From his home in Norfolk, Va., Kenny Easley still keeps a watchful eye on the Seahawks, much as he did opposing receivers during a seven-year career with Seattle that eventually landed him in the team’s Ring of Honor.
And from three time zones away, Easley can feel the weight of expectations on the 2013 Seahawks.
“Everything coming out of any and everyone’s mouths that I’ve listened to is that it’s a Super Bowl or bust season,” said Easley, who works in commercial real estate and is the father of three, two of whom have college degrees and another getting close.
“And that is very tremendous pressure and tremendous expectation when the expectation is not to make the playoffs, but to be in the Super Bowl and win it.”
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Easley speaks from experience as the defensive leader of a team that faced a pretty similar scenario heading into the 1985 season — maybe the most similar to the 2013 Seahawks of any previous Seattle squad.
The Seahawks made the Super Bowl following the 2005 season, but that was a team coming off a 9-7 season and the disappointment of a first-round playoff loss, and not laden with the same hype as this year’s team. And while some expected the 2006 Seahawks to get back to the Super Bowl again, it was a veteran team that had won two straight division titles and a conference championship.
Like this year’s Seahawks, though, the 1985 squad was a young, up-and-coming team that seemed to have a limitless future. They made the playoffs as the wild card in 1983, when they then captured the heart of the city by advancing to the AFC title game.
They followed that up in 1984 by going 12-4 — still the second-best record in franchise history — and beating the Raiders in the playoffs before losing to Miami. And they did it essentially without star running back Curt Warner, who tore his ACL in the opening game.
Dave Krieg, who was the quarterback of those teams, remembers the excitement leading into the 1985 season being pretty much off the charts.
“Everybody was saying ‘you’ve got Curt Warner back, now you are going to the Super Bowl,’” he said.
A big letdown
Playboy, among others, picked the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl in 1985 based on the return of Warner to an offense that included Krieg – whose 32 touchdown passes in 1984 remain a team record — and receiver Steve Largent, and a defense that the year before had forced 63 turnovers, still second in NFL history.
Seahawks fans of that era don’t need reminding what happened next — an 8-8 season in which the team bizarrely won its first two, then lost the next two, then repeated that yo-yo act the rest of the year.
“It was the darndest thing,” said Krieg, also a Ring of Honor member, who lives in Phoenix where he does some work for Nike as well as motivational speaking. “I don’t know why we were average.”
Therein lies the rub — why do some teams with high expectations not reach them? Is it the pressure of the expectations, or simply that the team wasn’t good enough?
Easley says it wasn’t really the pressure of trying to live up to the hype that cost the 1985 Seahawks. Instead, he points mostly to more practical issues, largely the fact that Warner wasn’t the same player as he had been before the injury — he can’t help but wonder how history might have been different had medicine been more advanced.
“That was a particularly disappointing season because we had done so well without Curt Warner and now he was coming back,” said Easley, who in 1984 was in his fourth season. “But those of us in the know, we watched him play in practice and we knew he wasn’t the same player and we weren’t going to get the same type of thing out of him that we had gotten in ’83 (when Warner was named the AFC Player of the Year by two different organizations).”
Warner, so dynamic in 1983 as a rookie when he rushed for 1,449 yards, gained 1,094 in 1985. Maybe more critically, the team’s absurd level of turnovers forced in 1984 dropped to a more average level of 44 in 1985, a decrease of 19 that unquestionably proved the difference in a few games.
Easley, who had been the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1984, also recalls that he suffered ankle and knee injuries in 1985 that marked the beginning of the downturn of his career. He never played a full season after 1984 and retired after the 1987 season. He finished his career never again having gotten as close to the Super Bowl as he did in that magical season of 1983.
Managing the pressure
Krieg, though, thinks the hype and expectations took their toll.
“You do, you feel it,” he said. “You start believing your press clippings and you forget what you did that got the expectations mounted on you in the first place.”
As proof, he points to a video that some team members —including tight end and future NFL head coach Mike Tice and starting linebacker Michael Jackson — participated in before the season called “The Seahawk Wave” that included the line “we’re aiming for the Super Bowl.”
Krieg — who wasn’t in it and says he didn’t know about it until it was done — groans and says: “you look at it on YouTube, the shorts the guys are wearing, it looks ridiculous. … I would have told them not to do it. You start buying into the hype and start thinking you should be riding a limousine instead of driving a Pinto.”
Krieg said he wishes he could give the current team a pep talk on how to avoid the pitfalls of high expectations.
But he also said he thinks the Seahawks have a good leader in coach Pete Carroll, given his experience as head coach at USC, where the Trojans won at least a share of back-to-back national titles in 2003-04 and annually contended for the conference title.
Carroll said there’s no question that the “general feel” of a locker room is different when a team is expected to win.
“The conversation is different, the conversation from you guys (media) is different, and there’s kind of a pervasive feel that something is going on and it’s different,” Carroll said. “When we’re preparing now we understand that there are high expectations, and I’ve tried to help these guys completely understand that, and embrace it and understand that we want that to be normal.
“That’s where we want to be, so we don’t look to duck from that or try to get out of that at all. That’s part of what happens when you get to be pretty good. Managing that is important, and them managing that as we go and as the season starts to put itself together is a challenge. I think that we have them in the right mindset to handle a good season.”
Quarterback Russell Wilson says there’s a simple way for the players to handle the expectations — don’t pay attention to them.
“Like I always say, ‘You have to ignore the noise,’” he said. “At the end of the day, we set higher expectations than everyone else.”
Krieg says that’s easier said than done, but that it also depends on the individual. He said of what he has seen and heard of the current team, that maybe they can do what the Seahawks of the ‘80s couldn’t.
Krieg, at least, hung around long enough to help lead the 1988 team to the AFC West title — the first official championship in the team’s history.
Easley had retired by then, meaning his era technically isn’t represented by a team banner at CenturyLink Field.
“I know I never thought after 1983 that there was any way possible that we weren’t going back to the AFC Championship Game, and that this time we were going to win,” Easley said. “And we didn’t even get close. Football is funny. It’s a funny thing.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.