Why Seahawks' rivalry with 49ers looks as fierce as Steve Largent's old feud with Raiders

Why Seahawks' rivalry with 49ers looks as fierce as Steve Largent's old feud with Raiders

Steve Largent has eight grandchildren.

That fact will make a horde of Seahawks fans feel ancient. It doesn't seem that long ago that No. 80 was streaking up the field in the Kingdome and catching every pass in sight. Largent retired in 1989 without playing for any other team; he held every major NFL receiving record at the time. He's 59.

The good news for those who don't want to feel so old is that the most beloved Seahawk ever hasn't slowed down much at all. The NFL Hall of Famer was a congressman from 1994 to 2001 and he's been president and CEO of CTIA – The Wireless Association, which represents telecom companies in Washington, for 11 years. Later in 2014, he plans to return home to Oklahoma, work on his 8-handicap, and figure out how to spend his 60s.

He is as much of a Seahawks fan as ever, and he takes the games quite seriously. "Too much so, my wife tells me," he says from his D.C. office.

Largent brings a special insight to this weekend's game, as the rivalry with the 49ers is in some ways a spillover from Seattle's battles with the Raiders. Back in Largent's day, the Seahawks were in the AFC West and the two teams hated each other as much or more than Seattle and San Francisco do now. Some of the most memorable "Monday Night Football" games of the '80s involved those teams. Bo Jackson's 91-yard run past Brian Bosworth in 1987 is one of the most famous rushes in NFL history. "He may not stop 'til Tacoma!" was Dan Dierdorf's call. The Los Angeles Raiders beat the Seahawks in the AFC title game in 1983 and then Seattle ended the Raiders' season in the playoffs the next year.

"They were just a team that had an attitude," Largent says from his office. "They felt they were better than everyone else. So they were really fun to beat."

As crazy as CenturyLink Field is now, the Kingdome was arguably just as loud, and never louder than for the Raiders. (Jackson's gallop was serenaded by jeers.) "That's where the history began," Largent says. "It was that loud and even louder with the domed stadium."

Largent, though unfailingly polite, is honest when he talks about the old Raiders. He calls games with them "a knife fight." And he makes sure to distinguish between the Oakland Raiders and the Los Angeles Raiders.

"When they were in Oakland, they had better fans," he says. "When they moved to L.A., they got the typical L.A. fan, who shows up mid-first quarter or in the second. There was no intimidation there for a visiting team playing in L.A."

Seattle fans have never been regarded as boorish, and Largent knows that better than anyone. He was drafted in 1976 by the Oilers, and after four preseason games traded to the expansion Seahawks for an eighth-round pick (ouch, Houston!). He was there from the start.

"It was a college town," he says. "It had never been a pro sports town. A lot of the fans were used to going to college games and brought that approach. It was not a hostile environment. Very vocal, though. There's slightly more coarseness now, but the basic fan of the Seahawks is still a good citizen."

The trash talk that will surely be a part of this weekend's NFC championship game wasn't present when Largent played – at least when he played the Raiders. He became friendly with defensive backs Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes (who once called him "The Caucasian Clydesdale"). "I got to know both of them," Largent says. "I really came to like them. We weren't talking during the game. I never said anything to them and they never said anything to me. My feeling was I wanted to let my play speak for me."

That partially explains Largent's favorite Seahawk now: quarterback Russell Wilson.

"He stands for all the things pro athletes need to stand for," Largent says. "He gets to work early, and he's a leader on the field and off the field."

The two are similar in other ways. They were both overlooked by scouts: Wilson was picked in the third round and Largent in the fourth. They both came to symbolize the franchise and to some extent the entire region. The two have never met, which is somewhat surprising, but it may happen if Seattle makes it to the Super Bowl. Largent may go to New York as a fan. He never made it as a player.

"That's the next step the Seahawks have to take," Largent says of the possibility of the Seahawks winning this year's Super Bowl. "This would be a tremendous payback to fans for all the support over last 30-some years."

Asked if he would have anything to say to Wilson if he met him, Largent answered quickly, "I'd tell him, 'Good luck against the 49ers.' "

Largent might have a little luck to share. His first of 100 career receiving touchdowns came on September 26, 1976, in Seattle against the Niners.