Football’s biggest hits are still talked about after they happen. These bone-shattering collisions break jaws. They cause internal bleeding and send a dude to the hospital. They’re why concussions, brain damage and CTE are a safety concern in today’s NFL and college football.
In the 1980s, however, that wasn’t the case. Defenders played with reckless abandon. Lawrence Taylor literally ended Joe Theismann’s career, although we don’t need to revisit that for the sake of keeping our last meals down. From Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Lewis to San Francisco 49ers’ Ronnie Lott, defensive players have made careers out of hitting the snot out of running backs, receivers and quarterbacks.
If you ask me, the greatest hit (and subsequent revenge hit) in NFL history has to be the Steve Largent-Mike Harden sequence.
Mike Harden’s Hit On Steve Largent
In 1988, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Steve Largent was nearing the end of a Hall-of-Fame career. The man who some regard as a top-10 and even top-5 receiver all-time would retire after the 1989 season.
But on September 4, 1988, Largent had more than the wind knocked out of him.
The Seahawks were taking on the Denver Broncos in their season opener in Denver. Seattle quarterback Dave Krieg threw a pass over the middle in Largent’s direction. Denver Broncos safety Mike Harden came across and plowed Largent’s face with his forearm.
The illegal hit knocked Largent unconscious and concussed. It cracked two of his teeth. Harden was fined $5,000 for the monster hit that was, quite frankly, an eerie sight.
“He was out for five minutes,” Largent’s son, Kyle Largent, told NFL’s A Football Life. “I remember being scared.”
Steve Largent Hit On Mike Harden
Fourteen weeks later, the Seahawks and Broncos squared off again in a rematch Seahawks fans won’t forget, this time in Seattle’s Kingdome.
Harden intercepted a pass in the end zone and was running with the ball, then out of nowhere comes Largent. The 5-foot-11 wide receiver not only knocked Harden off his feet but made him fumble AND recovered the football. It was the sweetest revenge ever for Largent and 100-percent karma knocking Harden on his ass.
Largent, who is 65 now, said that interception-turned-tackle-fumble is his favorite moment of his Hall-of-Fame playing career. Not any of his 100 touchdowns.
“That was the play I would say is my favorite play of my NFL career. A tackle, not a catch,” Largent told NFL’s A Football Life.Advertisement
The Seattle Seahawks won the game, 42-14. They won their first division title in the AFC West and lost to the Cincinnati Bengals in the playoffs.
Harden finished the 1988 season with the Broncos then played with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1989 and 1990. The defensive back spent 11 seasons in the NFL and ran into trouble in 2002, when he was sentenced to six years in prison for theft and fraud.
Largent retired following the 1989 season with more than 13,000 yards and 100 touchdowns under his belt. The seven-time Pro Bowl player’s No. 80 was retired by the Seahawks. He never played in a Super Bowl.
Later in his life, he served in Congress in Oklahoma and served on the board of directors of multiple companies and the board of trustees at the University of Tulsa.
But on December 11, 1988, he served up the greatest revenge hit of all time.