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Road to 1991 Perfection: UW Had Everything, Notably a Linebacker Surplus

The Huskies were two-deep with speedy, physical players on the second row who raised havoc for 12 games. Here's how an old linebacker viewed them.

Up and down the roster of the 1991 University of Washington national championship team were first-team All-Americans.

Steve Emtman. 

Lincoln Kennedy. 

Mario Bailey.

Guys who got in a stance or went deep.

However, knowledgeable observers such as former UW recruiting coordinator Dick Baird will tell you that the expanse of the linebacking corps might have been the team's most amazing collection of talent. 

The Huskies had two of everything. 

Inside linebacker Dave Hoffmann, a second-team All-American, was backed up by James Clifford, who led the Pac-10 in tackles in 1989 as a sophomore before he was felled by a knee injury.

Then there were Jaime Fields and Brett Collins sharing an outside linebacker spot, both NFL prospects.

Chico Fraley was a four-year starter, Donald Jones started for two seasons. 

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Sophomores Andy Mason and Hillary Butler were back-up linebackers who called themselves "the linebackers of the year 2000" a decade ahead of their time before Mason was elevated to starting defensive end because of injury to others. 

"What was so unique about that team was the group of linebackers," Baird said. "Emtman was really good, man, as were Tyrone Rodgers and the rest of the guys up front. But we had a group of linebackers that was two-deep. They were interchangeable guys. And not just the inside, but the outside guys, too. That second layer of the defense was just superb."

This is another in series of vignettes about the UW 1991 national championship team, supplementing the conversation for the pandemic-delayed season that finally included the Pac-12 and the Huskies. We're in week 10, which brought a Rose Bowl-clinching 58-6 victory at Oregon State.

Opposing quarterbacks got to know the Husky linebackers well. Too well. While Emtman demanded a double-team, this left the linebackers salivating with open lanes to the football. Then there was UW defensive coordinator Jim Lambright's take-no-prisoners scheme, which brought everything to life.  

"Lambo, with his style of defense, was bringing two or three of those linebackers at you every single play," Baird said. 

Baird, once a starting linebacker at rival Washington State, remains a true connoisseur of good linebacking. The Huskies didn't have it in 2019 and it showed. Back in 1991, they had it and more, with players such Hoffmann, Jones, Fraley, Fields and Mason each finding their names in the record book in tackles, tackles for loss or sacks. It was a free-for-all for 12 games. 

"I'm looking now that that's where Washington was really hurt last year," Baird said. "I got to watch the national championship game on TV the other day and I was just marveling at what a great group of second-layer guys we had on that team. It was just unbelievable. All of those guys could really run." 

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