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Remembering former Seahawks beat writer Gil Lyons

Gil Lyons

When I started covering the Seahawks in 1979, Gil Lyons of the Seattle Times and Don Fair at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer were the veteran beat reporters for the team. Each provided guidance and inspiration for the “kid” who is now in his 35th season of covering the Seahawks.

Lyons, who covered the team from its inaugural season in 1976 through the 1991 season, died on Sunday of complications from surgery. He was 83.

One of my fondest memories of Lyons and Fair came during my first season on the beat – 1979, while working for the now-defunct Fournier Newspapers in Kent.

Jack Patera was the coach and his weekly day-after sessions with the beat writers were held in his office at the team’s original headquarters along the shores of Lake Washington in Kirkland. No TV cameras. No sports-talk radio stations, because there weren’t any at that time. Just the beat guys – Lyons, Fair, Earl Luebker from the Tacoma News Tribune, Will Nessly from the Everett Herald, Glenn Drosendahl from Bellevue Journal-American and “the kid from Kent.”

Patera came to the Seahawks from the Minnesota Vikings, where he had been the defensive line coach on Bud Grant’s staff. That also meant he was a diehard 4-3 man, and definitely had no need for the 3-4 defense that was becoming popular (the Seahawks would switch to the 3-4 in 1983 when Chuck Knox was hired to replace Patera).

Of course, I was unaware of Patera’s passion for the 4-3 and just-as fervent disfavor of the 3-4. Before one of my first Monday sessions in Patera’s offense, Lyons and Fair suggested I ask Patera if he was considering shifting to the 3-4.

“What nice guys,” I thought. “They’re willing to help out the new guy.”

But when I asked Patera about a possible switch, he shifted his ample weight in his chair and pursed his lips as the blood began to rush from his neck up his face. Before the eruption that Lyons and Fair were expecting could occur, however, Patera noticed them trying to hide smiles and laughs behind their notebooks.

Aware that the prank was on, Patera settled back in his chair, smiled and offered a thorough explanation of why he would only play with a four-man line. It made for a good story, for all of us.

There are many other Lyons’ tales that could be shared. But we’ll keep those private, to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent.

In the Seahawks’ early years – before the internet and ESPN – Lyons was a must-read for fans of the fledgling team. He eventually became known simply as “The Dean,” because the other original beat writers retired or moved on to other things.

Before covering the Seahawks, Lyons was the Times’ beat writer for the Sonics from their inception in 1967 until 1976, when he moved to the Seahawks.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Joan; and their four children – Chris, Lyn, Lucy and Michael.

A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday at St. Jude’s Catholic Church in Redmond.


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Today is the anniversary of NFL’s switch to 16-game schedule

The 16-game regular season in the NFL has been the norm so long that it’s hard to remember when teams played fewer games.

But there was that time, as the Pro Football Hall of Fame shows in this chart to commemorate today’s 36th anniversary of the owners voting to expand the regular season.

The Seahawks played two seasons under the 14-game schedule that was used from 1961-1977. They went 2-12 in their inaugural season in 1976 and 5-9 in 1977.

The Nordstrom family was the majority owner of the team, which played its home game in the Kingdome. Jack Patera was the coach. Jim Zorn was the quarterback. Steve Largent was the leading receiver. Sherman Smith was the leading rusher. Dave Brown (’76) and Terry Beeson (’77) were the leading tacklers.

That ’76 season was short on victories, but long on long-anticipated excitement.

“We only won two games that first year,” recalls Zorn, who is now a member of the team’s Ring of Honor along with Largent and Brown. “But you would have thought we almost went to the playoffs. That’s how enthusiastic not only we were, but the fans were. Everybody was excited.”

And what a difference that one season made to the expansion Seahawks. As Smith puts it, “As a team, we definitely felt more like a team in ’77. There was just more familiarity, with what the coaches wanted from us and with what the guy next to you would do on any given play. That first year, it was just getting ready to go and coming to training camp with more than 100 guys. So in ’77, it was a totally different feeling.”


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On this date: Mike McCormack joins Seahawks

Mike McCormack

A look at a memorable moment in Seahawks history that occurred on March 11:

1982: Mike McCormack, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman during his career with the Browns and former coach of the Eagles and Colts, is named director of football operations. He would step in as interim coach for the final seven games of the strike-shortened 1982 season after Jack Patera was fired. McCormack became the Seahawks’ president and general manager from 1983-88.


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On this date: Jack Patera named first coach

A look at some memorable moments in Seahawks history that occurred on Jan. 3:

Jack Patera

1976: Jack Patera, who had been the defensive line coach for the Vikings, is named the first head coach in franchise history. Patera would guide the Seahawks to their first winning season (9-7 in 1978) and finish with a 35-59 record before being fired during the players’ strike in 1982.

1983: Mike McCormack is named president/general manager. The Hall of Fame offensive lineman for the Browns had been the Seahawks’ director of football operations since March of 1982, and also stepped in as interim coach during that strike-shortened season after Jack Patera was fired.

1988: Tony Zendejas kicks a 42-yard field goal eight minutes into overtime to give the Oilers a 23-20 victory over the Seahawks in a wild-card playoff game at the Astrodome. Steve Largent catches a 12-yard TD pass from Dave Krieg with 26 seconds left in regulation to tie the score. Largent has seven catches for 132 yards and two TDs. The drive to Zendejas’ game-winner includes a tip of a Warren Moon pass by Jeff Bryant that players involved in the game still say was intercepted, but the officials do not agree.

2009: The Titans’ Chris Johnson runs for 132 yards to eclipse the 2,000-yard rushing barrier for the season and also scores on a 1-yard run late in the fourth quarter as Tennessee defeats the Seahawks 17-13 in their season finale in Seattle.


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On this date: Running Watters ends KC drought

A look at some memorable moments in Seahawks history that occurred on Nov. 21:

Ricky Watters

Ricky Watters

1976: Sherman Smith scores on a pair of 1-yard runs and Steve Largent catches six passes for 101 yards and a TD, but it’s not enough as the expansion Seahawks fall to the Saints 51-27 at the Kingdome.

1982: In their first game after the eight-week NFL players’ strike, and with Mike McCormack taking over as interim coach for Jack Patera, Steve Largent catches a 34-yard touchdown pass from Jim Zorn with 49 seconds left in a 17-10 victory over the Broncos in Denver.

1999: Ricky Watters scores three touchdowns, two rushing and one receiving, as he compiles 174 combined yards in a 31-19 victory in Kansas City, where the Seahawks had lost their previous eight games against the Chiefs.

2004: Michael Boulware intercepts a pass and returns it 63 yards for the touchdown with 56 seconds to play in a 24-17 victory over the Dolphins in Seattle. Trent Dilfer also throws a 21-yard TD pass to Jerry Rice.

2010: Matt Hasselbeck passes for 366 yards, with Mike Williams catching six passes for 109 yards, and David Hawthorne has 12 tackles and an interception. But the defending Super Bowl champion Saints prevail 34-19 in New Orleans. The game is a prelude to the team’s rematch in a wild-card playoff game in Seattle that season.


On this date: Happy birthday, Doug

A look at some memorable moments in Seahawks history that occurred on Sept. 21:

1982 – The 57-day players’ strike begins, cancelling eight games. The club also fires coach Jack Patera during the strike. He is replaced on an interim basis by director of football operations Mike McCormack, who leads the team to a 4-3 record after the strike is settled.

1988 – Doug Baldwin is born in Gulf Breeze, Fla. Baldwin would join the Seahawks as a rookie free agent in 2011 and lead them in receptions (51), receiving yards (788) and touchdown catches (four) – making him the first rookie free agent to lead his team in catches and yards since the Oilers’ Bill Groman in 1960.


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On this date: Seahawks open inaugural training camp

A look at a memorable moment in Seahawks history that occurred on July 9:

1976: The expansion-team Seahawks open their inaugural training camp at Eastern Washington University in Cheney under coach Jack Patera. The team would summer in Cheney until 1985 and then again from 1997-2006.


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And the best fifth-round pick is …

The fifth round of the NFL Draft has been special for the Seahawks.

Special in that they have used those picks to select a couple of Pro Bowl special teams players – return man Bobby Joe Edmonds, who was drafted in 1986 and voted to the AFC all-star team as a rookie; and coverage man Alex Bannister, who was drafted in 2001 and voted to the NFC all-star team in 2003. The fifth round also delivered kick returner Charlie Rogers in 1999.

There also have been a couple of standout defensive players who came to the Seahawks in the fifth round – tackle Rocky Bernard, who was selected 2002 and started 55 games in seven seasons; and strong safety Kam Chancellor, who was selected in 2010 and went to the Pro Bowl last season.

But the best of the fifth-round bunch played on offense – left guard Edwin Bailey, who was drafted in 1981, stepped into the lineup as a rookie and started 120 games through the 1991 season.

Bailey’s run with the team began under coach Jack Patera and spanned the tenure of coach Chuck Knox (1983-91). He opened holes for Sherman Smith, Curt Warner, John L. Williams and Derrick Fenner, and provided pass protection for Jim Zorn, Dave Krieg, Kelly Stouffer and Jeff Kemp. Bailey was a key component in the Seahawks’ advancing to the AFC title game in 1983, posting a 12-win season in 1984 and winning their first division title in 1988.

Until Steve Hutchinson was selected in the first round of the 2001 draft, Bailey was the best left guard in franchise history – as evidenced by his selection to the Seahawks’ 25th Anniversary team.

We caught up with Bailey recently, and you can find out what the player his teammates called “Pearl” has been up to here.


On this date: McCormack hired

A look at a memorable moment in Seahawks history that occurred on March 11:

1982: Mike McCormack, a Hall of Fame lineman during his career with the Browns and former coach of the Eagles and Colts, is named director of football operations. He would step in as interim coach in the strike-shortened season after Jack Patera was fired.


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On this date

A look at the memorable – and not-so-memorable – moments in Seahawks history that occurred on Jan. 3:

1976: Jack Patera, who had been the defensive line coach for the Vikings, is named the first head coach in franchise history.

1983: Mike McCormack is named president/general manager. The Hall of Fame offensive lineman for the Browns had been the Seahawks’ director of football operations since March of 1982, and also stepped in as interim coach during that strike-shortened season after Jack Patera was fired.

1988: Tony Zendejas kicks a 42-yard field goal eight minutes into overtime to give the Oilers a 23-20 victory over the Seahawks in a wild-card playoff game at the Astrodome. Steve Largent catches a 12-yard TD pass from Dave Krieg with 26 seconds left in regulation to tie the score. Largent has seven catches for 132 yards and two TDs. The drive to Zendejas’ game-winner includes a tip of a Warren Moon pass by Jeff Bryant that players in the game still say was intercepted, but the officials do not agree.

2009: The Titans’ Chris Johnson runs for 132 yards to eclipse the 2,000-yard rushing barrier for the season and also scores on a 1-yard run late in the fourth quarter as Tennessee defeats the Seahawks 17-13 in their season finale in Seattle.


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