Paul Skansi: The big catch
Paul Skansi runs after a catch in a game for the Seahawks. Herald file photo
Having spent much of his adolescence on fishing boats, alongside his father and older brother, Paul Skansi grew up knowing what it's like to dream of the big catch. The Gig Harbor native planned on carrying on the family tradition of becoming a commercial fisherman. But even after Paul Skansi found another calling, his destiny was essentially the same. Skansi, a local football star who went on to play at the University of Washington and eventually for the nearby city's NFL team, made one of the biggest catches in Seahawks history. Even more than 25 years later, the memory still lingered in the minds of longtime fans. Paul Skansi, the most improbable of heroes, will always have a place in the hearts of Seahawks fans who remember the big catch.
PPaul Skansi came from a family so modest that few of the Skansis bothered to dream of things like college degrees or national notoriety. Paul's father, Nick Skansi Sr., was a fisherman by trade, earning his living by purse seining in Alaska with brother Tony. Nick Sr. got into gill-netting after starting a family of his own and eventually included his two eldest sons, John and Paul, in the business. The Skansis would go on ventures on the West Pass, outside of Gig Harbor, where the father taught his two oldest sons -- Nick Jr. was too young to join in -- the trade.
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Paul Skansi takes a hit in a game for the Seahawks. Herald file photo
Paul Skansi plays in a game for the Seahawks. Herald file photo
Heading into Sunday, it was just a game we felt we needed to win. We hadn't won in Kansas City for a long time – since 1980. My whole career, we hadn't won in Kansas City. So we were like: Let's just get a win here because it's a tough place to play. Obviously, we weren't doing very well as an offense early in the game. Derrick Thomas was having a field day. We'd move the ball, get into their territory, then he would end momentum with another sack. He had seven sacks, an NFL record, and most of them came from the right side where tackle Ron Mattes lined up. Our linemen and backs were trying to figure out a way to help Mattes. We tried to help out with a second blocker on Thomas, with a running back or an extra tight end, but it didn't help. The guy was just on fire that day. We just kept trying to get something going. Our defense played great to keep us in the game. That helped us keep believing. When your defense is playing well, you can always come into the huddle and say: 'We're one score away.' And we were the whole game. We were always in striking distance, and it came down to that final drive. Dave Krieg, he was one of those never-say-die, never-quit players, and he got us in position to win in the end. We were within six points, at 16-10, when we drove into Chiefs territory late in the game. With four seconds left, we had the ball at the 25-yard line and one more shot. Dave had just completed back-to-back passes to John L. Williams and Tommy Kane to put us in position for one last, desperation throw. He had spiked the ball to stop the clock, and we knew this was our last chance.
I remember the play vividly. We were in a four-receiver package. I was in the slot, inside, on the left side of center. Steve Largent was in the same position on the right side. That's how we always lined up in that formation. All four receivers ran vertical routes, and it was one of those plays, the last play of the game, so you just throw it up and hope for the best. We spread the field, and they played a zone coverage. Their free safety was inching toward Steve's side. Derrick Thomas broke through again, and it looked like he had another sack. But somehow, Dave ducked him and threw it. He ducked under, rolled out, and threw it up. The safety was so sure that Steve would get the ball that he left the middle of the field open. There really wasn't any first option on the play in terms of who to throw the ball. The first option was to get it into the end zone; that was it. We had to get the ball into the end zone if we wanted a chance to win the game. Dave didn't have much of a read because of Derrick Thomas getting there so fast. He did a great job of getting rid of the ball. Dave, he made the whole play. He ducked, avoided Derrick Thomas and made the throw. All I had to do was catch it. That was the easy part. Because he had to scramble around a little bit, it took longer than it usually would. I had enough time to stop, turn and see the ball coming. I also had time to jump for the ball, which helped me shield off the defensive player. It seems like it's in the air forever when you see it like that. When a defense is playing zone, you really feel like they're going to converge as soon as the ball arrives, so you just hope the ball gets there quickly – before they do. When the ball is coming at you in that situation, you don't really have time to think about anything. You don't think about dropping it. You just try to do what you normally would and concentrate on catching the ball. It was so loud in there, and then when I caught the ball, it went totally silent. That was pretty cool. The whole scene was amazing. The whole magnitude of it: we hadn't won in Kansas City in 10 years, and the way we won the game. I hadn't scored a whole lot of touchdowns in my pro career, but I know that was the only time I ever spiked the ball. I'm not the kind of guy who's normally very emotional. I'm pretty even-keel, not one to show emotion. But I did that day. It was the first time in my career where, with no time on the clock and the game on the line, I caught the winning touchdown. I had one while playing college football at Washington, just before halftime. And I had one earlier in my Seattle career where I scored late in a game that we went on to win. But nothing of that magnitude. It's a moment that everyone remembers – still to this day. Every once in awhile, especially with older Seahawks fans, we'll get to talking and it always comes back to that play. I'll never forget it.
Paul Skansi plays in a game for the Seahawks. Herald file photo
Despite being on the receiving end of one of the most talked-about plays in franchise history, Skansi didn't stick around long enough to make many more memories for his hometown team. The following year, in 1991, he was released -- five weeks into the regular season. The Seahawks were on a road trip for a game against the Cincinnati Bengals when coach Chuck Knox pulled Skansi aside after a Saturday walk-through practice. Knox told Skansi that he was not going to play in the game so that the team could add depth at another position. Skansi would be released, Knox said, but the plan was to re-sign him a day or two later. "It didn't really sink in until I got back to the hotel and I talked about it with my roommate, Jeff Kemp," Skansi recalled in 2008. "I said: 'You think they'll let me ride back (to Seattle) on the plane?' "They did. But they wouldn't let me watch the game from the sideline. I had to watch it from the press box. It was weird." Skansi showed up for a team meeting later that week and was told he had not been re-signed. His career with the hometown Seahawks had come to an unceremonious end. Without any opportunities to continue playing in the NFL, Skansi went north of the border and joined the Canadian Football League in the summer of 1992. He hurt his hamstring at training camp but was cleared to continue playing. The injury never fully healed, and midway through the season, Skansi's hamstring finally tore. Doctors found the tendon raveled up inside the leg and performed an operation to repair it. Rather than sit out six weeks and try to come back, Skansi retired at the age of 32. "I had a good, long career and decided to hang it up," he recalled in 2008, 16 years after playing in his final game.
Paul Skansi walks the field during a game for the Seahawks. Herald file photo
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