Forty years ago 58,441 fans packed into a concrete dome to watch the Seattle Seahawks’ first regular season game.
It was Sept. 12, 1976, and the outcome (the St. Louis Cardinals won, 30-24) was as ugly as the dome. Nevertheless, a connection between fans and the team was formed and the relationship would only grow stronger. And louder.
The Kingdome earned a reputation as the loudest stadium in the NFL. And while it may have looked like a concrete wart on the face of an otherwise pretty city, it still holds a special place in the memories of Northwest sports fans.
With the anniversary of that first regular season game (it was preceded by three preseason games) it seems like the perfect time to dredge up some of those classic Kingdome football memories.
So, we went to the archives and dusted off part of a project The News Tribune produced in 1999 as the Seahawks prepared to play their final regular season game in the dome, a 23-14 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. (The win proved vital in earning the Seahawks the AFC West title and chance to play one more game in the dome, a 20-17 playoff loss to Miami.)
The News Tribune sportswriters at the time all weighed in on what they thought were the best football moments in Kingdome history. The Top 10 Seahawks moments in the dome and, for good measure, the top 10 non-Seahawks football moments. The 1999 articles are reprinted below:
TOP 10 SEAHAWKS KINGDOME MOMENTS
1. The first playoff win
Dec. 24, 1983
This was the first playoff game in team history and was just the start of the best playoff run the Seahawks have ever had.
The 31-7 romp over Denver was relatively easy as the Seahawks took advantage of three Broncos turnovers, including one interception thrown by rookie quarterback John Elway, who came off the bench in relief of starter Steve DeBerg.
“It was the moment we showed everybody that we were one of the best teams in the NFL, “ said Paul Johns, a receiver on that Seahawks team. “The dome was noisy and we just blew them away. It was a special day.”
The next week, the Seahawks went to Miami and upset the Dolphins, 27-20, in the Orange Bowl to advance to the AFC championship game, where they played the Raiders for the third time that season.
“We beat the Raiders twice that year and we should have beaten them three times, “ Johns said. “We felt like we were better than them, but the end of the ’83 season is still the greatest moment in this team’s history.”
2. Revenge on Raiders
Dec. 22, 1984
Less than a year after the Raiders beat the Seahawks in the AFC Championship game on their way to winning Super Bowl XVIII, the Seahawks got their revenge.
Seattle won, 13-7, in a game that wasn’t overly exciting. But unless the Hawks pull out of their nosedive on Sunday, this will go down as the last playoff game in Kingdome history. This was also the last playoff game the Seahawks won.
With Warner sidelined for the season, the Seahawks had a tailback-by-committee approach, and on this day it was former WSU Cougars fullback Dan Doornink who had the hot hand. He rushed for a career-high 126 yards on 29 carries.
The Seahawks advanced to the con-ference semifinals, where they lost, 31-10 to the Super Bowl-bound Dolphins in Miami.
3. Bo knows football
Nov. 30, 1987
The Seahawks had the best record in the AFC and hoped to use this Monday night game against the Raiders as a springboard to their first AFC West championship.
Instead, they made a folk hero out of Bo Jackson.
Jackson, who hadn’t done much in the NFL to this point, had the biggest day of his career to lead Los Angeles to a 37-14 victory.
Seattle scored first, but in the second quarter Jackson took the ball on his own 9, swept around left end and didn’t stop running until he was in the tunnel at the other end of the dome.
“I was standing on the sideline and I felt the breeze as he ran by, “ said former Seattle receiver Paul Skansi. “I kinda wanted to stick my foot out or something. I knew nobody was going to catch him.”
That included a wild rookie linebacker named Brian Bosworth, who appeared to have the angle on the play, but failed to catch Jackson.
Later in the game, Jackson and Bosworth went one-on-one at the goal line. Jackson won again, bulling over Bosworth for another touchdown. Jackson finished the game with 221 rushing yards - still the single-game record in the Kingdome.
4. The Catch
Oct. 6, 1986
This Monday night game against was one of the most emotional in franchise history.
“Everybody was there to see Steve Largent catch a pass, “ said former Seahawks receiver Paul Skansi. “When he made the catch the place just went crazy.”
Largent hauled in a 17-yard pass from Dave Krieg with 10:38 left in the second quarter to break Harold Carmichael’s record by catching a pass in his 128th game in a row. He also caught a touchdown late in the game that helped Seattle run away with a 33-7 victory.
Largent went on to break many records in his career, but the hype for this first significant record was so wild it even overshadowed the game Charlie Joiner had for San Diego. Joiner passed Don Maynard to become the all-time leading receiver in NFL history and hardly anybody noticed.
Largent would break Joiner’s record before he retired.
5. Goodbye, Pete
Nov. 30, 1992
Even if the Seahawks had blown the game, as they did almost every other game that season, it couldn’t have spoiled this night.
KIRO play-by-play announcer Pete Gross, who was dying of cancer, was inducted into the Ring of Honor on this Monday evening.
“You knew it was getting down to his last days, but you knew he was going to hang on for this night, “ said Gary Wright, a Seahawks executive and close friend of Gross. “I remember Dave Brown and Steve Largent helping him out on the field. It was an emotional moment.”
The Seahawks won the game, 16-13, with less than four minutes to play in overtime when John Kasay made a 32-yard field goal. The victory ended an eight-game skid, and was one of just two Hawks’ victories that season. The Seahawks haven’t won an overtime game since.
“You knew they were going to win, “ Wright said. “It was a special night.”
Gross died two days later.
6. Largent’s Payback
Dec. 11, 1988
It wasn’t just revenge, it was a play that set up a victory over the defending AFC champions and propelled the Seahawks to their first division title.
Denver defensive back Mike Harden had belted Steve Largent in the season opener in ’88, knocking out the star receiver and breaking his face mask. Fourteen games later in the Kingdome, Largent hit back.
Harden picked off a pass that seemed to halt a Seahawks drive. But as he returned the ball downfield Largent belted him and forced a fumble. The Seahawks recovered the ball and went on to win, 42-14, after scoring on their first six possessions of the game.
Curt Warner and John L. Smith both rushed for more than 100 yards. The Seahawks beat the Raiders in Los Angeles the next week to claim the only AFC West title in franchise history.
7. The highest-scoring game
Nov. 27, 1983
Curt Warner recorded the only 200-plus-yard rushing game in Seahawks history on this date in the Kingdome, and the Seahawks needed every yard to beat Kansas City. 51-48, in overtime and keep their playoff hopes alive.
It was the most points scored in an NFL game in the Kingdome, and the game remains the third highest-scoring game in NFL history.
Seattle tied the game on Norm Johnson’s 42-yard field goal with two seconds left, then won it on his 42-yarder with 1:46 gone in overtime.
“Every time I turned around somebody was scoring, “ said Paul Johns, a Seahawks receiver. “It would have been easy to get down, but the fans kept us in the game. They were loud. We knew we couldn’t give up.”
8. The first big win
Oct. 8, 1978
The Minnesota Vikings, who had advanced to the NFC Championship game the year before and played in three of the previous five Super Bowls, held a 28-19 lead heading into the fourth quarter behind Fran Tarkenton’s two passing TDs and one rushing TD.
But the Seahawks rallied when quarterback Jim Zorn scored on a 22-yard scramble, and then won the game, 29-28, on Efren Herrera’s 19-yard field goal on the final play of the game.
“I was just excited to play against Fran Tarkenton, “ Zorn said. “I loved to watch him play. But then to pull out the win like that, that was a special day for the Seahawks. We felt like we could have played with anybody on that day.”
The victory launched the first winning season in franchise history.
9. The wildest game
Oct. 16, 1983
This might have been the most bizarre victory in Seahawks history, and it also marked the end of Jim Zorn’s long reign as Seattle’s full-time quarterback. The Seahawks won , 38-36, despite being outgained 382 yards to 153, and despite Zorn completing only four of 16 passes for 13 yards.
“I had a pretty bad game, “ Zorn said. “But the defense kept giving us chances to win.”
Seattle won because the Raiders turned the ball over eight times and allowed a 75-yard punt return by Paul Johns.
“That was a great moment in my career because I was just coming back from an injury and that was my first punt return for a touchdown, “ Johns said. “That game kind of propelled us to the playoffs.”
After the game, new head coach Chuck Knox said he might have to re-evaluate the QB position. Zorn started the next week at home against Pittsburgh, but was pulled early in favor of Dave Krieg, and never started another game for Seattle.
10. The first game
Sept. 12, 1976
This game remains one of the favorites for former Seattle quarterback Jim Zorn because it was the first regular-season NFL game in the Kingdome and the Seahawks immediately began to forge a love affair with the fans.
“Everything we did made history, “ Zorn said. “The first touchdown, the first catch, the first pass, the first guy to spike the ball. It was great.”
St. Louis took a 30-10 lead early in the fourth quarter before the Seahawks rallied. Zorn threw a 72-yard touchdown pass to Sam McCullum, then ran 8 yards for another score to make it 30-24. The Seahawks got the ball back but fell just short of the goal line.
“We lost, “ Zorn said, “but we knew that we were starting something special.”
TOP 10 NON-SEAHAWKS FOOTBALL MOMENTS
1. Paul Skansi goes the distance
Dec. 2, 1978
Paul Skansi has made big plays for the University of Washington and the Seattle Seahawks, but he still rates a play he made in high school as one of the best moments of his career.
In 1978, Skansi was the star receiver for the Peninsula Seahawks when they played Pullman for the Class AA state championship in Kingbowl II. Pullman had just taken a 34-28 lead with less than eight minutes to play and seemed to have taken control of the game.
Then the Greyhounds kicked off.
“I remember fielding the ball at the 11, “ said Skansi, who is now coaching receivers at the University of Idaho. “I remember a big pile up and sneaking my way through that and then breaking into the open.”
The score came with 7:11 to play, but seemed to finish off Pullman. The dispirited Greyhounds seemed to give Peninsula the 35-34 victory and the Class AA state title.
The 89-yard return stood as record for a state championship game for 20 years.
“Considering what that play meant and where it happened it’s a play I’ll never forget, “ Skansi said. “It’s one of the highlights of my career.”
2. Hobert-to-Thurston: Puyallup wins title
Dec. 5, 1987
Twelve years later, Danny Thurston remembers only a few specifics from King Bowl XI. He remembers the short pass he caught from Billy Joe Hobert and turned into an 84-yard game-winning touchdown. He remembers the wild celebration and he remembers a seagull sneaking into the Kingdome during the game.
“It was kinda weird, “ said Thurston, who currently works at a retirement home in Tukwila. “It’s not every day you see a bird inside.”
Most people don’t remember the bird, but Thurston’s catch and run has been ingrained in many memories as one of the greatest plays in Washington high school state championship history.
Gonzaga Prep held a 14-6 lead at halftime and Puyallup had failed to get its offense rolling. Then, Hobert got hot in the second half.
First, the Vikings tied the score and then they took the lead when Hobert hit Aaron Savage for a 54-yard touchdown. The Bullpups quickly tied the score, and in the fourth quarter the game seemed destined for overtime. Then Hobert found his favorite target.
“It was a short pass and the corner dove for the ball and almost got it, “ Thurston said. “When I caught the ball there was nobody there so I just kept running.”
Eighty-four yards later, the Vikings were Class AAA state champions - 27-21.
“That whole ride was pretty wild, “ Thurston said. “Playing in the Kingdome was almost overwhelming compared to playing at Sparks Stadium. But it was amazing.”
3. Ricky Bell makes history
Oct. 9, 1976
University of Southern California running back Ricky Bell and Washington State University quarterback Jack Thompson made the first college football game in the Kingdome the best one.
Bell, a Heisman Trophy candidate, set the NCAA single-game rushing record with 346 yards, but Thompson kept up with 341 passing yards and both finished the game with 356 yards in total offense.
The Cougars trailed, 14-0, at the half, but responded to tie the score on the first play of the fourth quarter. USC pulled away in the final 10 minutes of the game to win, 23-14, in front of 37,268 spectators.
“It was the greatest game in Kingdome history, “ Thompson said. “Well, maybe that’s pushing it. But it was a big game for us. We showed those guys that we could play with them.”
While Bell had the most memorable performance, the Cougars were quick to point out that they did a number on him. He fumbled the ball away four times.
“We had a great secondary that year that would really hit you, “ said WSU’s Mike Levenseller, the leading receiver in the game with seven catches for 115 yards. “He was never the same after that game. He never had another 100-yard game.”
4. National title slips away
Dec. 4, 1982
South Kitsap High entered the 1982 state championship game as the No. 4 ranked team in the country and the overwhelming favorite to beat Gonzaga Prep in King Bowl VI.
But the Bullpups’ wishbone offense was too much for the Wolves to handle. As expected, the game wasn’t even close, but it was Gonzaga Prep that won - 25-7.
All-American linebacker David Rill, who went on to star at the University of Washington, led a South Kitsap defense that was mystified on this evening.
Bullpups quarterback Fred Ulowetz led the way with a state title game record 147 rushing yards.
To this date, no other team in the state has come as close to earning the top ranking in USA Today’s final national pole as did the ’82 Wolves.
5. Eatonville’s miracle rally
Dec. 5, 1992
With 21 minutes to play in the Class A state title game in King Bowl XVI, Eatonville seemed doomed.
The Cruisers were down, 23-0, to Zillah and they were depending on a sophomore quarterback who had just thrown an interception that was returned 70 yards for a touchdown to rally them.
Well, it happened.
The young quarterback was Bobby Lucht. With 8:45 to play in the third quarter he scored on an eight-yard run. When the fourth quarter started, the Cruisers trailed by 16.
Lucht threw two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter. With less than four minutes to play in the game, Eatonville forced Zillah to punt and Ben Zurlo partially blocked the kick. Eatonville got the ball at the Zillah 43 and that was all it needed.
Lucht passed the Cruisers inside the Zillah 10, and Joe Dorn scored the winning TD on a 3-yard run with 26 seconds left. Eatonville won, 26-23.
6. Abilene Christian No. 1
Dec. 10, 1977
The Kingdome probably wasn’t the best place for Abilene Christian of Texas and Southwestern Oklahoma to battle for the NAIA national championship in 1977, but that’s exactly where it happened.
Officials, realizing the game wasn’t exactly going to pack the dome, scheduled a district championship game between Pacific Lutheran and Western Washington to follow the main event in an attempt to fill more seats.
The game between PLU and Western was being billed as the NAIA Division II District I championship game.
The plan didn’t work.
Only 12,940 fans showed up to watch Abilene beat Southwestern Oklahoma, 24-7, in what was called the Apple Bowl. About 5,000 of those fans stayed around to watch PLU rip Western, 24-10, in the late game.
Thanks in part to the small turnout, the Apple Bowl lasted just one year. In 1978, the NAIA championship was moved to a small town in Texas.
7. Blount rules Pro Bowl
Jan. 17, 1977
The Kingdome played host to the Pro Bowl in ’77 - three years before the game found a permanent home in Honolulu - and several NFL legends took advantage of the opportunity to strut their stuff.
Buffalo’s O.J. Simpson and San Diego’s Charlie Joiner both had big games, but Mel Blount outplayed everybody. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Hall of Fame cornerback picked off two passes in the fourth quarter to assure the AFC’s 24-14 victory. The first interception ruined what looked to be a sure scoring drive for the NFC. The second set up a 27-yard game-sealing touchdown pass from Cincinnati’s Ken Anderson to Oakland’s Cliff Branch.
A sellout crowd of 64,752 was the second largest in the AFC-NFC version of this game, and the Pro Bowl hasn’t seen a larger crowd since.
8. Cougars rule the Challenge Bowl
Jan. 15, 1978, and Jan. 13, 1979
For two years in the late 1970s the Pacific-10 Conference played host to an all-star game in the Kingdome called the Challenge Bowl. The idea was for the Pac-10 - actually the Pac-8 for the ’78 game - to put together an all-star team to challenge a similar team from another conference.
The series, sponsored by the Olympia Brewery, lasted two years in the Kingdome with the Pac-8 beating the Big 10, 27-20, in 1978 and the Big Eight, 36-23, in ’79. Both years it was players from Washington State University who proved to be the game’s brightest stars.
WSU running back Dan Doornink was the MVP of the ’78 game after he carried the ball 14 times for 142 yards and set up three touchdowns by USC’s Mosi Tatupu. A crowd of 20,578 showed up to watch the game.
WSU receiver Mike Levenseller remembers turning down a chance to play in an all-star game in Japan to play in the Challenge Bowl.
“I wanted a chance to play in front my family one last time, “ Levenseller said “And I’ve been kicking myself ever since. I’ve always wanted to go to Japan and I’ve never had another chance.”
Levenseller enjoyed his choice at the time, because he was on the winning team. Players on the winning team earned $1,200 while the losers got $800.
In the other Challenge Bowl, WSU quarterback Jack Thompson passed for 311 yards and dazzled the 50 NFL scouts who were in attendance. Thompson gave the trip for two to the Caribbean that went to the MVP to his friend George Yarno so that Yarno could take his new wife on a cool honeymoon.
“I didn’t know what else to get them, “ Thompson said.
9. UPS edges PLU
Sept. 17, 1977
In the ’70s, when the University of Puget Sound had Pacific Lutheran University’s number, the Lutes almost pulled off a major upset in the Kingdome.
The Lutes took a 14-7 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter when UPS safety Paul James tipped a Brad Westering pass only to see Jeff Cornish catch it for a touchdown.
However, James made amends a few minutes later when he intercepted a Westering pass that set up the tying score. The Loggers scored 16 points in less than seven minutes to move in front. A late 38-yard touchdown pass from Westering to Randy Rochester tightened the score. But when the Lutes finally got the ball back, James deflected another Westering pass on fourth-and-long to seal the Loggers’ 23-21 victory, completing a UPS sweep of the two-game series the teams played in the Kingdome. The Loggers won, 27-14, in ’76.
10. Liberty of Spangle back passes Bo Jackson
Dec. 5, 1992
Rainier High teacher Jerrad Jeske was talking on the phone earlier this month when he was asked if he knew who had the longest run from scrimmage in Kingdome history.
Like most folks, Jeske thought it was that 91-yard gallop by Bo Jackson, when he helped the Raiders run past the Seahawks on a Monday night in 1987.
But in the ’92 Class B-11 state championship game between Liberty of Spangle and Wakiakum, Liberty’s running back ran 95 yards for a touchdown.
“Me?” Jeske said. “Honestly, I didn’t know that until now.”
But Jeske, who coaches junior varsity football and basketball at Rainier, still remembers the run across the floor of the sparsely-filled dome.
“I remember it was set up by a friend of mine, “ Jeske said. “He fumbled the punt so we were pinned way back.
“I remember being tired for the last 30 yards and looking up at the big screen to see if I could slow down, but somebody was right on my heals so I had to keep running. And I almost stepped out of bounds at midfield, but the refs didn’t call it.”