Passing Out the Compliments

"Hey, Billy Joe Hobert! The Michigan coach, Gary Moeller, just called you Washington guys as good as any college football team he has ever seen. What do you have to say about that?"

Billy Joe: "Gary Moeller's a smart man."

At 12:01 a.m. next Wednesday, for those who choose to look at life this way, Billy Joe Hobert becomes a man. Oh, to some Billy Joe already has qualified for adulthood, principally to his wife. Yet a guy can be considered only so grown-up when he plays football all afternoon with millions of people watching his every move and then immediately changes into a T-shirt bearing the words: "Just Bite Me."

Did you hear the news about Billy Joe?

On the first day of 1992 as well as the first day of the rest of his happy-go-lucky life, one week from his 21st birthday party, here is what Billy Joe did: Quarterbacked his school to victory in the Rose Bowl before 103,566 eyewitnesses and an international TV audience. Passed for two touchdowns. Ran for another. Gave his home-state university an undefeated season for eternity and very possibly a national championship. And divvied up the personal reward of being voted the Rose Bowl's outstanding player.

Take a bow, Billy Joe.

"No, I'd rather talk about my teammates," Hobert said. "I've said it before and I'll probably say it again, but I could be the worst quarterback in the Pac-10 and I wouldn't know it because of these guys I've got here with me."

He is truly a character, Billy Joe is, full of woof-woof Husky team spirit and obvious unselfishness, as well as being a one-of-a-kind kid who amuses Coach Don James most of the time and impressed him to no end, particularly at the outset of the season, when Washington was desperate for a quality quarterback with Stanford and Nebraska lurking along the way and nobody else to whom James could turn.

Down went Stanford, 42-7.

Down went Nebraska, 36-21.

And then the rest.

"Billy Joe, boy, he's the reason we're here today," James said Wednesday after Michigan became the latest and last victim, 34-14. "I've never had anyone start two games the way he did those."

The job was Hobert's. Down went Kansas State, 56-3. Arizona, 54-0. Toledo, 48-0. California, 24-17. Oregon, 29-7. Arizona State, 44-16. USC, 14-3. Oregon State, 58-6. Washington State, 56-21. On and on mushed the Huskies, all the way to the 78th Rose Bowl, to the very same place where most of these very same Huskies had also won the 77th Rose Bowl, a game where the award for the outstanding player had similarly gone to Washington's starting quarterback . . .

Who happened to be one Mark Brunell . . .

Who was still on the team.

What are the odds of a school winning the Rose Bowl behind a quarterback who is voted the game's MVP and then winning it again exactly one year later behind a different quarterback who is also voted the game's MVP while the original quarterback remains on the squad, watching from the sideline?

Not great, but as Hobert said: "Anything can happen in football, and I guess what happened to Mark proves it."

Brunell actually did a whole lot more Wednesday than just watch. Twice, James slipped him into the game. He had done much the same thing with Hobert, spelling Brunell in the previous year's Rose Bowl against Iowa. So, he returned the favor, whereupon Brunell repaid him by guiding Washington to two touchdowns--one of which was nullified by a penalty, resulting in a field goal instead--and completing all but one of his eight passes.

Thrusting his fist into the air after a 38-yard touchdown pass to Mario Bailey accounted for Washington's final points, Brunell was about as happy as he could be.

"Hey, I can't complain. I won't complain," Brunell said later, generously. "Everything worked out for the best."

To which Hobert volunteered:

"Was Mark great out there today or what?"

When Brunell got hurt at spring practice, Washington's coach wasn't positive the team could recover. Hobert was young and restless. He had been a killer QB in high school, but Billy Joe was flaky if not shaky. During one early game, when James reminded the quarterback of the urgency of his getting the team one more first down, Billy Joe turned to the 59-year-old coach and said, good-naturedly, not disrespectfully: "No (fooling), coach."

OK, so he didn't actually say fooling.

After the Rose Bowl, Hobert had kind words for everybody. He thanked his protection and said the only time he got sacked in the game was "when I fell on my own face." He thanked his receivers and said they saved him by "ad-libbing" every good pass he threw. He thanked his coach for putting up with him after he promised to throw nothing but short passes and then promptly threw a long pass that got picked off.

"What can I tell you?" Billy Joe asked. "Life gets pretty weird."

No fooling.

What if Washington finds a third quarterback? What if the Huskies win three Rose Bowls in a row with three different guys? What's the record for how weird life can get?

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