The first loss in Seattle Seahawks history came not on the field but with the flip of a coin.
The Seahawks lost a coin toss leading up to the 1976 college draft, thereby giving fellow expansion team Tampa Bay first shot at all-everything Oklahoma defensive lineman Lee Roy Selmon.
Seattle settled for Notre Dame defensive tackle Steve Niehaus, whose surname would become famous in these parts not for anything he did but for a baseball announcer that was hired the following year. The Seahawks’ Niehaus was good enough to win defensive-rookie-of-the-year honors, but his career lasted just three seasons because of shoulder problems.
In the Seahawks’ second year of existence, 1977, they had the No. 2 pick again but traded it away. The never-before-admitted, handshake deal was actually made a month before the NFL draft, with the second overall pick going to Dallas as long as Pitt running back Tony Dorsett was available. The Cowboys selected Dorsett, who went on to become one of that franchise’s best players.
Eventually, the Seahawks figured out the game of drafting high. Subsequent top-five picks brought Ring of Honor stars such as Kenny Easley, Curt Warner and Cortez Kennedy. In all, Seattle has drafted among the top five picks in the annual draft six times, the latest of which came in 1997, when the team took cornerback Shawn Springs at No. 3.
On Saturday, barring an 11th-hour trade, the Seahawks will take another shot at a franchise player in the first 60 minutes of draft day.
Seattle has several candidates from which to choose but, if you believe the so-called experts, no Hall of Famers-in-waiting.
That wasn’t the case in 1976, when OU’s Selmon was regarded as head and shoulders above every other college player available. After the Seahawks lost the coin toss, they went into Plan B mode and eventually decided on Niehaus over Cal running back Chuck Muncie.
Then-general manager John Thompson said Wednesday that character concerns and rumors of possible drug use were what eventually led Seattle to move away from Muncie and decide to go with Niehaus.
After a 2-12 season in their inaugural year, the Seahawks were back at No. 2 but with little interest in using the pick. Thompson said this week, for the first time publicly, that he actually made the deal with Cowboys owner Tex Schramm during the NFL meetings a few weeks earlier. Both men promised to keep the trade secret until draft day.
“I couldn’t even tell my coaches, the scouts – anyone,” said Thompson, now 81 years old and living in Sedro-Woolley, Wash. “I just went about business like we were going to use the pick.”
The Seahawks had been scared of taking Dorsett after receiving a letter telling them that he would refuse to play in Seattle. Only later did the Seahawks realize the letter did not come from Dorsett himself, but that news came after they dealt the pick to Dallas for the 14th overall pick and three second-rounders.
Four years later, when another letter arrived threatening the Seahawks not to draft a certain player, Thompson didn’t blink.
Seattle took UCLA safety Easley against the wishes of the player’s agent.
After a brief threat to play in Canada, Easley signed on with the Seahawks and became an immediate star. That pick, along with third overall selection Warner two years later, helped solidify the Seahawks as an NFL contender.
Not until 1990 were the Seahawks back in the top five of the annual draft, and this time Seattle chose to go with another defensive tackle.
Kennedy didn’t have quite the rookie year that Niehaus had 14 years earlier, but he developed into one of the best Seahawks defenders and was recently among an elite group of semifinalists for the Hall of Fame.
Of course, not all top-five picks become Hall of Fame candidates. Seattle’s 1993 choice, Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer, played just four seasons with the Seahawks before being traded to Chicago – a move that opened the door for the Seahawks to draft Springs third in 1997.
The Mirer selection came not because of a loss but because of a win. The Seahawks’ 10-6 win over New England in Week 3 of the 1992 season eventually assured the Patriots of the No. 1 overall selection in the draft the following spring. New England got Washington State star quarterback Drew Bledsoe, while Seattle had to settle for Mirer at No. 2.
The Seahawks are strongly considering another quarterback with their top-five pick this year.
While Georgia’s Matthew Stafford is likely to be gone – perhaps first overall to Detroit – Seattle and several other teams have fallen in love with USC’s Mark Sanchez.
With the No. 4 pick, Seattle is likely to choose from a group that includes Sanchez, Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree and Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry.
There doesn’t seem to be another Selmon, Easley or Kennedy in the bunch.
“It’s below average,” CBS draft analyst Rob Rang said when asked to assess the top of this year’s draft class. “It’s not a class of guys you feel are going to come in and make an immediate impact and be guaranteed superstars. Even the so-called safe picks have question marks.”
So while the Seahawks have had success with high draft picks in the past, this year’s prospects might not offer the same credentials.
“It’s an unfortunate year for them (to be picking high) because there’s not great talent at the top,” Rang said.
“Ultimately, a lot of good players are going to get paid great money.”