You know Washington isn't a crooked outfit, because any team that has a parttime quarterback who can swing $50,000 in loans to purchase guns, cars and good times ought to be so thoroughly corrupt that it could win 23 games in a row, easy. As it is, Washington topped out at 22 by losing to Arizona 16-3 last Saturday at Tuscon. Surely, this proves the Huskies' innocence better than any NCAA investigation could. Here's Washington's defense: Say that the team was filled, end-to-end, with guys like Billy Joe Hobert, likable lugs who somehow persuade folks with deep pockets that life isn't worth living without a $4,000 automobile sound system. Wouldn't such a team beat Arizona?
Instead, the Huskies lost the game and their No. 1 ranking and probably ruined their chances of repeating as national champions. But at least it confirmed their amateur status, which had become suspect earlier in the week. A team of Hoberts, players bold enough to put the arm on a guy for three five-figure loans, would not lose three fumbles or otherwise look so completely unprofessional against a team it had routed by 54 points the previous year. Case closed.
Washington was an operation that was as much beyond reproach as it was above the competition. But last week a series of stories in the Seattle Times cast an embarrassing light on the franchise. According to the Times, this spring Hobert, 21, accepted three loans totaling $50,000 from one Charles Rice, a nuclear engineer from Idaho Falls, and proceeded to spend the money in a manner you would expect of a college kid.
With the first $25,000 he bought a 1991 Camaro for about $9,000 and paid off a $5,000 loan on a Chevy Blazer owned by his wife, Heather, and a $2,900 loan on a Hyundai he owned. He also purchased car insurance, used $1,000 to buy a semiautomatic pistol and a hunting rifle, and paid back $2,500 to a woman he had lived with during a brief separation from Heather. With the second $25,000, he upgraded to a '92 Camaro, installed a $4,000 stereo system in the car and partied his way through the northwest. "I just pulled it out and paid cash wherever I went," Hobert told the Times. "People must have thought I was the richest guy in town."
Few at the university seemed to notice any of this. School officials say Hobert lived far from campus and did not frequent the usual student haunts. Anyway, coach Don James told the Times, "I don't have any rules that say what the hell players do with their lives. That's not my job.... There's a lot of things that players do. I let them walk around with cellular phones, wear earrings, which I don't particularly enjoy. But I don't run their lives."
James was disturbed when Hobert came to him last week with the news of his loans, but he decided to take no action against the quarterback. James did inform athletic director Barbara Hedges soon after his meeting with Hobert, and last Thursday when the story broke in the Times, Hedges suspended Hobert.
Hobert has admitted that borrowing the money "wasn't the smartest thing I've done, because I ended up blowing it, and now I've got all these bills and nothing to show for it." Hobert says he realized that his only collateral was a possible pro career and that if repayment was demanded before he completed school, he would have to file for bankruptcy or turn pro early.
It is not clear if Hobert has broken any NCAA rules. Rice has no connection with Washington, so his generosity would not violate the NCAA's prohibition against a booster providing an athlete with benefits that would not be available to an ordinary student.
Hobert obtained the loans through Rice's son-in-law, Rudy Finne, a Seattle longshoreman. Finne is a golfing buddy of Hobert's; the two met at a local course where Hobert once worked as a grounds-keeper. When Hobert told Finne he was deeply in debt, Finne arranged for him to meet with Rice, who said that he had lent money to at least a dozen young people, including another college athlete, though not a Husky. There was no payment schedule for the loans, which are at 10%. Says Rice of Hobert, "I thought he was a nice kid."
What's disturbing—beyond the fact that a college sophomore could run through $50,000 in three months without drawing the attention of anyone but an old girlfriend—is Finne's reputation as a small-time gambler. "I am no more a gambler than any Saturday-morning quarterback," he says, using a poor choice of words. Hobert told the Times that he had wagered as much as $100 on golf matches with Finne, but that he had never given Finne any inside information about the Huskies. Last week odds-makers in Las Vegasconfirmed that there had been no unusual betting patterns on Husky games this fall.
By last Saturday night the evidence seemed to indicate that Hobert was not so much guilty as goofy, and that Washington was not so much indomitable as just very good. Other evidence suggested that Arizona was not the heir to last year's team, which finished 4-7. Lessons: No team is as good or as bad as the previous season's record might indicate, nor are any of its players any more sensible than the average 21-year-old.
Before the Arizona game the Huskies were neck and neck with Miami for the nation's top ranking—as they had been all last season, when the two teams finished undefeated and shared the national title—but neither team was so much better than everyone else that an upset was unthinkable. After all, when Miami played Arizona on Sept. 26 at the Orange Bowl, the Hurricanes squeezed out an 8-7 victory only because Steve McLaughlin's game-ending 51-yard goal attempt was wide by two feet.
Washington had had no such close calls this season. Only Southern Cal had come within a touchdown. But were these Huskies really as good as they had been last season? While linebacker Dave Hoffmann has matured into a Butkus Award candidate, Washington has no one of sufficient bulk or ability to replace defensive tackle Steve Emtman, this year's top pick in the NFL draft. And Hobert, who inherited the quarterback job for 1991 after projected starter Mark Brunell went down with a knee injury in the spring, had to share time with Brunell this fall. Brunell had actually started the last three games, and neither player was happy.
James said that he didn't see enough difference between the two to deny either one an opportunity to play, especially a hardworking senior like Brunell, who had a possible pro career ahead of him. In any event the two passers' numbers were so similar (before the Arizona game, Brunell had produced 100.4 yards of offense per game, Hobert 105.6) that the offense didn't suffer from James's timesharing strategy.
That is until Saturday, when the Huskies met the most boring team in America. Arizona coach Dick Tomey has survived with two odd precepts. First, no team of his will be beaten by the run. You can pass for 1,000 yards against him, but don't try anything off tackle. Second, no team of his will do anything more flamboyant than...run off tackle. "We run inside," he likes to say, "and if that doesn't work, we run inside."
This is old-fashioned, conservative football. It's not a lot of fun to watch. "If I were sitting at home watching us play," says Arizona tailback Chuck Levy, "I'd be bored."
The Wildcats, behind quarterback George Malauulu, will not hurt you with the pass. Indeed, against Washington, Malauulu completed only five of 12 throws for 54 yards. The Wildcats will, however, run off tackle—again and again.
Against this offensive resolve, Washington's defense suddenly looked mortal. Well, not suddenly. In the first quarter the Huskies gave up 10 yards. In the second they yielded 83. Then, in the third Arizona began putting together long drives, one inside rush after another, until the Wildcats had gained 251 yards by the end of the game. "Seventeen plays?" said Hoffmann, when asked about the Arizona scoring drive that began with five minutes remaining in the third quarter and ended 2½ minutes into the fourth. "Was it that many? You gotta find away to get off the field."
As the game wore on, Washington wore out. "In the beginning," said Levy, "they were tackling in piles. By the end, there were a lot of solo tackles. I knew we had drained them when we switched ends at the end of the third quarter. They were lagging down the field." Another observation from Mr. Levy: "There is no big Mr. Emtman this year, no monster in the middle creating his own space. Makes a difference."
Does it ever. During last year's 54-0 shutout, Emtman steamed through the middle, flattened Malauulu and warned, "I'll be back." Malauulu meekly answered, "I know." Last Saturday, Washington committed the kinds of errors it usually forces its opponent to make. Of course, a tenacious Arizona defense—led by noseguard Rob Waldrop, linebacker Brant Boyer and cornerback Keshon Johnson—had a lot to do with that. This season the Wildcats had forced 20 turnovers while committing only nine. One of two fumbles by Washington tailback Napoleon Kaufman set up a McLaughlin field goal. "Even the great ones fumble," said Kaufman afterward.
In the fourth quarter Brunell fumbled to set up McLaughlin's third field goal of the day, and threw a late interception. McLaughlin, for one, enjoyed all this. After missing the kick in Miami, he says he discovered that "character building was tough." This was a nice payoff.
For Arizona, its last five games have been a payoff. Last year's 4-7 disaster—which included lopsided losses to Washington, UCLA, Miami, Arizona State and Washington State—after the Wildcats had gone 7-5 in '90, could be easily explained. Seventeen starters suffered season-ending injuries, and personnel had to be employed in odd ways. This year's backup quarterback, Heath Bray, started four games at middle linebacker in '91.
But what of this year's start, in which Arizona lost to Washington State and tied lowly Oregon State in the first three weeks? Following the game with the Beavers, Tomey said, "Our day will come." In one remarkable 18-hour stretch, he met one-on-one with each of his 67 players for a pre-Miami pep talk.
After the Orange Bowl squeaker, the Wildcats went 4 for October and regained their confidence. Says Johnson, who picked off a pass against the Huskies, "We said, 'We're not losing anymore.' You say that over and over, and then you're not losing anymore." As Ross Perot would say, "It's that simple."
Actually, Perot would have been useful to Washington last week. He could have gathered some bar graphs, bought some airtime and explained how Hobert's debt could be retired. One can imagine Perot's disgust as he brandished his pointer: "See, spending his children's money is what he's doing. And that's just sad."
The curious case of Hobert's loans will probably remain more intriguing than his team's loss. Certainly it is sad. A year that began with him quarterbacking the undefeated Huskies to victory in the Rose Bowl now finds him in jeopardy of losing his eligibility. While Hobert may not have violated any NCAA rules, the Pac-10 is planning an investigation of its own, and he remains suspended from the team until the situation is clarified.
Hobert's struggles appear to have little to do with football. Last spring he separated from Heather, who subsequently filed for divorce, and he dropped out of school. In April he obtained the first loan from Rice. In May and June he went back for more.
After getting counseling and embracing Christianity, Hobert got back together with Heather in May. Soon thereafter she became pregnant. Since then he has acted more responsibly, returning to school in the summer and trying to raise money by selling the Camaro. But now Hobert, whose team is 17-0 in games he has started, has been suspended, and his team is all but out of the national championship picture.
The humiliation Hobert has endured may be instructional. His father, Terry, told a reporter that Billy Joe said to him, "I've got my life together, and I'm not going to let this ruin things."
It's a learning experience, and a very expensive one—not unlike losing to Arizona.