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Largent and Zorn’s bond withstands time

- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2008

Two of Washington Redskins coach Jim Zorn's daughters, Dani and Sarah, and his son, Isaac, occupy the top floor of his home in Mercer Island, Wash., near Seattle. In the basement are Kramer and Kelly Largent, sons of Zorn's best friend and former Seahawks teammate, Steve Largent.

Isaac is 13 and the others are in their 20s, creating a scenario fraught with real comedy potential - "Friends II," maybe, or a new version of "Upstairs, Downstairs" or something Seinfeldian (especially with a Kramer). "It's hilarious, really," Zorn said.

But wait, it gets even funnier. There's a dog, plus a gecko and frog that dine on a chirping supply of crickets.

How about "Animal House," in more ways than one? "They feel like they're in the Greek system," said Joy Zorn, Jim's wife. "They feel like they've got a fraternity and sorority all in one place."

With training camp a month away, Joy and Jim are there, too, presiding over the scene and figuring out what to take back to their home in Northern Virginia. They are moving east in stages. Things have been a little hectic since Zorn ascended from the Seahawks' quarterback coach to Redskins offensive coordinator to Joe Gibbs' successor as coach in February.

Only an unusually solid friendship between families could facilitate such an unusual living arrangement. Steve Largent and Jim Zorn have remained close for more than 30 years, a special relationship generally uncommon among ex-teammates in any sport. Zorn, a left-handed quarterback, and Largent, a smallish wide receiver, met in 1976 as members of the expansion Seahawks and immediately hit it off.

"We were determined to make something of ourselves and the Seattle Seahawks," Zorn said. "When practice was over, that wasn't enough. We would not allow ourselves, as athletes, to be satisfied with being mediocre."

Both were free agents cut by other teams, but they soon would become the twin faces of a new franchise and, eventually, one of the most prolific passing combinations in NFL history. Even after Zorn's release in 1985, their names remain linked in Seahawks lore.

With their playing careers long finished, Zorn, 55, and Largent, 53, also stayed connected. They forged an ironclad bond that endured in spite of distance and disparate career paths (coaching for Zorn, politics for Largent).

"My relationship with Jim is unique almost beyond the borders of football, and it's something I really treasure," Largent said.

They roomed together on the road for nine years, playing goofy games like "1-2," in which one would try to guess how many fingers the others was hiding (no cheating allowed). Absent a remote control, the loser had to sit by the television and change channels.

Citing their strong Christian beliefs, they defied a players strike. Largent, who got married before he met Zorn, was best man at Zorn's wedding. Zorn attended Largent's Hall of Fame induction. Largent, known for his sure hands and precise route-running, led the NFL in career receptions, yards and touchdown catches when he retired in 1989 and became the first player selected to the team's Ring of Honor. Zorn was the second. Each has four children, but Zorn is one up on Largent in the grandchild department.

Their families have taken frequent vacations together and laughed and cried together, such as when Kramer Largent was born in 1985 with spina bifida, a birth defect that affects the development of the spinal cord.

"Jim did what a friend does," Joy said. "Listen and be there."

When Zorn was out of a job after a staff shakeup at the University of Minnesota, one of his many coaching stops, Largent told his pal to use the time to earn his college degree. Zorn did it, taking 22 credit hours in a single semester. As a congressman from Oklahoma, Largent invited Zorn to the District. Famous politicians, big names in their own right, were thrilled to meet a football star.

"Steve was so proud to introduce Jim to Newt Gingrich and all the others," Joy said. "I think it was such a boost for Jim. "It was like, 'Even though I don't have a job, I'm not a failure.' It was one of the kindest things."

And now, for the first time in 23 years, Jim and Joy Zorn and Steve and Terry Largent are reunited, geographically compatible again, close enough to meet for dinner at a moment's notice. They live less than a half-hour apart.

"It's a gift," Zorn said.

"To have the chance to live in the same city and watch his career up close and personal is really a thrill," said Largent, the head of a downtown cellular industry lobby who served six years in Congress before narrowly losing his bid for Oklahoma governor in 2002. "Our wives are best friends. It's a great relationship we've been able to maintain over the years. We've always had a special bond."

Said Kramer Largent, who attends Oklahoma State and is working this summer for the Seahawks' public relations department: "I've grown up with their whole family. They're like a second family to me."

Kramer previously attended his dad's alma mater, Tulsa, and before that, Seattle Pacific, where he competed on the crew club team with Sarah Zorn despite his battle with spina bifida. He wears braces on his legs to aid his walking.

"He's doing well," Kelly Largent, an intern with the Seattle SuperSonics, said of his brother. "He doesn't look normal walking, but he does fine. He doesn't complain about it. He has a really good outlook on his life, where most people would be pretty negative."

When he left Oklahoma for college in the Pacific Northwest, Kramer frequently visited the Zorn household. He did his laundry and watched football almost every weekend at his home away from home.

"Everyone wondered how I was gonna do and make it so far away from my family," he said. "I don't know if I could have done it without the Zorns. It was like they were my second parents."

Said Kelly: "I don't think he would have had anything close to the experiences he did if the Zorns weren't there."

Zorn and Largent are devout Christians who in 1982 refused to join striking NFL players because they believed it went against the teachings in the Bible (some teammates were not exactly supportive). Zorn said their shared faith, "a common belief in God," is the bedrock of the friendship. "And it coincides with us as couples and as families."

But in many ways, they are not alike. Zorn, a Southern California native and as much a free spirit as his profession allows him to be, has an artistic side that includes pottery and model ship-building and pursues varied athletic interests like mountain biking, surfing and racquetball. Largent, the Oklahoman, describes himself as more "right-brained."

"Our personalities are different," Zorn said. "One of the things I like about Steve is he's very objective, very concise. He doesn't like to try new things. He likes to stay the course. He's played tennis for years, and he's stuck with tennis. He's played golf for years, and he's stuck with golf."

Said Largent: "I like a variety of things, too, but Jim likes odd things."

Football, of course, is a frequent topic of conversation "but not much on the fundamental level of blocking, tackling, catching, throwing," Largent said. "I've been out of that game for a long time."

Largent said he tries to keep Zorn attuned to matters like leadership and maintaining team unity, which sometimes can get swamped by the X's and O's and the infinite details.

"Jim deeply believes in himself, but when you get going, you can lose that," Largent said. "In the rudimentary demands of the job, you can lose sight of the bigger picture. I'm willing to be the guy to ask Jim how things are going."