The Backstory: Only a knee injury stopped Warner from being one of the NFL’s greatest running backs.

Share story

WHEN CHUCK KNOX was hired to coach the Seahawks, his first priority was finding a special running back to power his patented “Ground Chuck” offense. The 1983 draft was historically loaded with talent, but Knox had his eye on Penn State’s Curt Warner.

A two-time All-American, Warner had rare elusiveness, and a talent for coming up big in spotlight games. In three straight bowl games, Warner was either the game’s MVP or outgained an opposing back who had won the Heisman Trophy (USC’s Marcus Allen in the 1982 Fiesta Bowl, and Georgia’s Herschel Walker in the national championship 1983 Sugar Bowl).

Under Knox’s mandate, the Seahawks traded their first-, second- and third-round picks in the 1983 draft to Houston to move up from the ninth spot to No. 3 to take Warner — just after future Hall of Famers John Elway and Eric Dickerson.

Warner validated Knox’s faith immediately. The rookie led the Seahawks to their first playoff appearance by topping the AFC in rushing with 1,449 yards and 13 touchdowns. Standing as a glowing promise of his future, Warner’s rookie-season yardage was more than was gained that season by iconic backs Walter Payton, Tony Dorsett and Earl Campbell.

Talk of Warner’s career is rarely complete without the requisite “what if?” In the first game of his second season (1984), Warner suffered a massive knee injury while trying to cut on the dreadful Kingdome turf. He rehabbed with determination, returned in 1985, and added Pro Bowl performances in 1986 and ’87. He rushed for 56 touchdowns in seven seasons in Seattle, and is still high on the lists of franchise rushing marks.

John Nordstrom, former managing general partner of the Seahawks’ first ownership group, recently looked back at Warner’s career and reflected the opinion of many Seattle fans.

“Curt could have been one of the all-time great NFL backs if he hadn’t gotten hurt,” Nordstrom said. “If he had stayed healthy, he would have been unbelievable.”