035: Steve Largent, The NFL Hall of Famer With No Fear
Football will always have bigger, stronger and faster guys. But this didn’t bother Steve Largent who is 5’ 11.5”, he had a job to do for his team and he did it. The only thing that was on his mind when he went out to a game was that he could catch everything that was thrown at him. But like most players of the sport, Steve experienced the bitterness of being cut from a team. But this wasn’t a setback to him, rather another opportunity to be better. Now Steve is an NFL Hall of Famer with a proud 14-year career. He shares stories of his beginnings and the people in his village that helped get to where he is now.
I’m so blessed and fortunate to have this particular gentleman on the show, Steve Largent. Steve is a guy that I grew up idolizing. I came to UCLA in 1976. I was just a freshman in high school. He was a rookie on the Seahawks Football team. He went on to have a fourteen-year NFL career, ultimately went into the Hall of Fame and then served in Congress for eight years and just has had so many amazing experiences. We go through all this stuff. The tie-in with overcoming his adversity; he had a number of things to go over. The thing that we talked about is he had four kids. One of his kids unfortunately had a disease called spina bifida. That essentially means that you have a hole in your back. Through a lot of adversities, they overcame. His kid, Kramer, is alive and well and healthy and happy and married and he’s 31 years old now. They as a family got together, rallied and they’ve just continued on like any other family. Steve is certainly a guy driven by his moral compass. I so enjoyed talking with him and what he stands for what he’s all about. I feel like a better person for it. Thank you, Steve. Let’s talk to Steve.
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Steve Largent, The NFL Hall of Famer With No Fear
On this episode, we are talking to a Hall of Famer, Steve Largent. Steve, how are you doing?
I’m doing very well, Mark.
Although I’m living in California right now, I am Seattle born and raised. For people who don’t and who wouldn’t know who you are, certainly you’re an icon in the Seattle world. You played for the Seahawks for fourteen years. You set an incredible amount of records and you were very prolific. At the end of the day, you’re just a great guy to have represented that team, that city. There’s so much appreciation for what you did for the franchised football team at the time getting them to where they are today.
Thank you. I appreciate that. My story didn’t start out the way it ended up.
To me, you’ve got such a fascinating story like a lot of these different guys that have played in the League. You have more than gone the distance. The average life span of an NFL guy is two and a half years or something. I made it to five barely and I was never on your level. I always had great respect for you. Did you grow up in the Oklahoma area?
I did. I was born in Tulsa and raised in Oklahoma City.
Are you six foot?
I’ve always been measured at 5’11.5”.
When you say measured, is that standing on your toes?
The thing that’s so amazing about you is that your stature is not great, but you were able to do these amazing things.
I’m 5’11.5” and weighed when I played about 190 pounds. That today is still not a very big person on the football field.
For you and I that were down there next to these linemen who were just gigantic, 6’ 6”, 300-plus, I’m a little bit taller, I’m 6’ 3” but it’s just such a violent sport. The guys that you were going against and I was going against, the DBs, the safeties, they were big and they bring a lot of hardware when you’re out there and you get crunched. You’ve got to have that muscle around you to really protect yourself.
There’s no question about that. I can never remember a day stepping on the football field and worrying or no fear. I didn’t even think about the possibilities of what could happen to me out there on that playing field with all these guys who were bigger, stronger and faster than I was. I always went out with an attitude that I’m going to go out and I’m going to prove myself. I’m going to catch everything they throw my way. I’m going to know my assignments. I was thinking about what I had to do at that practice or at that game whatever it was. I didn’t really spend a lot of time worrying about how big guys were, how fast they were or how slow I was. I was just thinking about what I had to do and how I had to do it. That was my MO for playing football.
The interesting thing about that, and I’ve literally seen this right before my eyes, is we’re having a scrimmage or it’s a game and a receiver will do an overroute or a slant or something and they would just get crunched and it is over. You literally have to have no fear to play at that level. D-I football too, in college, I think it applies there but more so in the NFL. Once that happens, once that goes out the door, you are done. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have. I’ve just seen these guys go from first round draft picks to nothing overnight going ahead.
I actually have seen some guys coming out of the University of Washington that that happened too. You’re right, as soon as it happens, you’re done. You can’t go back. Guys start worrying about who’s going to hit them if they catch that ball before they catch the ball, and they can’t ever catch it regardless of anybody being there or not. When that happens, you’re done. I saw it happen. Fortunately for me, I was able to play for fourteen years in the National Football League and never have the thought cross my mind. That may say something about my stupidity, but fortunately for me it worked for me playing wide receiver.
For the people who know you, you had an infamous hit that you sustained from Mike Harden of the Broncos. It was really the perfectly timed slant route over the middle. I think Dave Krieg was the guy throwing the ball to you and he didn’t look off to safety. He just reacted immediately and he literally clubbed you like Mike Tyson would take somebody out under the chin, and knocked you out for a couple of minutes.
I remember it clearly. People always ask me about the hardest hit I ever took, and that was it. It was actually a twelve-yard post route. I was running not fast but fast for me, and not looking at him at all. Dave Krieg was the quarterback and he floated the ball, which is not how you want somebody to throw a twelve-yard post route to you. Mike Harden had played quarterback and strong safety and was now playing free safety for the Broncos. He was doing nothing but looking right at me and he broke on Dave’s look. At that time, he had had his arm taped up not because he was injured, but just for the ability to use it the way he did on me. He threw his arm right into my face mask and broke my face mask and snapped my head back. I was out before I hit the ground. Obviously, I didn’t catch the ball. I was out before I hit the ground and came to several to five or ten minutes later. I was out of the game at that point.
Those types of hits can alter the course. What’s interesting to me too is that I believe at that time in your career, you’d been in the League for a number of years. You’ve been to Pro Bowls and you were very well-established, as was he. A lot of times in that arena of superstars, there’s mutual respect. When he cracked you like that and you dropped, it almost seemed like he was gloating over that hit.
[Tweet “In that arena of superstars, there’s mutual respect. “]
No question about it. I saw the film after he hit me and he was pointing his fingers and looking down on me. He definitely was gloating about taking me out of the game, which he did. He didn’t even get called a penalty. I think later the League fined him $5,000 but that was after the game was over. He didn’t get a penalty or anything on that particular play, and that always bothered me.
Did you play the next week or did you sit that one out?
I played the next week. That was in my thirteenth year. We played Denver home-and-home. We were in the AFC West at the time. I think that was an early game maybe the third or fourth or fifth game we played, when he did that.
I was drafted by the Raiders and a similar type of situation and completely knocked me out. Back in the day of the no protocol concussion deal, I was on the field the next week. It would just be something like, “I went to the hospital and got a scan.” “Get back out there.” It was just all about performance and not really about the safety of the game. It’s great that they’ve taken a right-hand turn and really thinking more about the safety of the players. Was it the same season or was it the next in your fourteenth year?
We played them home-and-home, so that was the first game we played in Denver. The second game, we played in Seattle.
He had intercepted the ball and somehow or another, you just happened to be on the field in the right place at the right time where you came up and you just literally knocked him off his feet. The ball fell into the air, onto the turf and you recovered that ball. It was such a really violent hit. The surprising thing, going back to your stature, is I think it just surprised so many people because he was a well put together guy and you just come out of nowhere and just blasted him.
That is my favorite play in my NFL career. Not a catch but a tackle on my card. It’s because of all the stuff that had gone on the previous game, when we played the Broncos inDenver. People always ask me about that play and they’ll say, “Did you know that that was Mike Harden before you hitting?” My response is and it’s the truth, “I absolutely knew it was Mike Harden and I tried to hit him as hard as I’ve ever tried to hit anybody in my life.” I did.
I know you a little bit from the University of Washington and I knew you from a short spell at the Seahawks. You’re such a kind guy and you’re not a person that talks a lot of smack. I think on that particular hit, you just threw it out there.
I did. It had to do with, “I don’t forget.” It was really a thrill for me. Not only that, we had lost the game in Denver, we won this game. It was about the end of the first quarter or the second quarter when this happened, and it lit our whole team up. We ended up winning the game against the Broncos in the Kingdome. It was a lot of fun.
I remember watching the game with my grandfather and it lit everybody up. It wasn’t just the players on the field but all the fans. The Seattle fans, 12th Man, all that stuff, they’re so amazing. To get people riled up in that whole Kingdome, it’s loud enough in the new Seahawk Stadium, but that whole Kingdome before they imploded it, was just a very loud and powerful place to play a football game.
Everybody was on their feet after that particular play. I didn’t see that because I was too busy high-fiving my teammates.
You just made me think about my legendary college coach who, of course you knew, Don James. He used to throw out a Big Hit Award every week. Like you, I took it as a source of pride to go headhunting in offense because normally that was reserved for defensive players. Whether it’d be a block or a sweep crack back or somebody would intercept the ball, I was always looking to go after. It just really motivated me. I’m not that aggressive, defensive-minded but it did motivate me more than the normal. I want to go back though in this whole thing about your childhood. You talked about no fear, which I totally identify with in terms of trying to make it all the way through the different levels. Was there something, whether it was your parents, the confidence, something that happened in high school, a mentor or a coach that continued to feed that like The Little Engine That Could? You played at the D-I level at Tulsa, and then your prolific career in the NFL. Was there somebody along the way that really put you over the top?
There were several people in my life that played a real instrumental role in encouraging me not just to play football but in life. First and foremost would be my mother. When I was going into my sophomore year in high school, I had gone up to get my equipment and sign up to play for the team that August. I came back really intimidated by the number of players and the size of the players. I probably weighed 165 pounds at the time and I was probably 5’10”. There were a lot of guys that were sophomores, but more than that, juniors and seniors. I was going to the largest high school in the State of Oklahoma. Oklahoma plays pretty good football and we had a very good team and a good coach. We had a lot of players trying to play. That particular high school, they fielded a varsity team. They had two junior varsity teams and one sophomore team. We had 150, 160 kids out for the team every single year. That was all very intimidating. I went back home and told my mom, “I don’t think I’m going to play football after all.” I know this coach, the head coach’s name was Jerry Potter, and he’s a great coach and has a great reputation. She said, “I just think you need to go try it.” She was the one that really encouraged me at one of my down points in my young career as a football player.
I followed her advice. I went and tried out for the team and ended up doing pretty good. I wasn’t a starter on offense for our varsity team but I was the guy that ran the play in. Every other play, I would run it into the quarterback and then he would take the play, call it and I’d go out for the next play and the next guy would come in. I didn’t get a lot of playing experience. There weren’t a lot of sophomores on that varsity team. There were only four or five guys that lettered as sophomores, and I was one of them. That really was an encouragement to me. The head coach was just a great guy and a great mentor of mine. I always talk about Jerry Potter whenever I’m asked. Unfortunately, he passed away just a few years ago, but really a great man and a great coach. I really learned a lot about football and how you conduct yourself and how you prepare yourself to play well. That really got me going as far as a football player was concerned.
I had several mentors like my mom and Jerry Potter. When I went off to college, I ended up being matched up with a guy named Jerry Rhome. Jerry had finished his career in the NFL. He was also a student athlete at the University of Tulsa. He had come back to Tulsa at the end of my freshman year to be our offensive quarterback and receiver coach and offensive coordinator. He really taught me a lot about the game and had a real good idea about what kind of passing game he wanted to implement and did that. We were really a very good offensive team back in those days. We were eight and three in one year, and seven and four another year, and I think maybe six and five in another year. We really had good offensive teams. That was due largely to Jerry Rhome. Just the way he thought and the way he conducted himself and the way he developed our offense and the game plan was really professional. Speaking of professional football, Jerry ended up going to coach professional football at the end of my senior year. He was named to be the quarterback and receiver coach for the Seahawks. I was drafted by the Houston Oilers. Jerry went to Northwest and I went South. He was a real big mentor of mine. I had a couple other coaches, particularly Steve Moore in Seattle that also were great mentors and great people and still friends today.
As I close my eyes and think about Oklahoma football back in the ‘70s, I’m thinking nothing short of a veer offense with not a lot of passing. Was that the case in high school?
Not in high school. We ran a pro offense in high school where a quarterback was expected to be able to throw the ball and we ran it. We threw the ball maybe 20, 25 times a game, which is not a lot compared to professional football today or even high school football today, but that was a lot for high school at that time. Jerry Potter, he had brought up a quarterback, the same grade as I was. His name was Tony Brantley. He really had a Big League arm and he actually signed to go to school at Notre Dame. I went to the University of Tulsa. He was a good quarterback and can throw the ball very well. We implemented the tools that we had. I had a pretty prolific career in high school.
Compared to Oklahoma, did you feel like when you’ve got a scholarship to Tulsa that you should have or wanted to go to a bigger named school than that, or that’s just what happened and you were totally cool with it and it was all good?
Two things. One is that the two major colleges in Oklahoma: Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, both went to the wishbone my freshman year. I think OU was actually in the wishbone my senior year in high school. I never even was recruited. I didn’t even get a look from the University of Oklahoma. They recruited Tinker Owens, a good receiver for them for throwing the football five times a game. They had a good receiver already. They ended up signing Billy Brooks to be another receiver that they had during that time. They didn’t need me. Oklahoma State, they told me they were going to run a professional style offense, but they did end up going to the wishbone the very next year. The two major colleges that I was interested in going to school at, neither one threw the ball that much. I was really fortunate that I had the opportunity to go to the University of Tulsa. I had other recruiting trips to TCU and a few other places, but I was looking at staying in state. The University of Tulsa was the only school that I was aware of that was recruiting me that ran a professional style offense. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Plus my grandfather was always a fan of the University of Tulsa. He had grown up in Tulsa and I was a real fan of their program. He was really a guy that was whispering in my ear encouragingly to think about the University of Tulsa. That and the fact that it’s a private school, so they have an excellent educational program. My thought was, “I’m going to go to TU and play football. I’m going to get my education and get my degree and go to work.” I thought I could get a degree that made a difference by going to the University of Tulsa. That’s what I did.
[Tweet “The two major colleges that I was interested in going to school at, neither one threw the ball that much.”]
I can relate to that story as well. I went to the big city school at Roosevelt in the middle of Seattle, then I went another mile up the street to the University of Washington. My grandfather was a big booster there and my mom was a cheerleader. There’s a whole family legacy and it’s hard to get off that dime. I was recruited up and down the West Coast. Certainly, Don James had the whole wave going at that time. Warren Moon had been there a couple of years ago taking the Huskies to a Rose Bowl. Things are always hindsight. You have no idea that you would have had this amazing career in the NFL. Certainly, I had no idea that Don James would become a Hall of Fame coach and he produced so many players in the NFL. I really happened to be in the right place at the right time when all that happened. I feel very blessed and fortunate that that decision was made. Now you’re drafted by the Houston Oilers, which I believe today are the Tennessee Titans, correct?
That’s correct. Bum Phillips was in his second year at the Houston Oilers.
What was he like?
He was really a good guy. I liked Bum a lot. Wade, his son, was coaching for the Oilers, too. He was just a young guy who’s probably not five years older than I am. Bum was really a decent guy. It came as a real heartbreak when he called me into his office and said I wasn’t going to be able to play for him after six weeks of training camp, four pre-season games. I always respected him and I really liked him. He was a player’s coach but really was a hard-nosed, good coach to play for, I thought.
Were you cut and then picked up, or were you traded to the Seahawks?
No. I was cut and then I was on recallable waivers. It was a deal where a team could put you on waivers and then recall you if anybody was interested to work out a trade. That’s what happened. There were three teams for sure: San Francisco, Chicago and Seattle were interested in me. Seattle offered an eight- round draft choice if I would come up there, so that’s what happened.
Was this around 1976?
Yeah. 1976 was the year and it was the year I graduated from TU. The draft was held in May and then I went to training camp in August with the Oilers for six weeks. Then I got cut and came up to Seattle and played in the fifth pre-season game. It was a Friday or Saturday and I played it in Seattle. I’m trying to remember who we played. I know our sixth game was against Oakland because we weren’t playing in the AFC West at that time. The first two years, we played all the teams in the AFC and all the teams in the NFC in consecutive years. In the third year, we were put into the AFC West. We played the Raiders the last pre-season game that I played for the Seahawks. The reason I was able to play as much and as well as I did in those first two pre-season games was because Jerry Rhome had taken our pass offense from the University of Tulsa and put it into the Seahawks’ game plan. If he said, “Line up and split right 76,” I knew exactly where to line up and exactly what route to run and what everybody else was supposed to be doing around me. When the timing was supposed to happen, the quarterback was supposed to throw the ball. I’d run those plays for three years in college and knew exactly where to go. That was a big, big, big boost to my ability to make the team that year.
That’s one of the things that a lot of people don’t truly understand. You open the paper and you go to the sports section and you go to E4 of that section and it’s transactions and they go, “Look, so and so got traded.” What they don’t understand, and it happened to me a few times, is you pack up, you put everything into getting an apartment, you get the electricity going, you have your car there, then presto, you are cut. Now, we’re going to go and you end up in a new city and trying to transition that into a learning curve of having to really understand a whole new language. You’re so fortunate that Jerry Rhome was the guy that was there that implemented that passing structure. It sounded like it was a pretty easy transition for you.
When I was drafted in ‘76, there was no expectation that the player would move to the city prior to training camp and start learning the system and meeting the other players. There was no expectation whatsoever that you would do that. They expected you to finish your college program, be in shape when you come to camp and go for it. In reality, what happens in that system when you just are jumping into training camp and learning a whole new system, a dialogue, a language, it’s really like going to a foreign country, going to China. You only speak English and everybody else only speaks Chinese. You’re trying to learn how to assimilate in that culture. As a football player, I was trying to assimilate into this Houston Oilers offense and learning a whole different language with different reads and different expectations and different depths of routes and all that kind of stuff. It was too much for me. I felt like I was a pretty smart guy, but it just came on me so rapidly. I didn’t adjust very well at all. In fact, I didn’t adjust at all. I didn’t have a good training camp. You never read any articles about me blaming Bum Phillips for getting cut because I knew exactly why he cut me, because I didn’t assimilate to their system very well.
In Seattle, it was a totally different story. I walk in and the first day, I’m running the first route. I know exactly the depth, exactly when to break, exactly when to look for the ball, when it’s coming, how high it’s going to be or whatever, I knew it. I was really ahead of most of the players that were on the Seahawks team and had been in training camp for six weeks because I knew the system. I had played in it for three years. I knew where I was supposed to line up and everything else. It was a real advantage to me.
Was it Jack Patera who was the head coach?
Yeah. Jack was the first head coach of the Seahawks.
I can always remember the legendary training camps you guys had in Cheney, Washington. For those who don’t know, that’s over by Spokane, the eastern part of the state. There was no water allowed. Is that true?
Yeah. There was no water on the field at all, until John Nordstrom found out about it. John was a real avid runner and he knew the importance of having fluids in your system. He knew better than Jack did. After about three or four or five years of repetitively seeing what was taking place with the Seahawks, he demanded that Jack put water on the field for the players. The players were very grateful for that.
It’s just insane to think that there’s no water. For those who don’t know, it’s very dry out there and in the 100’s. The quarterback at the time was a guy named Jim Zorn. Jim was this crafty left-hander who just played a lot like Fran Tarkenton. You guys just had this chemistry of improvising, of making things happen. Even though the teams were struggling back in the early days, I think the offense was very electric. You always had very entertaining plays and games. It always seemed like you were in it.
We had to scramble a lot. Jim had to scramble literally a lot. Jim was a guy who had a hard luck story too. He went to Cal Poly Pomona , which was his local college. He went to junior college, then went there to Cal Poly Pomona and I think he was a one or two-year starter, no more than that. He had some pretty good numbers but ended up being a free agent for the Dallas Cowboys. He ended up being cut after the last cut. The last cut, he survived, and then they picked up a running back from Pittsburgh and signed him and let Jim go. That’s Jim’s rookie year. Jim ends up floating around a little bit. He actually was signed by the Los Angeles Rams. They hid him on their roster because there were no excess players back then. What teams would do was hide players on their roster and pay him some amount of money, $20,000 or something like that, just to practice with the team and to learn the system and be on board in case they had a quarterback that got hurt. That’s what Jim did. He hid out in LA, practiced with the Rams but didn’t ever play. Then the next year, it was ‘76 and that’s when the Seahawks came onboard. He left the Rams and went to Seattle and got his start. Jim was not like a real heralded quarterback, but he was exactly what the Seahawks needed, somebody that could throw the ball, was a pretty smart guy, and could run. That’s the one thing that Jim did exceptionally well better than any other quarterbacks that we had, was be mobile. That’s how he got the reputation of being like Fran Tarkenton. Fran Tarkenton was a very mobile guy too. With our offensive line and the pass blocking that they were trying to do, it was a good thing Jim could run because he had to run for his life a lot.
Jim is a great guy. What is that chemistry between you two? I’m not just talking about on the field. What was that connection piece that you guys had off the field as well?
[Tweet “There was never a doubt in either of our minds what we were doing or what we were trying to get accomplished.”]
I would say right off that Jim is the best friend I have and has been since that first year in 1976. We grew up together in the NFL. I jumped on the team with two games left in the pre-season. Jim was there. He was not the established starter but he pretty much was the established guy by the time I got there in the fifth week of the pre-season. We just connected. Jim was a guy that liked to work hard and I did too. He liked to do extra in practice. I was willing to stay out there and run routes and catch passes from him as long as he wanted to. We were always the first two guys that were in the practice facility in the off-season, working out and running routes and getting familiar with one another and the different aspects of the execution of the football. We were totally on the same page. When we went out on the field, it was like my mind and Jim’s mind were one. There was never a doubt in either of our minds what we were doing or what we were trying to get accomplished. I think it was just the amount of time that we spent togetherand the friendship that was formed that lasts to this day.
You look back and when you start talking about the body of work, the whole notebook is full. First and foremost is that you set all kinds of different records, the most yards, the most catches. I think you held onto that for a very long time until Jerry Rice came along, right?
Yeah, that’s right.
With that, you form very tight friendships. Fourteen years doing anything is a long time. You hear this all the time, but it’s the locker room; the guys that you meet along the way, the friendships that you have. In my case certainly, even though I didn’t have near the career you did, I just feel so blessed I had my fifteen seconds of fame of getting in and hanging out for a while before I got tossed out. For everybody, it doesn’t matter if you’re somebody like me or a Hall of Famer like you, it all comes to an end at some point in time in your life. What was going to the Hall of Fame like?
It was great. Let me go back to what you just said about the length of career. When I came into the League, remember I came into the League being cut by the first team that drafted me, then being picked up by Seattle later on. I think Sherman Smith, one of the players that played for the Seahawks and later coached in the NFL for a long time, Sherman and I always had a goal to play four years in the National Football League. That was our goal. We knew what the rotation was like and how many players were trying to compete with you and make the team. Every year, you felt like you had to make the team again. Sherman and I knew that that was the case, and we set a goal to play four years. It was like our freshman, sophomore, junior and senior year. That’s what we called it as we went through the years with the Seahawks. That was our goal to get to four years. If we did that, we thought we had made it. That’s the name of the game in the NFL. It is very transitional. There are a lot of guys that want to take your position. Every training camp, there’s a host of guys that are going to compete with you to win that spot. You can never let down. You can never back up. You can never take a knee because somebody always wants your spot. They don’t want the spot behind you. They want your spot. That’s the nature of the game. That’s really what makes the game so great because it is very, very competitive.
I’ve been on both sides of that coin and I did make it four years. I was going into my fifth with the Hawks and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. I think we all have what our destiny is, and that was mine. I moved on from there and did a lot of things. Some are destined for greatness, and greatness can be defined in many different ways, in many different colors. For you, you did this and they recognized you for your great football accomplishments by inducting you into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
You are leaping ahead here in my career but that was a spectacular moment in my life. Just to think that here’s this kid that got cut his sixth week in training camp, and now he ends up having a fourteen-year career in the National Football League all with the same team. Now, he’s going into the Hall of Fame. I had to pinch myself to believe it was really happening.
I know a number of the guys that I played with, I just had two minutes of being in their presence with guys like you who made it. Just the commonality is all the same in terms of the work ethic and the dedication to the game and the attention to detail and all those things. To actually go that far, there’s only X amount of guys who are in that Hall of Fame, and for you to be a part of that is amazing. Congratulations, it’s just a remarkable accomplishment. Towards the end of your career, you did what most people don’t do, which is go out on your own terms for the most part. Years later, the Seahawks recognized that by retiring your number 80 jersey. Then years after that, Jerry Rice, the great wide receiver who broke some of your records, he’d always been number 80, he comes to the Seattle Seahawks, and now there’s some negotiation or something that he wants to wear number 80. How did that go down? It was weird to me.
It was weird to me too. It was weird to Jerry Rice too. What happened was the general manager at the time, and I don’t even know his name, but he was hired by Ken Behring, he was actually a professional basketball guy and not a professional football guy. He messed it all up. He negotiated and he got Jerry Rice to come up. This was when Jerry’s in his last days. I think it was before or after he went to Oakland. He was towards the end of his career. They signed him to play in Seattle. The general manager called me up after he signed Jerry Rice and he said, “Steve, I know the Seahawks have retired your jersey, but we just signed Jerry Rice and he said that he really wants to wear number 80. We’re not going to let him unless you say it’s okay.” I knew who Jerry Rice was. I played against Jerry rice. Having my Jersey retired and brought out of retirement for Jerry Rice to wear it, that’s a big honor so that’s fine. What I found out after the fact was that the same GM then went to Jerry Rice and said, “Jerry, I’ve got good news.” He said, “I’ve talked to Steve Largent and he wants you to wear his jersey.” Jerry didn’t ask to wear it. He didn’t expect to wear number 80 when he came to Seattle. The general manager did a flim-flam deal on me and Jerry, and told each of us that the other person wants Jerry to wear the Jersey. That in fact was not the case.
You know the drill and I know you’re like this. You’ve got to be straight up, especially the respect to have between two Hall of Famers and not to call it like it is. Actually, you two should have just talked. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a big deal and you guys would have worked it out. It’s awkward for him, awkward for you, and the guy was just telling you something that just wasn’t the case. As you transitioned after your fourteenth year, you’re married, you’re having kids, you enter into politics. Why did you do that?
You need to ask my wife that question because she was the one that really encouraged me to do that. I didn’t want to do anything in politics. I had never taken an interest in politics. The closest that I ever got was when we signed Jeff Kemp to be on our team. Jeff is the oldest son of Jack Kemp. He’s a great guy. I would ask him questions all the time about what’s going on in politics and he would talk about stories that his dad had from serving in Congress. That was really the first time I had ever even thought about politics, but it wasn’t to eventually go into politics. It was just simply learning some things. When we moved back to Tulsa after my fourteenth year in the League and in Seattle, and after I’d been here for five years, there was an open seat election for the 1st Congressional District in Oklahoma. My wife says, “I really think you need to do this.” Then Senator Don Nickles called me. He was the sitting senator at that time. He says, “Steve, I really want to encourage you to do this too.” At the end of the day, the long and short of it is that I ended up telling my wife that I would run. I would put some of my own money behind me. If I won, then that’s great and it’s meant to be. If I lose, then I don’t want to ever hear anything else about this. She agreed to that. I ran and I ended up winning.
You ran in 1994, is that right?
How long did that run go for?
I was in for eight years. I left with about three months left to go in my fourth term because at that point I decided to run for governor and not be in Congress any longer.
Were you living in Washington, DC and traveling back to Oklahoma, or were you basing everything out of Tulsa?
I was in Tulsa and my family was here. I would fly every week back to DC, conduct the business at Congress, and then come back to Tulsa and be with my family or do the different things you have to do as a representative for your district. I kept my family right here in Tulsa. We never wanted to move to Washington, DC. I never had any idea that we would ever be in DC when I made the decision to run. I did run and I did win. It was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Football certainly was more fun and I loved it, but I made a lot of great friends in Congress and learned a lot about this country and the way it runs and sometimes doesn’t run well.
Obviously you were in the White House, you were in the capital and you were in that whole environment. I’ve been there a number of times. Just walking around there’s so much history and just the greatness of what this country was founded on. To me, it’s very energizing. When I land there, go up to Georgetown and see these old historic buildings, it’s fantastic. It’s really amazing. For you to actually go and pull that off and feel like you’re actually doing the right thing because that’s the type of guy you are. I also believe that you are a faith-based guy with the right kind of moral compass. Those are the types of people that we need in office today to really guide this country to where we’re going.
Mark, I said the same thing before I went to Congress. I said it when I was in Congress and I say it now that I’m out of Congress, I agree with you 100%. I think for a family that’s listening to your podcast, if they’ve never been to Washington, DC, go. It is a fabulous experience. It takes your breath away really. When you see the buildings and you see the sites and you see all the things that have been accomplished by all the great presidents and people in Congress, it really is humbling to witness that.
In order for you to go and pull that off and fly back and forth between Washington, DC and Oklahoma, you must have a strong family. I know you have four kids and certainly a very supportive wife.
My wife has been my best friend since we were in high school. Nobody knows me better than my wife does for sure. She’s enthralling my grandkids as I speak. You can’t write a life story about Steve Largent without talking a lot about my wife, Terry.
The name of this podcast is called Finding Your Summit. Everything we’ve talked about so far is just really a rock star life and you achieving at the very highest level of two different industries. One is in professional sports and the other one is within politics and government. I know that one of the setbacks that you experienced was you have four kids and one of your sons, Kramer, has spina bifida. Tell me what that was like. I’m coming from a little bit a place of ignorance. Are you born with this or is this something that you develop? How did that all play?
My wife and I had three children before Kramer. We had determined that that was all the children we were going to have. In fact the previous off-season, I had gone to take extreme measures to assure that we only had three kids. Kramer was conceived probably two weeks after I had been to the doctor to make that permanent measure successful. Talk about a total surprise and a total gift from the Lord, that’s what he was. I was very excited when I found out that my wife was pregnant for the fourth time. My wife was absolutely furious. She did not want to be pregnant again. She had had a hard pregnancy, her third one, and she did not want to do it again. Also, Kramer was conceived about four months after his older brother was born. Kelly was born in ‘84 and Kramer was born in ‘85. They were about fourteen or fifteen months apart. To say it was unplanned goes without saying. My wife really had a difficult time adjusting to the idea that she was pregnant again. I was thrilled and she was upset, and she came around.
Kramer was born in November, which is right in the middle of a football season. The first thing the doctor says to me when he pulls Kramer out, and this was the same doctor, same hospital, same setup that we’d gone through three times before so I felt a bit like a veteran at this, he turned to me and he said, “Steve, we’ve got a problem here. Kramer’s got a hole in his back. This is called spina bifida.” He said, “You’re going to face a lifetime of decisions you have to make about and for Kramer.” When he said that to me, it crushed me. I fell back, I sat down in the chair, and I just started sobbing and crying uncontrollably. It really took me a long time before I was able to get my hands around this and understand that I couldn’t be the cry baby here. I had to be the adult and grown up and lead my family and deal with this in a way that I felt like God wanted me to because there are no surprises to God. This was not a surprise to him either. I had to put my big boy pants on, as we used to say, and I did that. It turns out Kramer’s now 32 years old and he’s married and he’s doing remarkably well. He still has to wear braces on his feet. He catheterizes. He has issues with his eyes and with his shunt that he has to shunt off excess pressure from his brain. He still has that in him. He’s got a myriad of issues but he’s still the brightest, happiest kid you’d ever want to meet, and just an all-around great guy. I’m so proud of him and so happy that he’s my son.
This is not anything but that. You love him just the same as your other kids. There were just some things that you had to overcome. Most importantly, probably through the strength of your wife and through the strength of your faith and who you are, it helped you to get through probably those early days and figure it out. Over time, he became independent and he’s married and leading a very successful and happy life. What more do we all want for our own kids, right?
Yeah, that’s exactly right. I couldn’t be more proud of him.
I have a daughter, Emilia. She’s this beautiful, amazing person that is now a freshman at University of Arizona and just loving life. Since she was about six years old, and actually we were in Europe, I discovered that something just wasn’t quite right. She was having these small seizures which she has today, which she has to deal with. She’s just overcome so much. I’m so proud of her. She can play sports and she can do this and that. They haven’t gone away. She can’t drive, she can’t ride a bike, she can’t do a lot of things, but that has not stopped her from being all that she can be. She’s just a bright light in my life. I’m so blessed to have her and all the different joy and happiness that she brings to the table. I can at some level relate to what you’re talking about. It is a blessing.
There’s no question about that, Mark.
Steve, I can say this from the bottom of my heart, I am so grateful and happy and enthusiastic and every other word that you agreed to come on this pod. You’re such a sports icon. You came over to the Seahawks in 1976, I was just starting high school. You served as a role model for me as I was going through high school. Like you, from sophomore, junior year, senior year, things really started to roll for me and I was fortunate enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Washington. When I got there, I was there for five years. We were going to all kinds of crazy ballgames, the Rose Bowl a couple of times, Orange Bowl, and a couple of low Hot Bowls, but we were always in contention for the Conference Championship and coming down to Pasadena. In my fifth year, we were in Miami and I actually went and saw theplayoff game against the Dolphins that you guys had. I can’t remember who won that game, but I’m a senior in college, a fifth year guy, and I’m there to play in the Orange Bowl and I’m out there watching you compete. I had been doing that for a number of years. You’re just a guy that I always looked up to and wanted to be like. Things happened to play my way and I got drafted. I didn’t have the kind of career you had, but at the same time I feel so blessed just to be a part of the club at some level for the years that I was there, so deep appreciation to you.
[Tweet “It doesn’t last forever. Nothing does, but it was a heck of a lot of fun.”]
Thank you, Mark. I really appreciate that. I remember you being with the Seahawks. My last year there was your first year in Seattle. What a good receiver you were. It doesn’t last forever. Nothing does, but it was a heck of a lot of fun, wasn’t it?
It was. One last thing, aren’t you and Jim Zorn collaborating on a book?
We are. I don’t know if we’re ever going to pull it off, but we are collaborating right now, as a matter of fact.
It’s great to hear about you and Jim collaborating, old best friends, and in your life where you’ve been. I’m so grateful that you came on this pod.
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