It was the mid 70s and America was not far removed from the end of the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the resignation of the U.S. president.
During a period replete with political history, the NFL had generated important history of its own. The announcement was made that the league would be adding teams far removed regionally.
What would be the odds the two head coaches shaping those new teams respective destinies would be two guys from Oregon?
It would not be that tough to guess the new mentor of the Seattle Seahawks, the most populous city in Washington state would have an Oregonian at its helm. What created unique circumstances were that so did the Florida team.
Jack Patera was born in South Dakota. He moved with his family to Portland, Oregon and made a name for himself in high school football. The University of Oregon was interested in signing him and he became an All-Coast tackle his senior year in 1954.
Patera was selected to guide the destiny of the Seahawks following a seven year career in the NFL followed by professional coaching experience.
The better known hire was one the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made in signing John McKay, who had achieved four national championships as coach of the USC Trojans. McKay grew up in West Virginia.
Like so many returning World War II veterans, McKay entered college in his early twenties. McKay, a running back, initially attended Purdue. He then transferred to the University of Oregon.
It proved to be a wise choice for McKay. In his senior year of 1948, the Ducks were strong enough to almost make it to the Rose Bowl being edged out by Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf’s California Golden Bears. California was making its first of three straight Pasadena appearances as Pac-10 Conference champion.
Meanwhile, the Ducks under Jim Aiken were selected to appear in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. McKay was a solid running back, but the big offensive gun for Oregon was strong-armed quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, who would later become an NFL Hall of Fame selection after a brilliant career with the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles.
McKay received an offer from the Baltimore Colts of the All-America Conference, which would disband after the 1949 season, the one that would have been McKay’s first. McKay rejected the opportunity and decided to go into coaching. In 1950 his former Oregon mentor Jim Aiken hired him as an assistant.
As fate would have it, former Oregon Duck Patera was drafted by the Baltimore Colts of the NFL, not to be confused with the team that folded earlier. He was drafted in the fourth round as an offensive guard, but was soon switched by Coach Weeb Ewbank to linebacker, the position he would play throughout his career.
Patera played three years for the Colts and sustained a nasty break when Ewbank traded him to the Chicago Cardinals in 1958. The Colts behind the passing of future Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas won consecutive NFL championships in 1958 and 1959.
The linebacker from Oregon played two seasons with Chicago and was selected by Tom Landry in the 1960 expansion draft for the new Dallas Cowboys NFL entry. He ended his career in 1961 after failing to sufficiently recover from a knee injury Patera sustained in 1960.
His playing career was over, Patera went into coaching. He garnered significant attention as a defensive line coach of the Los Angeles Rams between 1963 and 1967. He coached the "Fearsome Foursome" consisting of Merlin Olsen, Rosie Grier, Lamar Lundy and Deacon Jones. Called by many NFL observers, they were the most intimidating front four in league history.
After moving from L.A. to work under Bud Grant with the Minnesota Vikings, Patera struck pay dirt again as a defensive specialist. This time he coached the Purple People Eaters consisting of Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, and Gary Larsen.
The Vikings would play in three Super Bowls during the seasons of 1969, 1973 and what would be the first season of Patera in Seattle, 1976.
John McKay announced his acceptance of the Tampa Bay job during the 1975 USC season. He explained he was hoping by going on record and acknowledging what had been speculated on for weeks that the subject could thereupon be put to rest.
As for Jack Patera, he accepted the Seattle Seahawks job in January of 1976. The forthcoming season was the first of several in which the efforts of the two Oregon graduates would be carefully compared. This was a natural response since their expansion teams had been created and began NFL play at the same time.
Patera’s Seahawks went 2-12 in their first campaign, McKay’s Bucs became the butts of jokes as the team lost its first 26 games. The breakthrough came at the end of the 1977 season with McKay’s team not only winning its final two games, but against two old friends.
McKay broke into the win column first against the New Orleans Saints and next against the St. Louis Cardinals. Saints coach Hank Stram had been a teammate of McKay’s while both were at Purdue. Cardinals’ boss Don Coryell had been a McKay assistant at USC.
Meanwhile, things were moving at a more promising level for the new Seattle team. The promising combination of quarterback Jim Zorn and wide receiver Steve Largent, who would eventually become a Hall of Famer, helped the Seahawks to improve to 5-9 in the 1977 season.
In 1978 Patera hit pay dirt. In the franchise team’s third campaign the Seahawks generated a 9-7 record. His effort prompted him to be named NFL Coach of the Year by the Associated Press and Sporting News. Seattle duplicated that 9-7 effort in 1979.
An irony existed in the careers of the two franchise team coaches from Oregon. Former NFL linebacker Patera, who gained coaching recognition through his involvement with the Fearsome Foursome and Purple People Eaters, progressed through emphasizing offense in a tricky way.
“I had a team that could move the ball like hell, but couldn’t stop anybody,” Patera explained. “So I figured that to win more ballgames we’d simply have to gamble more often. I would rather have beaten teams on muscle and execution, but we just didn’t have the talent.”
Former ball carrier McKay stressed defense. After a rocky beginning his team finally began surprising opponents in 1979. By the time the rest of the NFL had awakened to the fact the Bucs were for real, they had made the playoffs and forged their way to the NFC championship game along with home field advantage.
The L.A. Rams supplied the opposition. McKay expressed mixed feelings about the opportunity since his former USC quarterback Pat Haden, was quarterbacking the Rams. “I know things about him that nobody else does,” McKay explained, which could give him an advantage in defending Haden.
The title battle was a sturdy defensive test. There were no touchdowns scored. Ray Malavasi’s Rams won 9-0 on three Frank Coral field goals.
McKay would be a familiar fixture on Tampa Bay's sideline wearing the team's traditional orange and white colors until his resignation from coaching following the 1984 season.
His NFL mark was 44-88, well under the lofty heights he achieved at USC, where he had coached between 1960 and 1975, and at which he notched a 127-40-8 record.
As for Patera, his career became rockier in the early 80s. After losing seasons in 1980 and 1981, trouble loomed during the NFL strike-shortened season of 1982. Relations became strained between Patera and his players. He was the enforced of a management decision to fine his players for participating in players union solidarity handshakes before pre-season games.
Despite his willingness to toe a tough line on behalf of management Patera was fired after the Seahawks lost their first two games of the season.
One year later, the 1983 Seahawks under first year coach Chuck Knox would, like McKay’s 1979 Bucs, fall just one game short of making the Super Bowl. Seattle had defeated the Los Angeles Raiders twice during the regular season but lost the AFC Playoff Game in L.A., who would then go on to become Super Bowl champions, 30-14.
Leading the Seahawk potent offensive attack were Patera developed talents Jim Zorn and Dave Krieg, who shared QB duties during the 1983 season, along with wide receiver Steve Largent. The team’s leading rusher was Penn State rookie Curt Warner.
Patera never coached again. His overall Seattle mark was 35-59. He resides in Cle Elum, Washington. McKay died on June 10, 2001 in Tampa at the age of 77.