Remembering the Seahawks’ first-ever regular season game
As the Seahawks get ready to begin their 40th season with a game against the St. Louis Rams, it’s worth looking back 39 years to the very first regular season game on Sept. 12, 1976 at the Kingdome. In that game, too, Seattle played St. Louis, before the Cardinals left Missouri for Arizona.
Seattle was a different place in 1976. Sure we had traffic problems, but mainly that cars went too fast at rush hour on the freeways and on the floating bridges and got into horrific high-speed crashes. There just weren’t that many cars on the road.
Our professional sports were different then, too. The Mariners’ first pitch was still seven months away and the only other major league team was the Sonics. They played their first game in 1967, and had made the NBA playoffs for the first time in 1974.
On the economic front, Seattle was still the capitol of Boeingland and memories of the “Boeing Bust” were fresh on everyone’s mind. Still, the mid 1970s were heady times for what was once a remote corner of the Pacific Northwest. And the arrival of the Seahawks was a highly visible sign that the place was changing.
Howard Cosell himself, the famous sportscaster and media celebrity, told a Seattle audience in August of 1975 what it all meant to have the Seahawks playing here — and why season tickets were a good investment in the community.
“You are getting what I sincerely believe, and what my company sincerely believes, is the game for and of its time,” Cosell said. “It has all of the characteristics of the contemporary society. The excitement. The glamour. The glory. The contact. The swiftness. It’s of a piece with the surrounding civilization.”
Before the Seahawks, the University of Washington Huskies were the biggest football game in town. Over the years, KIRO carried San Francisco 49ers’ games and Oakland Raiders’ games because those two teams were the closest NFL franchises to the Pacific Northwest. The NFL held about a dozen exhibition games in Seattle from 1955 to 1975, with the final contest drawing 20,000 fans to watch the Cleveland Browns defeat the New York Giants 24-20.
But enough with the historical context already! Let’s get to the very first regular season Seahawks’ game 39 years ago this weekend.
The quarterback for the Seahawks in those days was 23-year-old Jim Zorn, and the coach was Jack Patera. The Kingdome was sold out and the city was ready to become a genuine NFL town.
The first half was fairly uneventful, but the Hawks came up with a field goal courtesy of kicker Don Bitterlich, and the defense made a goal-line stand forcing the Cardinals to settle for a field goal. At the midway point, St. Louis led 13-3.
By early in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks were down by 20 points, with St. Louis leading 30-10. That’s when Seattle caught fire, scoring two touchdowns in quick succession, including a 72-yard scoring pass to Sam McCullum and an interception by Seahawk cornerback Rolly Woolsey followed by an eight-yard scramble by Zorn. All of sudden, the St. Louis lead had been cut to just six points.
But the Cardinals had the ball.
With a minute left on the clock, St. Louis had to punt. It was first down and 10 for the Seahawks at their own 17-yard line with 48 seconds to go. St. Louis was ahead 30-24. A touchdown would tie it; the point-after would seal a win for the Hawks in their first-ever regular season game.
As the seconds ticked down, Zorn’s final pass of the game fell short. But the Seahawks had shown they were smart enough and tough enough to take on a storied franchise and more than hold their own.
It would be tough season, with the Hawks going just 2-12. But, they beat their fellow 1976 expansion team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as well as scoring a victory against the Atlanta Falcons. And, they also got drubbed on Halloween by the then-Los Angeles Rams 45-6.
The great narrator John Facenda said it best in an NFL film about that first season, “In years to come, this organization will produce winning efforts on a much more regular basis. But no Seattle Seahawk fan ever will forget the first one. A ground-breaking of sorts on which future winning seasons will be built.”
And that’s a nice future that every 12 can be grateful for!