At age 72, UW football great Steve Thompson still writing new chapters in remarkable life

Thompson, who will be honored Saturday night as the “Husky Legend” during Washington’s game with Montana, is working toward a doctorate in transformational leadership from Bakke Graduate University. “I love being in my 70s,” he said. “I can’t wait for my 80s and 90s.”

Steve Thompson jokes that whenever he wants to enliven a conversation, he’ll scratch his chin so his Super Bowl III ring becomes visible.

“It’s pretty big,’’ he said. “It’s got a lot of bling on it. People say, ‘Whoa, what’s that?’ ”

But Thompson’s stint with Joe Namath’s legendary 1968 New York Jets, which culminated in a transformational victory for the American Football League over the NFL’s Baltimore Colts in the 1969 Super Bowl, is just one part of a remarkable life.

In fact, Thompson, who will be honored Saturday night as the “Husky Legend” during Washington’s game with Montana, is still writing new chapters at age 72.

“I love being in my 70s,” he said. “I can’t wait for my 80s and 90s.”

Thompson transitioned from a successful football career — which began at Lake Stevens High School and included three years (1965-67) lettering for the Huskies, two of them as an All-Pac-8 defensive tackle for coach Jim Owens — to 10 years in business, then a 24-year career as the senior pastor at the Victory Foursquare Church in Marysville.

Two years ago, Thompson’s son, Aaron, succeeded him as senior pastor, and now Steve is on to a new venture. He’s working toward a doctorate in transformational leadership from Bakke Graduate University, with a target date of 2019 to walk down the aisle in Dallas. Thompson already has received his master’s from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and studies with a mixture of online and in-person courses.

“I like studying again,” he said. “I like being back in an academic environment. In college, I got grades so I could play football. I’m not sure I ever listened to the professors.”

Thompson’s grand vision, which he said came to him through a midnight talk with God, is to help change the culture of business through prayer. He already is meeting two or three times a week — mostly over the internet — with people who work on Wall Street.

“I want to be able to influence the people who handle the stock market to be righteous in how they handle other people’s money,” he said. “I love the challenge of how to change a culture, how to change the business culture from greed and selfishness to one of stewardship and caring about people.”

Thompson was the grandson of a Baptist minister and always religious. But he didn’t have a true spiritual awakening until he joined the Jets as a second-round draft pick (No. 44 overall, ahead of Hall of Famers Ken Stabler, Charlie Sanders, Elvin Bethea and Art Shell) and faced the temptations of life in the Big Apple.

Injured as a rookie, Thompson missed the first 12 games of the 1968 season after knee surgery.

But he returned for the final two games and was active for the Super Bowl, before which Namath made his famous guarantee of victory — and then made it come true. In the Super Bowl, Thompson played on special teams and one defensive series, when he missed a chance to sack Johnny Unitas because he was too excited to heed a coach’s advice on a surefire path to the quarterback. The victory hastened the merger of the AFL and NFL.

“We had no idea how big it was, the impact it would have,” Thompson said. “Namath was such a great leader, he helped you relax. Joe loved the nightlife, but as a Christian boy in that environment, I always respected him for being honest in life, and not living two lives.”

Thompson admits that’s exactly what he was doing early in his career with the Jets, while he was married to his childhood sweetheart, Starla.

“I didn’t handle it as well as I would have liked,” he said. “I wasn’t faithful to my wife some of the time. Even though I was raised as a Christian, I didn’t really follow Christ like I could have.”

That’s when Thompson said he had an epiphany, in which God told him to go home and confess his sins to his wife because she would forgive him.

“I did what He asked me to do, confessed to her,” he recounted. “I wept, and she loved the real me. It took a couple of years to walk through the mistrust, but she stayed with me. I became a follower of Christ from that encounter. I would say that was a life-changing experience, and it happened on the streets of New York. That’s why I love going back.”

Now when he walks those streets, Thompson finds himself recognized even more than he did when he was playing, which shows the power of the internet — and the attraction of a Super Bowl ring to fans of a team that hasn’t won one since.

Thompson wound up playing seven years of pro football, though injuries hampered his career. He had brief stints with the Portland Storm of the World Football League and the B.C. Lions of the CFL before retiring in 1975.

His church life, he believes, was aided by the lessons he learned in athletics. In fact, he calls himself a “spiritual coach.”

Thompson has been married to Starla for 52 years now, and they have seven kids, ranging in age from 50 to 28, and “25-plus” grandchildren. A large contingent will be on hand when he is honored today.

“I loved the game, loved the competition, the violence,” he said. “I liked the whole part where it takes your mind, your emotions, your physical focus and your spirit.”

Now Steve Thompson is putting those traits to work in an entirely new avenue — academia, and then Wall Street.

“The older you get, it’s fun to have gone through life experiences and share them with others,” he said. ‘It’s part of being a senior in our world.”

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