Jim Zorn runs in a game the Seahawks. Seahawks photo
When the Seattle Seahawks signed unknown quarterback Jim Zorn off the street, they had no way of knowing that he would eventually be the franchise's first star player. And their low expectations didn't change much when they saw him in person for the first time. Nothing about Zorn was typical of an NFL quarterback. He had a strange name, a floppy haircut and he threw with his left arm. He played college ball at Cal Poly Pomona, not exactly a football powerhouse, and had already been cut by the Dallas Cowboys. And as for his style of play? Let's just say that Zorn was the antithesis of the polished, dropback passer that would soon become all the rage. But the more the Seahawks watched Jim Zorn run around during that 1976 inaugural season, the more they saw shades of renegades like Terry Bradshaw, Fran Tarkenton and Ken Stabler. And the more they realized that he was the guy to carry the new franchise into its first season of NFL play. And so the Seahawks built an offense around the unorthodox Zorn, and he brought excitement to Seattle from the very start.
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Jim Zorn can still name all the players who preceded him as Seattle Seahawks. There was Dave Williams, a wide receiver from the University of Washington. There was Bob Cason, a quarterback from the University of Puget Sound in nearby Tacoma. And then came Zorn. A few months after being the last training-camp cut of the Dallas Cowboys – he was originally told he'd made the team, only to get released two days before the opener because Dallas had traded for running back Preston Pearson – Zorn signed a $28,000 contract with one of the NFL's two new expansion teams. As the story goes, Zorn had already reached an unofficial agreement to join the Los Angeles Rams as soon as they could clear a roster spot, but after weeks went by without a contract, the Seahawks swept in and made the deal. Zorn didn't know much about the city of Seattle, and he certainly didn't know anything about the new expansion team. In fact, the Seahawks didn't even have a head coach yet, as Jack Patera was still a few weeks away from signing on. But Zorn quickly endeared himself to both the Seahawks and the city of Seattle. In the first preseason game of the inaugural 1976 season, he came off the bench and nearly rallied his team to a comeback win over the San Francisco 49ers. He scrambled 13 yards on the final play of the game, getting within two yards of the end zone before the Seahawks fell 27-20. A week later, Zorn replaced Neil Graff as the starting quarterback, a job he would keep when the regular season began.
Jim Zorn throws during a game for the Seahawks. Seahawks photo
It was one of those games where both teams were battling back and forth all day. Late in the fourth quarter, we were up 31-29. But the momentum was theirs. We had to get a first down to put the game away. It was late in the game, seven minutes to go. And there was a second-and-long. We had practiced this play several times during the season. It kind of reminded me of the Boise State game in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, where they had practiced certain plays during the year, and this was the game they had to use them all. Ours wasn't that severe, where we felt like we had to get into the bag of tricks and grab it all, but we did have this one play. So here's what it was. I lined up behind the center, and Steve Largent was out to the right. We had a tight end to the left. We had two running backs. One of the running backs was Dan Doornink, and we lined him up at about eight yards. I got up to the line of scrimmage, and I looked out. I had a little bit of an acting job. So I get behind the center, and I look out to Steve and act like Steve is doing something wrong.
So I go in motion, I'm walking now, away from the center, and I'm yelling Largent's name. I go: 'Largent! Largent!' And then I say, 'Hut!' I kind of give the other offensive players a feel for the rhythm: 'Largent … Largent … hut.' Then the center snaps the ball to Dan Doornink, and I block off the edge. There was a blitz called, but everybody just kind of sat back because they thought I was going to call timeout. So the ball gets snapped to Doornink, he punts it, a quick kick. He punts the ball, Steve takes off and flies down the field. Well, we were at midfield, and this punt goes end over end, end over end, and it rolls to the 1-yard line. And I thought it was going to go right through Steve's legs. He was standing at the goal line, turned around and facing us. But he just stuck his hands down quick enough and stuck the ball at the 1-yard line. And they ended up needing 99 yards for a touchdown. We end up winning the game. That's a pretty significant play. I don't really remember anything else that happened in the game, but I do remember that play very well. All they needed was a field goal, and we kept them away from it. When they made the call, I thought: What a great idea. The momentum was kind of shifting, and this particular play deflated their team. They couldn't get anything going after that. It was very much a deflation for their team. I just remember what an incredible play it was.
Jim Zorn plays in a game for the Seahawks. Seahawks photo
Trick plays became a staple of the Seahawks' early existence. The following year, in 1979, Zorn was involved in one of the most memorable plays in Monday Night Football history when he threw a pass on a fake field goal. Burly kicker Efren Herrera bobbled the ball before finally catching it for a 20-yard completion while causing MNF announcer Howard Cosell to say: "The Seahawks are going to give the nation a lesson in entertaining football." In hindsight, Zorn looked back on those days as: "We had to do things like that to create the ability to compete with the other teams in the league. We had to be a little tricky." But winning in the NFL also takes talent. And while the Seahawks had Zorn and Largent and later added defensive players like Jacob Green and Kenny Easley, they struggled to take the next step. They went 4-12 in 1980, 6-10 in 1981 and struggled to a 4-5 record in the strike-shortened 1982 season. Along the way, Zorn suffered some serious injuries, including a broken ankle that would require a six-inch plate in 1982. He was never the same after that injury, and midway through the 1983 season he lost his job. The Seahawks were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers in an Oct. 23 game, and Zorn was struggling so badly that new head coach Chuck Knox benched him at halftime. Second-year player Dave Krieg came on in relief and rallied the Seahawks, falling just short of a comeback win. After that, it was Dave Krieg's team. Krieg helped lead the Seahawks to the AFC championship game that year, and Zorn had to settle for being a backup. Not that it was easy. "I got demoted, and we went to the playoffs. How good is that?" he said in 2007. What got Zorn through the demotion was his Christianity. He professed to be a dedicated Christian when things were going well, so he told himself that he had to continue to be the same when times went bad. "I found it very easy in my Christianity, because (positive) things were happening," Zorn said of his early years as a Seahawk. "Here I was, Big Man on Campus, the starting quarterback, everything was going well. It was easy.
Jim Zorn, Seahawks quarterback coach, instructs his quarterbacks, Matt Hasselbeck (#8), Seneca Wallace (#15) and Jeff Kelly (#17) during a practice at training camp in 2003 at Eastern Washington University in Cheney. Chris Goodenow / Herald file photo
Jim Zorn watches Matt Hasselbeck practice slides on a plastic sheet covered with water during training camp in 2003. Herald file photo
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