Elven Thomas Worley was so much more than a football player.
But “Al” could really play.
Not that you’d know it by looking at him. Worley — who died in Eugene, Ore., on Dec. 14, following a battle with Lewy Body Dementia and Parkinsonism, at age 74 — was listed at 6 feet and 175 pounds in his senior season at Washington in 1968. On Nov. 3 of that year, former Seattle Times sports editor Georg N. Meyers wrote that “Worley has piled on almost 20 pounds since he was a 1964 tenderfoot of 155 (pounds) from Wenatchee. But he still is hollow of cheek, sallow of complexion, very ribby with his shirt off.
“As one of 10 children of a janitor of scant means, Worley never was overfed in his high school days, and he has not gone to flesh under the lavish praise of recent weeks, since the literate world has taken notice of his larcenous skills.”
Those skills were the bright spot in an uninspiring season. Though Washington went just 3-5-2, including 1-5-1 against Athletic Association of Western Universities competition, Worley’s 14 interceptions set an NCAA record that still stands today. His 18 career picks also have persevered as a program record.
On Sept. 29, 1968, a day after Worley snagged three interceptions in a 21-17 victory against Wisconsin, Meyers described Washington’s fifth-year senior captain as “a lean, leathery and larcenous defensive back who once was assured by an ex-Husky coach that he never would play varsity football at Washington. (Scrawny-looking Al didn’t seem to have enough insulation on his wires.)”
He had enough insulation, it seems, to snare four of UW’s program-record eight picks in a 37-7 victory over Idaho on Oct. 26, 1968 — prompting the grinning Wenatchee wonder to hold up four fingers and pose for a postgame photo. He added his 12th and 13th interceptions in just his team’s seventh game of the season, a 7-7 tie against California on Nov. 2.
“It’s too much for me,” Worley said after the game, on the prospect of assuming a national spotlight. “I can’t believe it. I must be asleep or something.”
Worley, of course, was not to be slept on. He secured his NCAA-record 14th interception in a 6-0 victory over UCLA on Nov. 16, 1968. And unsurprisingly, he was named a consensus first-team All-American by The Associated Press, United Press International, American Football Coaches Association and the Football News following his fifth and final season.
“It’s so different. All my life, I was just a football player — and now all of this,” Worley told The Times on Nov. 26, 1968, after being named a UPI All-American. “I am finding it hard to believe.”
After graduating from UW with a master’s degree in education, Worley played for the Seattle Rangers of the Continental Football League for a single season in 1969. He later coached at Northern Arizona and Portland State, before being named head coach of the Yokosuka Base Seahawks — a U.S. Navy service team in Japan — in 1979. He went on to coach a team in Korea as well.
After moving on from football, Worley served for three decades as a Naval morale welfare and recreation (MWR) director in Sasebo, Japan, and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He met his wife, Bernie, in Hawaii and they were married at Lake Tahoe in 1996. He had a pair of stepchildren, Shelton and Sheena.
Worley retired in 2015 and the couple settled in Eugene, Ore. He spent much of his time gardening, traveling and golfing.
So, aside from a five-year stretch in Seattle, you could hardly classify this as a larcenous life. A Chelan native and Wenatchee High School alum, he was named to UW’s All-Century Team and inducted into the university’s athletics hall of fame in 1992.
But Worley became so much more than the records he left behind.
It just took him a while to believe it.