Road to 1991 Perfection: Tormey Remembers Discomfort of Brunell's Injury

Dan Raley

The 1991 University of Washington football team reached the middle of spring football practice and everything was so upbeat, so full of promise, for these guys. 

The Huskies were coming off a lopsided Rose Bowl victory over Iowa and a No. 2 national ranking late in the season. They'd finished nine points from going unbeaten. They were in the conversation for a national championship, then and now. 

Yet on an April afternoon, on a Thursday, players and coaches alike stood silent, shocked at what just happened, shaken by what they saw. 

Starting quarterback Mark Brunell, the Rose Bowl MVP just three months earlier, lay crumpled on the Astroturf, writhing in pain and seriously injured.

He'd been hit by friendly fire. It was inexplicable. In was inexcusable.

In the days that followed that disastrous practice, Brunell would have knee surgery to repair torn ligaments, have his parents fly up from California to be with him and face a long arduous rehabilitation.

Chris Tormey was the Huskies linebackers coach at the time, but he'd recruited the dazzling quarterback. As was always the case with a player, Tormey had gained the trust of Brunell and his family. They had a deep rapport.

He didn't know what to say to them. 

"It was hard for me to look his parents in the face, and look him in the face, and tell them why that tragedy happened," Tormey said. 

If there was a positive from this situation, Brunell earned everyone's deep respect by throwing himself into his recovery. He was ready to play again in six months.

"It was just unheard of," Tormey said. "These days, they don't let a guy go back to full activity until he's nine months out of surgery."

Brunell returned as Billy Joe Hobert's back-up, reversing the order from the season before. He walked on to the field again against Kansas State, the Huskies' third opponent in their national title run.

"He wasn't the starting quarterback," Tormey said. "He could have been disruptive, but that wasn't Mark. His quality of person was way beyond that."

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