Free-agent Madness: Kitna vs. Robinson

Yesterday: Mack Strong turned in a – what else – strong showing in his matchup against Joe Nash.

The former lead-blocker for a trio of 1,000-yard rusher collected 76 percent of the votes, or 277. That left Nash, who played more games than anyone in franchise history, with 24 percent, or 88 votes.

Strong moves into the semifinals against the winner of the final opening-round matchup …

Today: Jon Kitna vs. Eugene Robinson.

Different eras. Opposite coasts. Opposite sides of the ball. But similar look-what-we-found stories.

Kitna was signed after the 1996 draft. Immediately. As reporters made their way upstairs from the media draft room to the press room in the old Kirkland facility following that draft, Kitna was sitting in the lobby with his wife, Jen, waiting to sign his free-agent contract.

He had been “in the neighborhood,” since Kitna played at Central Washington University and was from Tacoma – Lincoln High School, in fact. And the team didn’t need to “scout” Kitna, because then-coach Dennis Erickson had seen him play a few times for Central. That’s because Erickson’s nephew, Jamie Christian, was the fullback on the same Wildcats’ team.

The first time Erickson went to see his nephew play, he came away more impressed with Kitna – or, “that quarterback,” as he called him. The second time, Erickson referred to Kitna by his number. The third time, Erickson made sure he found out the quarterback’s name.

Kitna spent his first season on the practice squad, but went on to start five games in 1998, 15 in 1999 – when he led the Seahawks to an 8-2 start and they won the AFC West title in their first season under coach Mike Holmgren – and 12 in 2000. In ’99, he passed for 3,346 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Robinson, meanwhile, arrived in 1985 out of Colgate. By ’86, he had moved into the starting lineup at free safety – opposite strong safety Kenny Easley.

Asked about Robinson making the calls in the secondary before the snap, Easley inadvertently dubbed him “Orca.” Orca? As Easley explained it, he couldn’t really understand what Robinson was saying. All he heard was some high-pitched noise – like an Orca.

That was just the beginning of Robinson’s noisy stay with the Seahawks. He would walk the hallways singing – not to himself, but at full choirboy volume. On the Seahawks’ trip to Tokyo for an American Bowl game in the summer of 1990, Robinson bought a saxophone and taught himself how to play it – in his dorm room at Northwest College during training camp.

“I don’t know what he’s doing in there,” one teammate offered, “but it sounds like he’s ringing a chicken’s neck.”

On the field, however, Robinson was almost always in tune. He led the team in interceptions six times – including a league-leading and career-high nine in 1993; and in tackles four times – including a career-best 114 in 1988. He was voted to the Pro Bowl twice and named a defensive captain five times. He won the Steve Largent Award in 1993 and was named the team’s Man of the Year four times for his off-field contributions to the community.

By the time Robinson was traded to the Green Bay in 1996, he was the team’s all-time leading tackler (984) and ranked second in interceptions (42) and seventh in games played (170).

West Coast passer? Or East Coast interceptor? You  make the call.

Tomorrow: Norm Johnson vs. Dave Krieg, in the first semifinal

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