From the Field to the Family Room: An Interview with Jim Zorn

Jim ZornWith no coach’s headset on, no sports memorabilia in plain sight, “Poppy,” as he’s known around the kitchen table of his Mercer Island home, looks like a lot of other young grandparents, soaking in the moment as he helps his 3-year-old grandson with 3D Wonder Paint or helps his 6-year-old granddaughter with an iPad game.

The “Lefty Fran Tarkenton” — that’s what Zorn used to be called. The star starting quarterback of the inaugural Seattle Seahawks team from 1976 to 1983, he was a young and charismatic free agent pickup whose ability to scramble and land the football into the chest of #80, wide receiver Steve Largent, ignited the fire that now engulfs this town in blue and green.

Zorn is again a free agent between coaching jobs.  He has used the downtime of this past year to reconnect with his family in a deeper way than just “being in and out of their lives.” Each week, he and his wife Joy host their grandkids at their home; they do art, they go to the park or on outings so their daughter Rachael can work and run errands. It’s a different kind of Monday-morning routine from what Zorn had for so long. But with four children and three grandchildren, “There’s a lot more reward over time as a parent or grandparent because you just continue to grow as a family for those years and years.”

So how exciting is this?

Jim Zorn and Steve Largent

“'Win the Super Bowl, win the Super Bowl!' That’s the ultimate goal of every coach, player and organization,” the 60-year old Zorn says, showing a glimpse of the focus he played with and also recognizes in the current Seahawks team. “Many things have to work for a team to actually achieve this, and it’s happened.”

Zorn takes a break to help his granddaughter navigate through a spot in her iPad game Machinarium, in which an unnamed protagonist bot solves multi-step puzzles and logic problems.  And he reminds his kindergartener whiz kid (“She is very smart,” Grandpa says under his breath) not to boss around her younger brother so that he, too, can figure out the puzzles himself.

Come Sunday, the Zorns will be at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, enjoying the game with family and friends … and of course, the 12th Man. A blue “12” flag hangs outside their front door. “The fans were intricately involved in this team,” Zorn says. “There aren’t many places where the fans mean so much to the team and the team means so much to the fans. It’s unique.”

Watching from the bleachers

Last fall, Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre made headlines by telling NBC Today show host Matt Lauer that if he had a son, he would not encourage him to play football.  Zorn sees progress in the attention that is now paid to player safety. “I think we’re far more intelligent about the game today than we were when I played, as far as the injuries, the equipment, the training, the expertise. As the game has evolved, the rules have changed, and safety rules have improved.”

The Zorns do have a son, so for them it is not an academic discussion. Zorn is a big believer in kids finding their own way. Their youngest child, 18-year-old Isaac, is a collegiate lacrosse player in Pennsylvania. He played football through middle school, making the switch to lacrosse in high school not because of safety concerns but because he had an arm good enough to keep being placed at quarterback, and he found the inevitable comparisons to his dad uncomfortable. Jim and Joy are now avid lacrosse fans, too.

On coaching and parenting

Joy Zorn home-schooled their four children until they reached high school. Her style then and now is hands-on and encourages exploration. “What was good about the kids being home is that we could just pick up and go anywhere we wanted,” she says.  With dad’s coaching stints all over the country, the family learned to be adaptable. “The cultures were different in all those places, but it was comfortable for us because we tried to make it an adventure,” says Jim.

Jim and Joy Zorn with their grandchildren

An adventurous but normal lifestyle; that’s the balance the Zorns have sought over the years. This former Seahawks MVP has orchestrated offenses and quarterbacks for nearly four decades, but he sounds like any other parent when he talks about one’s humble place in the work/home life balance. “Joy knew the hours I put in and the studying, but I came home and still had to be her husband, not the icon of the city or whatever. I was a husband and a dad, not a celebrity that she lived with.”

The family’s sports storyline is not finished yet. Jim looks forward to being back in the game of football. But right now, as he embraces his role as an involved grandparent, he believes his adult children need to write their own playbooks. “Our responsibilities have changed. It’s more about supporting our own kids in their parenting skills, and not lording over them, ‘I wouldn’t do it this way or I would do it this way’ … unless they ask for suggestions.”

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