RENTON, Wash. – The old-guard Seahawks saw the planets beginning to align weeks ago.
If Denver and Seattle won out, then it would be set — a matchup of former longtime AFC West rivals in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday in New Jersey.
“To have two AFC West teams playing in the Super Bowl?’’ asked former Seahawks quarterback Dave Krieg. “That’s incredible. We played for how many years before that and now we are in the Super Bowl? We won our first playoff game against Denver and hopefully the first Super Bowl win is against the Broncos. That would be great.’’
And among those who lived through the Seahawks’ formative years, the Super Bowl matchup also instantly revived memories of a rivalry that was once as intense as any.
Receiver Steve Largent, who played from the Seahawks’ birth in 1976 through 1989, said the two opponents that stood out during that era were the Broncos and the Raiders, the latter winning all three of their Super Bowl titles in that time.
“No matter what the records were, those two teams, if they played the Seahawks home or away, it was going to be an intense, all-out game,’’ Largent said. “And often times, the way you played in that particular game — it didn’t matter what you looked like the rest of the year. That was your opportunity to make everything right ... by playing hard and playing well in that particular game.’’
Seattle and Denver were each members of the AFC West from 1977 through 2001, along with the Raiders, San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs. The Seahawks moved to the NFC West in 2002 when the NFL expanded to 32 teams. Seattle was moved as the league formed eight four-team divisions, four in each conference.
Sunday’s game will be the first time two teams who were members of the same division in the AFC will meet in the Super Bowl (there have been a few games pitting teams who were each members of the same division in the NFL before the 1970 merger).
Of the four traditional AFC West opponents, the Broncos gave Seattle the most fits.
Though the teams have played just twice since 2002, Denver’s record of 34-18 against the Seahawks is the most wins by any Seattle opponent.
“We just always had trouble beating the Broncos,’’ Largent said.
The wins Seattle did get, though, stand out to Largent and Krieg as among the most memorable of their careers.
That includes the first time Seattle beat Denver after four straight losses, in the second-to-last game of the 1979 season, when Largent caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Jim Zorn with 1:40 left to give the Seahawks a dramatic 28-23 win.
“Remember it like it was yesterday,’’ said Largent.
He has the same thought about Seattle’s first playoff win, on Christmas Eve 1983, when Seattle hosted Denver in a wild-card game. The teams split during the regular season, but Seattle dominated the third meeting, 31-7, which set up a legendary divisional playoff win at Miami the following week.
“It wasn’t as big as it is now with Twitter and just the way the NFL has gone,’’ said Paul Johns, a receiver who caught a touchdown pass in that playoff victory over the Broncos and is now the team’s assistant director of fan development. “But that was a huge victory for the city and the fans and the team. A playoff win at home? Man, that was great.’’
In fact, it was one of just two home playoff wins Seattle would get in the Kingdome.
Krieg and Largent, though, each have other, personal favorites.
For Krieg, his top Denver moment came in 1984 as a 10-2 Seattle team played at 11-1 Denver in a contest billed as a showdown for AFC supremacy, one of the first times a Seahawks regular-season game was the focus of the entire NFL.
During warmups, coach Chuck Knox told Krieg he had a plan to try to defuse the crowd early by throwing a bomb on the first play of the game to rookie receiver Daryl Turner.
“He was saying, ‘Let’s try to quiet them down,’ ’’ Krieg recalled. “I got so nervous, like a golfer thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I have to make this putt.’ ’’
On the first scrimmage play of the game from its own 20, Seattle snapped the ball without a count and Krieg quickly dropped back and chucked it about as far as he could. Turner caught it at the Denver 29 on his way to an 80-yard touchdown. That turned out to be the longest pass of Krieg’s 19-year career that produced 38,147 yards and left him ranked 15th in NFL history. The play sparked a 27-24 Seattle win.
Largent’s favorite Denver memories revolve around a pair of 1988 games, a sequence of events he says he is asked about more than anything else from a Hall of Fame career.
In the opening game of that season at Mile High Stadium, a Broncos team that had advanced to the Super Bowl the year before, met a Seattle team some thought could get there. Broncos safety Mike Harden decided to send a statement, leveling Largent on a pass roughly 20 yards downfield with a forearm shot to the helmet midway through the third quarter.
“I think Steve was out before he hit the ground,’’ said Krieg, who had reservations about the play when it was called, noting that Harden, like Largent, was on the short side of the field.
Krieg feels bad to this day, “You’re not ever supposed to lead the receiver into the defender like that,” he said. “That one was on me a little bit.’’
Harden was not penalized on the play, but was later fined $5,000. Krieg and Largent wonder how much more Harden would have been fined today.
Largent suffered a concussion and broke two teeth, but didn’t miss any games and vowed revenge.
His chance came early in the second quarter when the teams met at the Kingdome in the second-to-last game of the 1988 season with the AFC West lead on the line.
A Krieg pass intended for Brian Blades was picked off in the end zone by Harden, who turned and began weaving his way across the field.
As Harden passed the 20, Largent caught up to him and laid his shoulder into his side, not only flattening Harden but jarring the ball loose. Largent recovered at the 26 as the Kingdome erupted.
“From the moment he intercepted the ball on the other side of the end zone until I hit him, I knew exactly who it was and I was trying to hit him as hard as I possibly could,’’ Largent said. “I always say, in my mind that’s the greatest play I had — the hit I put on Harden.”
Seattle, ahead 14-7 at the time, went on to win 42-14.
“It was just perfectly lined up,’’ says Johns of the memorable sequence. “Any receiver would dream about being able to get that kind of hit, and not only that but to make the guy fumble and the guys’ feet go over his head and you recover the fumble? You can’t write a script any better than that.’’
Now it’s time to add another chapter on the biggest stage the NFL offers.