Keith Simpson: Incomplete after all these years
Keith Simpson plays during a game for the Seahawks. Seahawks photo
Atop the desk of Keith Simpson's office at his Houston-area home, a photograph greets him each morning. The black-and-white, unframed photo is a keepsake of a time when young football players were in the prime of their lives, when they felt indestructible.
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Keith Simpson didn't want to be like the others. The first six Simpson brothers had been stars on the football field, and so Keith -- he was the seventh of nine children, including two twin brothers who were younger -- set out to forge a path of his own as a child. Baseball was Keith Simpson's game, and his lightning-quick fastball looked like it might take his athletic career beyond what any of the others had achieved. And yet it was football that eventually became Simpson's chose profession. After avoiding the game for most of his childhood, Keith Simpson eventually relented and gave football a try as a freshman at Corry Junior High School in Memphis. The plan was to play quarterback and show off his incredible arm strength, but coaches quickly moved Simpson to running back because he was one of the bigger kids on the freshman team. As a freshman, Keith Simpson found time to play football, baseball, basketball and track. His teams went 65-3 that year, and Simpson was named the best athlete in the freshman class.
Keith Simpson runs during a game for the Seahawks. Saahawks photo
Keith Simpson plays during a game for the Seattle Seahawks. Seahawks photo
For me, the Chiefs games were always special because I knew so many guys on the Kansas City teams. Their wide receivers coach, Richard Williamson, was my head coach at Memphis State. They had one cornerback I knew, a guy named Gary Green, and another guy named Eric Harris whom I had known since I was 15 years old. He was a year older than me, but we played on the same baseball teams, went to high school together, and then ended up going to the same college. So it was always a big game for me when we got to play the Chiefs. It was always a rivalry, a personal rivalry for me, when we played Kansas City. And, they always had great receiving corps. This was back at the time when every game against an AFC West team meant going against an explosive offense. It was one of those you-might-score-points-on-us-but-we're-going-to-score-on-you eras. This was back when the Chargers had Dan Fouts and Charlie Joiner and Kellen Winslow, when John Elway was coming up with Denver, when the Raiders had Marc Wilson and Todd Christensen. And the Chiefs were no different. They had all these receivers: Carlos Carson, Henry Marshall, Stephone Paige. Of course, we had a pretty good offense, too. We had Dave Krieg and Steve Largent and Curt Warner and all those guys. But as a member of the defense, I always believed we were more of a defensive team. We had six or seven No. 1 draft choices in the lineup on defense. Our defense was very, very special that year. I think we ended up having three shutouts that year. It was pretty special. And besides that, we knew the Chiefs pretty well. They were in our division. So we had a good idea of what they were going to do.
We knew their wide receivers because we had played against those guys for four or five years. So we got to know their habits, and they got to know ours. But the key to our defensive success was that we were very good at disguising coverages. That's something teams don't do as well now. Sometimes I'll go to a college or pro game here in my home state of Texas, and the games I go to, I can tell you what coverage they are in right away. Teams just aren't as good at disguising things. We played a lot of combination coverages back then. We would have 10 people on the line, and it would be a zone coverage. You'd swear it was a blitz, but we'd drop into a zone. The quarterback has to make a lot of adjustments, and that throws everything off. We had Jacob Green, Joe Nash and Jeff Bryant rushing the passer, and that certainly helped too. With Jacob one end and Jeff on the other end, we were pretty successful. It's not like we totally shut the Chiefs down that day. They threw for over 400 yards. But it seemed like every time they drove into our territory, we made a play. We ended up intercepting six passes that day, and returned four of them for touchdowns. That was an NFL record, and still is. It was one of those things where, once they got further behind, we played the pass. But it was an unusual game in that they had more passing yards than we did, and yet we won the game 45-0. The Chiefs were moving the ball that day, but we stopped them when it counted. Their first drive went into Seahawks territory before a Jacob Green sack ended that threat. Kansas City went all the way to our 13-yard line on the next drive, but Dave Brown intercepted a pass at the 5 and ran it back 95 yards for a touchdown. They were always driving down the field. It's outstanding the way things turned out. On Kansas City's third drive, it was my turn. The Chiefs had put together another decent drive, moving the ball to our 33-yard line. I still remember the pass route, although I can't remember the receiver. It was a deep out, and I was playing further back and disguising the coverage. Their quarterback, Bill Kenney, had pressure on him at the time, and he could not see me. He ended up throwing the ball right to me, and I took it up the sideline for a 76-yard return touchdown. I was untouched going down the sideline. I've since watched it on a highlight film, and you could see Chuck Knox, our head coach, going down the sideline, cheering me on. You could see everybody running with me. I was two or three inches off the sidelines, but I knew where I was at. And I went in untouched. That gave us a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter. What I remember just as clearly is that I had another interception earlier in the game. I got that one off Kenney, too. But one of my teammates was offsides, so that one didn't count. Eventually, the Chiefs replaced Kenney with Todd Blackledge. But he didn't fare much better. In the second half, Dave Brown intercepted Blackledge and returned it for another touchdown. Kenny Easley added another touchdown, our fourth return touchdown, when he intercepted third-string quarterback Sandy Osiecki in the fourth quarter. We had six interceptions in all – two by Brown, two by Terry Taylor and one each by myself and Kenny Easley. Four of them went for touchdowns, which turned out to be an NFL record. At the time, we didn't know we'd just made history. We didn't know until after the game was over with that the four interceptions were an NFL record. We had no idea. Somebody from one of the newspapers told us afterward, and then they shot a photo of us. Dave is holding two footballs, Kenny is holding one, and I'm holding one. You can see from the photo just how exhausted we were. We were on the field most of the game. You have to remember, whenever we scored, we had to go right back on the field. We ended up being on the field for more than half of the 60 minutes that game. There were stretches where we were out there for 20, 25 plays in a row. So we were tired. But we weren't too tired. We were having a good time, playing at home. You don't get too tired at home, not when 65,000 fans are cheering you on. I still have that black-and-white photo, to this day, sitting on my desk. I have a lot of pictures that are framed on the walls, but that picture actually sits on my desk. Every time I walk into my office and look at it, it brings back so many memories. I like looking at it because Dave is gone and Ralph Hawkins is gone, and Kenny had to retire. It's just nice to look at picture and know that we still have that record in NFL book and I happened to be part of it. But just looking at that photo, I remember what a special time it really was.
Keith Simpson (#42) plays during a game for the Hawks. Herald file photo
That season would go down as one of the greatest in Seahawks history. Seattle finished with a 12-4 record and advanced to the postseason for the second year in a row. Simpson finished the season with four interceptions – in a September win over Chicago, he returned another one for a touchdown – and two fumble recoveries. But the good times would not last long, especially when it came to Simpson's career. The following year, a young cornerback named Terry Taylor whom the Seahawks had drafted in the first round of the 1984 draft became the primary starter midway through the season. Simpson saw his playing time diminish, and again he regretted the position switch that left him at cornerback. "I always hated the idea," Simpson said in 2008, 27 years after the initial move from safety. "I felt like I could've played more years in the league if I was a safety." Simpson played just one more season as a cornerback, but it was clear that he had lost a step. After the season, he saw the writing on the wall. Seahawks coach Chuck Knox called Simpson into his office during the 1986 training camp and officially delivered the news. "I remember to this day walking into Chuck's office," Simpson said in 2008. "He told me, 'We're going to go in another direction.' That's the last time I saw Chuck." It also turned out to be the last time Simpson was employed by an NFL team. He says he went to Los Angeles for a tryout with the Raiders, but that opportunity dissipated when L.A.'s veteran cornerback, Mike Davis, reported to camp after a long holdout. Simpson was offered a tryout with the Detroit Lions but turned it down. "I said, 'I'm not going to go through this again. I'm done,'" Simpson recalled in 2008. "I sold my house in five days and moved to Houston." Simpson had a job waiting for him in Houston, thanks to former teammate Jacob Green. He started working as a recruiter and salesman for a chemical corporation, spent some time as a sports agent and eventually landed at Federal Express, where he was still working in 2008. Simpson rarely looked back on his football career, but because of the photo atop his desk, he can never really put the Seahawks out of mind. "You want to cherish every moment you had with those guys," he said during a phone interview while staring at the picture on his desk. "We had something special -- to us." In September 2004, Ralph Hawkins died suddenly after a short battle with a condition known as Pick's Disease. Simpson hadn't even known that his former coach was sick until he heard about the death. Just over a year later, as the Seahawks were rolling through one of their most memorable seasons in franchise history, Dave Brown died unexpectedly. A workout warrior who was in tip-top shape, Brown suffered a heart attack while playing basketball with one of his sons. He was 52 years old. "I could not believe it," Simpson said two years later, recalling his emotions. Former teammate Kenny Easley, who heard the news while living in Virginia, was also shocked by word of Brown's death. "It was complete devastation," Easley recalled in 2007. "This guy was in better shape than anyone -- even me, and that was almost impossible." Two of the four men in Simpson's favorite photo were gone, and yet he still had the black and white memory that greets him each morning. "Life is short," Simpson said in 2008. "The relationships that you've had in the past, if they're truly your friends, you should maintain those relationships. In football, you develop a bond with people. We had a special bond. Those guys, that's a special group of guys." A group that Simpson will never forget. Next week in Chapter 19 of "The Game of My Life," Norm Johnson recalls a 51-48 shootout that ended with a boot from his foot.
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