the Los Angeles Rams.
Atlanta fell 19-14 on Sept. 11, 1966, while New Orleans went
down 27-13 on Sept. 17, 1967.

--First-year records: 3-11.

--Division championships: One apiece. Atlanta won the NFC West
in 1980, New Orleans in '91. Both were eliminated from the
playoffs in the first round.

--Domes: Despite the South's clement fall weather, the Falcons
play in the Georgia Dome and the Saints in the Superdome.

--Wacky ex-Oilers coaches: The Saints hired O.A. (Bum) Phillips
in 1981 after Houston had fired him the year before. The Falcons
hired former Oilers coach Jerry Glanville in 1990. Both men
lasted four full seasons. (Phillips was succeeded by his son,
Wade, in the fifth.)

--Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers are the only opponent against whom
both Atlanta (8-6) and New Orleans (12-4) have winning records.

--Prime-time sideline explosions: Atlanta suspended quarterback
Jeff George for four games after he mouthed off to coach June
Jones during a Sunday-night home loss to the Eagles in Week 4.
(He has since been released.) New Orleans suspended defensive
end Renaldo Turnbull for one week after he stormed off to the
locker room during a Sunday-night home loss to the 49ers in Week
10.

--Bobby Hebert: The 36-year-old quarterback who succeeded George
in Atlanta played his first seven NFL seasons in the Big Easy.
Though he is 1-6 as a starter with the Falcons, his 49-26 record
with New Orleans is a franchise record for a quarterback.

--Hall of Famers: Zero. Although that number will change shortly
after the retirement of...

--Morten Andersen: The 15-year veteran spent his first 13
seasons in New Orleans, where he became the Saints' alltime
leading scorer (1,318 points). Then last year Andersen set a
Falcons single-season scoring record with 122 points. As a Saint
in 1991 he kicked a 60-yard field goal, which ties him for the
second-longest three-pointer in NFL history; as a Falcon last
December he kicked a 59-yarder, which ties him for the
third-longest.

--John Walters

SPOTLIGHT

JOHN HENRY MILLS

It took one golf outing for Oilers special teams star John Henry
Mills to learn that temperamentally at least, he was no Steve
Tasker. "We played in a tournament this past off-season, and I
realized how high-strung Tasker was," says Mills of Buffalo's
seven-time Pro Bowl choice on special teams. "He was always
like, 'C'mon, c'mon, c'mon! Let's go, let's go, let's go!' I'm
more laid-back."

But not when covering kickoffs and punts. In SI's midseason poll
of NFL scouts and G.M.'s, Mills received the most votes for
special teams players, making him the likely heir to the
34-year-old Tasker, who is now used only occasionally on kick
coverage. A fifth-round pick in the 1993 draft out of Wake
Forest, Mills has earned the nickname Skills in Houston for
variously lining up at tight end, H-back, fullback, linebacker
and kick returner. This season he leads the Oilers with 14
special teams tackles and has spent every week atop the
scorecard of special teams coach Russ Purnell, who awards points
for contributions in the kicking game. For the last two years
Mills has served as Tasker's alternate at the Pro Bowl.

Unlike your typical crazed coverman, who speeds headlong toward
the wedge, Mills, 27, plays under control. On punts he likes to
blend in with the downfield traffic after breaking from his
position next to the snapper, then burst out toward the
ballcarrier. At 6 feet and 222 pounds, Mills outweighs the 5'9"
Tasker by nearly 40 pounds; when he makes contact with a return
man, his presence is definitely felt. "It's like when Lawrence
Taylor was around and offenses always had to know where LT was,"
says Jaguars special teams coach Larry Pasquale. "It's the same
way now with Mills, but on special teams."

--Richard Deutsch

DAVE'S DOUBLE

After being sacked during Chicago's 17-12 loss at Denver, the
Bears' Dave Krieg stands atop two dubious lists: most times
sacked and most fumbles committed. "I don't put much credence in
[those marks]," Krieg says. He should. Of the long-suffering
quarterbacks among the top five on both lists, only Phil Simms
has won a Super Bowl. Here are the alltime rankings through
Sunday.

TIMES
SACKED PLAYER GAMES YEARS

1 483 Dave Krieg 194 1980-present
2 483* Fran Tarkenton 246 1961-78
3 477 Phil Simms 164 1979-93
4 456 John Elway 200 1983-present
5 422 Randall Cunningham 122 1985-95

CAREER
FUMBLES PLAYER GAMES YEARS

1 148 Dave Krieg 194 1980-present
2 145 Warren Moon 179 1984-present
3 119 Boomer Esiason 175 1984-present
4 116 John Elway 200 1983-present
5 106 Dan Fouts 181 1973-87

Compiled by the Elias Sports Bureau

*Does not include 1961-62 (14 games) when sacks were not kept as
an official statistic

SIDELINES

Sunday was the most explosive offensive day in NFL history. The
28 teams that played combined for a league-record 714 points,
from the Rams' high of 59 to the Bears' low of 12....In St.
Louis's 59-16 thrashing of Atlanta, Rams rookie Eddie Kennison
scored on a 78-yard punt return, his second return for a TD
this year. Kennison is averaging 19.0 yards per return on 18
tries. During the Super Bowl era no return man with at least 20
returns has averaged more than 15.7 yards over a season....
Oakland, which was penalized 12 times during a 20-17 overtime
loss to the Bucs--including a delay of game flag after a
timeout--is on pace to amass 157 penalties, which would be an
NFL record....The Steelers, who sacked Bengals quarterback Jeff
Blake 10 times in their first meeting, reached him only twice in
their 34-24 loss on Sunday and then only because Blake tripped
over his own feet. The difference: the improved play of rookie
left tackle Willie Anderson, Cincinnati's first-round pick out
of Auburn....Deja vu in Philly: Two years ago the Eagles
started 7-2 before losing at home to an AFC team (the Browns).
In that matchup the Philadelphia defense had no sacks while
yielding 140 yards rushing and 18 first downs. On Sunday the 7-2
Eagles lost at home to the Bills and had no sacks while
surrendering 140 yards rushing and 18 first downs. Philly's 1994
loss to Cleveland was the start of a season-ending seven-game
losing streak.... The Jets are the only team with a losing
record when one of their backs rushes for more than 100 yards.
New York is 1-3 when Adrian Murrell, who gained 128 yards in a
31-27 loss to the Patriots, eclipses the century mark.

--J.W.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"I think [Jim] Everett must have a modeling contract, because he
sure didn't want to get hit."
--Oilers linebacker Micheal Barrow, who helped hound the Saints
QB into a 16-for-33 passing day.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)