NOTES : Brunell Takes Role in Stride

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He drew a crowd--not as large as that of a year ago, certainly, but one worthy of a certified Rose Bowl hero.

Mark Brunell stood on the floor of the Rose Bowl in front of the Washington bench. His right knee was encased in what has become a sign of his times: An aluminum-and-black rubber brace that is both necessary to keep playing football and symbolic of his not playing as much as he did last Jan. 1.

He was the Rose Bowl's most valuable player then. It was his game, except for a series in the second quarter in which a brash freshman, Billy Joe Hobert, threw three passes, one of which was intercepted.

In the spring, Brunell became an injured No. 1 quarterback who lost his job to Hobert. On Jan. 1, 1992, he was simply glad to be back.

His participation might well have been limited to a cameo performance in Hobert's Rose Bowl. "I knew I'd be in there for a series in the second quarter," Brunell said. "Anything else depended on how the game went."

It went well for the Huskies, who won, 34-14. Brunell made the most of his second-quarter series, completing his first six passes--actually, seven; one was nullified by a penalty--before throwing his one incompletion. He led Washington to a field goal that broke a 7-7 tie.

Still, it was Hobert's game. Hobert returned to lead a second-half onslaught, finishing with 18 completions of 34 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns. He was co-most valuable player with teammate Steve Emtman.

With the game in hand, 27-7, early in the fourth quarter, Brunell came back for one play, passing to Mario Bailey for a 38-yard touchdown play.

The difference in the two games is pronounced. This year was better.

"I have the same sort of feeling as last year," he said, smiling and speaking quietly. "But it's really better. Last year we weren't national champions."

Are they this year?

There were few doubters among the non-voting participants in Pasadena.

"You don't think I'm going to root for my alma mater?" said Don James, Miami '54 and Washington coach '92. He wore a white shirt with purple lettering: "1991 National Champions." James was given the shirt by boosters. "If I had known they were doing that, I would have killed them," he said.

Desmond Howard, who caught only one pass for 35 yards and was generally bottled up on punt and kickoff returns, had no trouble coming up with his No. 1 choice.

"They should win the national championship," Howard said.

Maybe Washington running back Beno Bryant, who left the stadium on crutches after someone fell on him in the third quarter, summed it up best: "I don't care what Miami does. We've played some tough teams, and we've faced some adversity. And I feel Michigan could beat Miami."

A member of her staff calls her Alice in Wonderland.

Coach Don James calls her "undefeated."

Barbara Hedges, Washington's athletic director, does not yet know what it's like to have to console a football coach after a losing game.

She assumed the job after moving from at USC. "Every game it's seemed to escalate," she said of the idea that a perfect season and a national championship might be possible. "I've been to every game, made every trip. It's been great."

Dealing with a Heisman Trophy winner offers a challenge and requires both plot and plan.

Desmond Howard won his award by scoring 23 touchdowns while rushing, receiving or returning kicks.

He scored no touchdowns Wednesday.

"Our plan was to kick it away from him or out of bounds," Washington punter John Werdel said. He did just that, Howard returning only three of his six punts for 21 yards.

Werdel's longest punt, 53 yards, brought Howard's longest return, 15, in the first quarter.

"I got lucky on a couple of them. The coverage was great," Werdel said.

So was the coverage on kickoffs, three of which Howard returned a total of 39 yards.

And so was the pass defense. "They were confused, it seemed like," said cornerback Dana Hall, who spent much of his afternoon running with Howard, with occasional help. "Since Nov. 23, when we knew we would be playing them, we knew we had to do one thing: Stop Desmond Howard."

Besides, Hall has his own Heisman candidate after facing Mario Bailey every day in practice. "He'd get my vote," Hall said.

Perhaps Bailey's vote, too. When Bailey hauled in a 38-yard touchdown pass from Brunell in the fourth quarter, it remained for him to strike a pose, much as Howard did in Michigan's game against Ohio State in November.

"I told my mom and stepfather I wouldn't do it in the first quarter," Bailey said. "It might come back to haunt me.

"I would do it in the fourth quarter when I knew we had the game wrapped up.

"I wanted to prove that there is another receiver whose name is not Desmond Howard. It's no longer Mario, who? It's Mario Bailey. It's number five, not 21."

Bailey finished with six catches for 126 yards and the touchdown.

Sounding more like a political convention than football fans, a group of Washington supporters gathered around a tunnel at the end of the Rose Bowl to shout "one more year, one more year."

The object of their chant was Steve Emtman, who wore a Nebraska baseball cap to let people know how he felt about the rest of the night and told anyone who asked about his future exactly nothing.

The question: Will Emtman, a junior defensive tackle and All-American, opt to declare himself available for the NFL draft after a season in which he won every award available to a lineman.

Answer: "I have two more weeks to decide. I am going to take some time and think about it and then make a decision."

Rose Bowl records:

--Most touchdown passes caught (career): Mario Bailey three (two in 1991), breaking record of two, held by many players.

--Most field goals kicked (career): Travis Hanson, four (two in 1991, two Wednesday). The record was three, held by five players.

Times staff writer Mike Downey contributed to this story.

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