Road to 1991 Perfection: Hobert Put on Spot in Season Opener
Mark Brunell wasn't ready to play. Recovering from spring knee surgery, the University of Washington starting quarterback and Rose Bowl MVP was still a few weeks away from medical clearance.
Like it or not, the Huskies would open with untested sophomore Billy Joe Hobert in the 1991 opener at Stanford.
Everybody wondered if he was up to it.
The waiting Cardinal players certainly liked what they saw in this fourth-ranked but supposedly vulnerable UW football team.
During the week before the game, Stanford offensive tackle and team leader Bob Whitfield took the unusual step of taking a public swipe at his highly regarded opponent.
"Our biggest concern right now is how many points we're going to beat Washington by," he boasted to the Bay Area press.
The Huskies had every reason to be concerned. Brunell had nearly led them to a national championship in 1990, before a UW defender — some say it was Steve Emtman, others point to Donald Jones, or with maybe one bumping into the other before the QB — ran into him and destroyed his knee in practice.
Hobert hadn't done anything. Some backup snaps. A punt here and there. Nothing to calm everyone's fears.
Teammates described the new quarterback as goofy and carefree, the total opposite of the successful and businesslike Brunell.
"He didn't want to follow the rules," Husky fullback Leif Johnson said of Hobert, as captured in the accompanying video. "He had his own style. He had his own approach. You couldn't tell him anything unless he wanted to do it. And, all of a sudden, he was the guy."
Even Hobert wasn't sure what he how he would play in the season opener in Palo Alto, California. He planned to minimize his mistakes to enable the Huskies' fearsome defense to lead the way.
Everyone simply held their breath and hoped for the best as kickoff neared to launch the 1991 season.
"Reigning him in was a coaches' nightmare, but he had the goods," Johnson said. "What Billy is really good at is he doesn't know fear. He was able to rise at the time when others shrivel back or shrink back, and there's where I think he shined the most.
"But I don't think he was the most gifted quarterback. Sometimes you see him in practice and go, 'Wow, that's the guy?' "
On Saturday, we'll tell you exactly what Hobert did against Stanford.
This is another in a series of articles and videos that will replay the UW's 1991 national championship season, which is the apex of Husky football. We don't have a 2020 season for another month or so, so we'll use '91 as a conversation piece.
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