[Photo courtesy of Tulsa Athletics]
Growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, young Steve Largent never envisioned the path his life would take him, and he never could have guessed the large role that football would play in it. The man who would go on to be know as one of the greatest wide receivers in the history of the game took a very unlikely path to stardom both on and off the field.
“To be honest, it took me till probably my fourth year in the NFL before I truly felt I belonged at that level,” Largent said. “When I was at Tulsa, we used to play the spring game each year against alumni. It would never happen now, but if you can imagine back in the mid-70s or late 70s, us college kids were playing against a number of guys who were in the NFL already. In one of the papers after that game, someone wrote about me playing well against pro defensive backs. I had never considered playing football beyond college up to that point. I started really thinking about it then.”
He started played football at the age of 9 because, in his own words, that is what everyone did. From there, he took it to a whole new level. His innate desire to prove himself came from a number of sources, including being seemingly born with an unparalleled work ethic. In high school, his coaches moved him from starting running back to the wide receiver position. At the time, he took the switch as a demotion, but, in true Largent fashion, he made the most out of it and excelled.
“If you look at the landscape at the time, the wishbone offense was really in fashion,” he explained. “A lot of the power teams, especially Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in my backyard, they weren’t passing the ball. To me, the farther away from the actual ball, the less of a role I had in the offense. I was disappointed, but I knew what I had to do, work hard, get better, and help the team. That’s what I did.”
When it came time to decide where he wanted to attend school, Largent scoured his options. He wanted to be able to go to an offense that was throwing the ball and ultimately he wanted to stay close to home. The University of Tulsa offered him the best option. Things truly clicked into place for him when future College Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rhome returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach and installed a high-flying offense.
“I really owe a lot to Jerry Rhome for what he did for my career,” Largent said. “He brought a really special offense to Tulsa and we were both fun and competitive my whole career there. I have so many great memories of my time there. We never got to a bowl game, but we came close a few years. Most of what I remember was playing for Jerry Rhome though. He continued to help my career when I got to the [Seattle] Seahawks. I wouldn’t have been in the NFL if it weren’t for him.”
In his junior year for the Golden Hurricane, he had 884 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns. In 1975, Largent was even better during his senior season campaign. He had 51 catches for 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns. Despite his successes, he had no real notion of playing on the next level. He was selected by the Houston Oilers in the fourth round of the 1976 NFL Draft. Despite his hard work, it was not meant to be for Largent in Houston.
“It was about the second to last week of training camp and I got called into Bum Phillips’ office and he told me they were going to release me,” Largent said. “He said they wanted to let me go then so I would have a chance to catch on with some other team. I didn’t hear that part of it really. I was pretty devastated. No one up to that point had told me I wasn’t good at football.”
Largent was driving back to Oklahoma City to be with his family and figure out what he was going to do next with his life. It was then that fate intervened in the form of a call from the Seahawks. His old coach, Jerry Rhome, had taken a position with the club and wanted him to be a part of the team’s inaugural season.
“I figured if I couldn’t make it in Jerry’s offense, then I really didn’t belong in pro football,” he said. “All the language was exactly what we ran at Tulsa, so that made it a lot easier. I worked really hard and I stuck. It took a while to get my confidence back, but I think in the end, I did alright.”
When Largent ultimately retired from the NFL, he held every major receiving record in the books. The Seahawks retired his #80 and he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. The man who never wanted to be a receiver could lay claim to being one of the greatest of all time.
“Being the greatest was something I never really thought about,” Largent said. “I was a hard worker, and I made myself better. I tried to be a good teammate and a team player. I was satisfied knowing those things about me and my career were true. The rest, well, that’s not for me to say.”
After retiring, Largent began a career as a public speaker. However, it was not long before his high character and his diligent work ethic caught the attention of those looking to “recruit” him for a new job. In 1994, Largent was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served until 2002.
“When I retired, there were two things I said I would never do, be a coach and run for public office,” Largent said. “I guess it was then that I learned to never say never. I am happy with my career in public office, but I am also glad it is over! I have not felt compelled to serve again in my semi-retired days and I don’t plan on going back to that arena again.”
These days, Largent sits on the board of over a half dozen companies and non-profits, including the Board of Trustees of his alma mater. He is even busier now than ever before, but he still finds time for the game that he considers himself lucky to have played for a long time.
“If there was one thing I got from football, it was to never give up,” he explained. “Football teaches you to never quit. If you want to excel in the game and in life, that is how you have to live every day. Never quit.”