To fully understand what Jim Zorn did on the football field, and what he meant to the city of Seattle during the first few years of the Seahawks, you had to live through it.
Zorn’s career passing numbers aren’t spectacular. But while he might not have been the best quarterback in the NFL during those seasons, he might have been the most exciting.
Like Russell Wilson, more than a generation later, Zorn could do amazing things to avoid rushers, sometimes running from one side of the field to the other before finding an open receiver, often future Hall of Famer Steve Largent.
It was must-watch TV, and it helped that the Seahawks had early success, going 9-7 in their third year, then 9-7 in their fourth.
“By the numbers, (Zorn) wasn’t the best, but on the excitement meter he was there at the top,” said Steve Raible, a receiver for the expansion Seahawks and now the longtime Seahawks radio announcer.
Count Wilson among the generations who weren’t fully aware of Zorn’s talents. Zorn, Wilson and two other Seahawks QBs, Matt Hasselbeck and Dave Krieg, attended an event where film from each quarterback was shown.
Russell made the comment, ‘Gosh, I didn’t know you could scramble like you did.’ That was interesting because he had never seen the older Seahawks,” Zorn said.
Zorn’s ability to scramble made him a great fit for an expansion team.
“He was accurate and he could run, which was an asset he had to rely on in those early years because his blocking wasn’t so good,” said receiver Steve Largent, now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “We had to have someone who could scramble and get out of the pocket. Jim had good speed, and a good sense of when to stay in the pocket and when he had to go.”
Said Raible: “Anybody who knows Seahawks football from the beginning, knows that Jim Zorn was the first star of the franchise. He did things that only a few other quarterbacks at that time were able to do. He had this ability to get outside and throw on the run, and use his skills as an athlete to make things happen.”
Zorn quickly built a great working relationship with Largent, and the two have been best friends since.
“He built a great chemistry with Steve, and that’s what carried us those first four years,” Raible said. “What Jim did so well was throw on the run. He had a strong arm, was an accurate thrower and had a guy like Steve who ran such great routes and was able to catch everything close to him.”
Zorn was different than most of his teammates in that he liked to practice. The work continued off the field.
“Jim was a real good example in the classroom,” Largent said. “He spent time studying the opponent. He would take the projector home and watch film. Even before he got married, he was doing this stuff. We started thinking it must be a good idea because Jim was doing so well, and it started a trend of guys going home and watching film. He was a real role model for our team.”
It should be no surprise that Zorn was even ready to practice at 14,411 feet when Zorn and Largent climbed Mount Rainier with a group in 1980.
“I didn’t know it until I got to the top, but Jim had brought a football,” Largent said. “We did play a little catch up there, but I was exhausted.”
Hours of practice had already made Zorn and Largent one of the top combos in the NFL.
“We had a designated scramble series that got me out of the pocket deep and it allowed Largent to run these 23- or 24-yard routes,” Zorn said. “They were comeback routes and nobody runs them that deep. So this was all new (to the NFL).”
Zorn was unable to lead Seattle into the playoffs as the starting quarterback, but Largent believes that is a reflection of the team’s lack of talent.
“Put in the right situation, I believe Jim could’ve been a championship quarterback, but in those early years we didn’t have a championship team,” Largent said. “Jim was the guy that allowed us to play at a really high level even though we weren’t a very good team.”