He had the kind of NFL career that should draw Hall of Fame consideration, but Brown graduate Steve Jordan -- now an engineer -- spends his time looking forward, not behind.
Steve Jordan could have hung out with anyone. As a retired NFL star, no one would have questioned him if he had chosen to spend time with some of the greatest names in the history of football, or reliving his playing days and catching up with the men he had faced on Sundays for more than a decade.
But at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction weekend in Canton, Ohio, in August of 2005, Jordan was having too much fun with his college mates. He was there to represent Brown University and its long-overdue enshrinee -- African-American football pioneer Fritz Pollard.
It was just another demonstration of his long commitment to his alma mater -- respect Brown clearly returns, as his photo and testimonial greet potential students on the school's admissions website.
"At the age of 17, I wasn't quite sure which college I would attend," he said. "All I knew was that I wanted to study engineering, I wanted to play college football, and I wanted to be somewhere other than Arizona. My other criteria were that the institution had to have a good academic reputation, a solid athletic program with a track record of prioritizing academics over athletics for student athletes, and a vibrant undergraduate experience."
Jordan found what he was looking for in Providence, but surprisingly, he wasn't a sure-fire football star by any stretch of the imagination.
"I was kind of a late bloomer in high school," he said in a 2002 interview. "I was about 6-foot-3 and about 195 pounds. I honed the concepts of tenacity and made the best of every opportunity. I was mostly a jay-vee player as a sophomore, but I became a full-time starter on the varsity as a junior. The coaching there was great. When I earned All-Ivy as a junior it was the first time I got all-anything."
He had finished fifth in the League in receiving that season, but he really began to draw attention as a senior. Jordan caught 38 passes for 693 yards that fall, earning first-team All-Ivy and All-East honors. He was also the recipient of the Tuss McLaughry Award, which is given to the player who contributes the most to the team through sportsmanship, performance and influence.
Jordan had gotten enough attention to be selected in the seventh round by the Minnesota Vikings, but he was far from banking on an NFL career. "I had put in four grueling years studying and was all ready to get to work nine-to-five," he once explained. "I had my little engineering job all set up."
He recalled that before going to Vikings' camp he felt inadequate. But his father's advice to "give it my best shot and leave no stone unturned" gave Jordan the boost he needed.
"I did an intense workout regimen before camp, and I was in the best shape of my life to that point," he said. "Then on one of my first days there we're doing a 1-on-1 blocking drill, and I'm up against Matt Blair. The whistle blows and Matt ran right through me. It was an eye-opening experience.
"(Coach) Bud Grant didn't keep many rookies back then, but I'd made enough of an impression on offense and special teams that I made the team."
His second season, Jordan was moved up to the second string. "We had some injuries that season and I luckily stayed healthy so they had to play me," he recalled. "By my third year, I became a starter. The Vikings' big acquisition that year was another tight end, Don Hasselback, and the word was that he was going to be the starter. I ended up having a great year and started every game for the next 10 years."
Jordan didn't just start, he was a star, catching more than three passes a game in that 150-game stretch. Yet even at the height of his career, he spent his summers working as an engineer for a construction firm in Minneapolis.
In the early 1990s, as injuries began to mount, his football career began to fade. "I could see the damage that artificial turf had done to me for 13 years. Still, I was fortunate to have no major injuries. There was no way I was going to take drugs to play. I was in a cycle of whirlpools, massages, tape jobs like a mummy, playing with a neck brace, a knee brace."
When he left the field for the final time in 1994, Jordan had caught 498 passes for 6,307 yards while making six straight Pro Bowls.
Joe Horrigan, the Vice President for Communications & Exhibits at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, cannot recall Jordan's name ever appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Yet, among the tight ends on the 2006 ballot, Jordan had more receiving yards and more Pro Bowl selections than all five (Mark Bavaro, Todd Christensen, Ben Coates, Russ Francis and Brent Jones). Only Coates had more receptions and he beat Jordan by a single catch.
In fact, Jordan went to more Pro Bowls than each of the six modern era tight ends who have been enshrined (Dave Casper, Mike Ditka, John Mackey, Ozzie Newsome, Jackie Smith and Kellen Winslow). He also had more career catches than all but Newsome and Winslow.
But instead of thinking about his place in history, Jordan continued to carve out his future. At the request of Brown University President Vartan Gregorian, he began to serve on the University's Board of Trustees. He also became involved in campus race and diversity issues, including a donation of $100,000 earmarked for scholarships for minority students.
Jordan also returned to engineering and construction management, working for Ryan Companies back in his home state of Arizona, where he and his wife Anita, his high school sweetheart, are raising three children.
He also serves his community with continued involvement with the Native Vision Sports & Life Skills Camp in the Southwest along with former NFL kicker Nick Lowery and former soccer player Shaun Rai, both graduates of Dartmouth College. The goal of the camp is to provide Native youth with heathy lifestyles, education and leadership skills.
And his heart remains with Brown University. "In retrospect, Brown was a great choice for me," he said. "I had some of the best, and yet most challenging experiences of my life. During my four years at Brown, my personal growth was phenomenal. Brown gave me tools that have contributed directly to my success."
— Brett Hoover