I caught up with Seattle Seahawks Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent five days before his 64th birthday at the American Express Experience prior to the Sept. 23 home win over the Dallas Cowboys at CenturyLink Field.
Largent opened up about growing up in Oklahoma, the toughest cornerback he faced, and who had the better mustache on the team.
What was the greatest thing about growing up Oklahoma?
I kind of came from a tough background. My parents got divorced when I was 6. My mom remarried when I was 9. And the guy she married was an alcoholic. So there was a lot of friction in the house. It really was football and the people I met through football, particularly coaches, that were real mentors to me. Football was a life-saving event in my life. I’m very thankful.
When did you know as a kid you were good enough to play professional football?
I never knew I was good enough to play professionally. I was always just trying to get good enough to get to the next level, whether I was going from my 9-year-old team to the 10-year-old team or from the junior high team to the high school team. I never was big or that fast. So I had to develop some other things that enabled me to play and I became a real student of the game. I worked really hard to be as good as I could be.
Is that what characterized you as different from other receivers?
Being a student of the game, I definitely spent a lot of time as a kid running routes and catching balls. I was always a running back until I was a sophomore in high school. My coach moved me out to wide receiver. I think it was Siberia to him. That was my first time I played wide receiver and from there I stayed in the position.
Do you remember the first pass you caught in high school?
I don’t remember that. I remember catching a lot of passes, but not that one.
What’s your greatest accomplishment, either professionally or personally?
I would say my four kids and now my 10 grandkids. That’s a pretty fun deal and I’m really proud of the family we’ve built.
Who had a better mustache? Curt Warner or Joe Nash?
(Laughing) That’s a good question. Curt never had a good mustache so I’m going with Joe.
Who was the toughest cornerback you ever played against?
Mike Haynes. He was drafted by the Patriots and then traded to the Raiders.
What made him so tough?
He was long. He had long arms and long legs. Sometimes that can be a disadvantage, but for a defensive back, it was an advantage if you were able to come out of your breaks quick enough. And he could. He was quick and fast and long and it was hard to get around him. He was also really smart. Which is why he’s in the Hall of Fame.
What defenses kept you up at night during your career?
There were three of them that you knew when you played them it was going to be a long day. The Pittsburgh Steelers were tough. The other two would have been the Raiders and the Denver Broncos. There really were some tough guys on those teams.
What was your greatest memory of the Kingdome?
My first greatest memory would probably be the first time we beat the Denver Broncos in the Kingdome. I caught the touchdown pass that won the game with less than two minutes left to play. That was a really fond memory. I also remember 1983 when we made the playoffs for the first time.
As concussions have become part of the narrative in youth and professional football, what advice would you give young kids wanting to play football?
I tell my own grandkids … I encourage them to play. And play hard and have fun. And all that stuff. I don’t think football is any more dangerous than other sports. There is some risk involved, but it’s pretty minimal, especially at a younger age.
I think there’s some technology that has greatly improved the game. The helmets today are much better than they were when I was a kid. That technology is going to continue to evolve and provide a safer environment for the players. And some of the rule changes they are making today, like not leading with your helmet — either offensively or defensively — are really making the game much safer.
I think all of those changes are going to continue to be really positive for the game and won’t alter the game from what it is today. It’s still the same game, just played without using your helmet as a weapon.