Like Heaven For Hobert
THE FOUR L.A. RAIDER quarterbacks sprint back and forth across the field in a conditioning drill, and ex-Husky Billy Joe Hobert leads the pack. After last year's turmoil at Washington, this is like heaven for Hobert.
OXNARD, Calif. - Heather Hobert smiles beatifically as she strolls around the pool with 5-month-old daughter Taylor in her arms.
"To go out in public in peace," she says. "It's the best."
The Hoberts have died and gone to heaven, Heather free of public purview, and Billy Joe a Los Angeles Raider.
Funny, heaven looks an awful lot like hell.
On the practice field, Al Davis, the NFL's most devilish figure, patrols the sideline, today in white. Fred Biletnikoff, a silver mustache in place of the silver helmet he used to wear, coaches the receivers.
Everyone else, except the quarterbacks in their protective red jerseys, seems to be in black.
`Billy Joe has a way about him'
In the late afternoon of the day's second practice, the quarterbacks sprint back and forth across the field in a tough conditioning drill. Jeff Hostetler, Vince Evans, Todd Marinovich and Billy Joe Hobert.
Hobert leads the pack. Davis, who is 64 now, watches.
"Billy Joe has a way about him, doesn't he?" Davis muses. "Lively arm. Good size and speed. We liked both the Washington quarterbacks. In fact, when we picked in the third round we picked between Billy Joe and Mark Brunell."
Brunell is a Green Bay Packer. Hobert makes a better Raider.
Hobert, slightly bearded and berry brown from the sun, is the last off the field. He has been punting to ball boys. In another practice he tried kicking field goals as an emergency backup to another former Husky, Jeff Jaeger.
A glimmer of hope
He is the fourth-string quarterback. He works in combination with Marinovich, who is no better than third-string. The serious work goes to Hostetler, whom the Raiders got in free agency from the New York Giants, and Evans. Hostetler is 32, while Evans, the former USC quarterback, is 38.
"We needed a young quarterback," Davis says.
Never mind for the moment that Davis has Marinovich, a part-time starter last year and a first-round pick the year before.
"Al Davis has given me a glimmer of hope," Hobert says.
"Sometimes I can't believe I'm here. I knew I was capable of playing in the NFL, but after getting kicked out of Washington and not playing well before I left, I wondered if I'd get drafted at all."
Hobert fingers the silver helmet with the black stripe.
`Good, I want the Raiders'
"I've always been a Raider fan. I loved it when the Raiders came to town. Jim Plunkett was my favorite, a great `grunt' quarterback who just went out and played ball and didn't care if anybody thought he was pretty.
"Everybody in Seattle hated the Raiders. I said, `Good, I want the Raiders.' I guess that's just me."
It is unlikely Hobert will play a down at quarterback this year. With the NFL's new 53-man roster, it is likely he will make the team as a fourth quarterback, and perhaps as an emergency punter.
But the Raiders are infatuated with him. As they search for the old-time magic and mystique, they look back 20 years and see Kenny Stabler, the Alabama Snake, rolling into town.
"I've seen a lot of quarterbacks, and Hobert is a real talent," said Mike White, offensive line coach and former head coach at California and Illinois. White tutored Plunkett and Steve Bartkowski. "To me, he is a throwback, a scratch golfer, a baseball player, a punter. He has a good arm, but I like his attitude, his confidence. He's clever. The guys who succeed in this game as quarterbacks are the ones who give leadership."
Added Jaeger, the kicker, "Billy Joe has the kind of attitude we need around here."
Hobert, as usual, is a contradiction. He loves the idea of getting paid to play for the team he idolized as a kid, but also says he would rather be in Seattle getting ready for his final year with the Huskies.
All bills finally paid
He feels abused by the media in Seattle, wronged by the NCAA, and just plain mad, but he is also full of guilt and sadness. He is religious one moment, irreverent the next.
But what he is most, however, is out of debt.
"I can't tell you what a difference it was to pay for a washer and dryer with money, real money, not borrowed money," Heather says. "We've paid all our bills, including the bill."
Hobert won't divulge his contract with the Raiders, but 1993 third-round selections have averaged $244,000 per year on their contracts, providing they make the team, of course.
"I'm not too worried about that," he says. "I'm a backup, but I want to be the best backup in the league. When Coach (Art) Shell and Al Davis call my name, I don't want to have to ask questions. I just want to go in there and play Billyball."
This is vintage Hobert. An unassuming fourth-string quarterback one moment, and Billyball the next.
Hobert says the $50,000 in loans from Charles Rice, a nuclear engineer in Idaho, is paid in full, presumably from bonus money he received from the Raiders..
"I'm square with the Hoberts," Rice confirmed last week. "I wish them well; they're both neat people."
But emotional debts remain.
"You know," Hobert says, "it seems like three years have gone by since the Arizona game. Geez, that was the worst day of my life. I watched the game at a golf course and then drove home with tears in my eyes. I blamed myself. I mean, what if I had been there? What if I had been smarter about the loan, what if I had been smarter about a lot of things?"
Between his banishment from the Washington team for breaking NCAA rules and his reincarnation as a Raider, Hobert showed some maturation.
He took his wife and daughter to Arizona where he spent months getting in shape for the NFL scouting combines. He also worked out with baseball teams - the Mariners, A's, Expos, Angels and Brewers before signing with the White Sox.
He played for a month in Sarasota, Fla., playing outfield, hitting .302, but without the power he'd had as a prep in Puyallup. "I couldn't turn on the inside pitch," he said. "But I plan to be back with the White Sox in February, as long as it's OK with the Raiders."
Larry Monroe, Chicago White Sox farm director, said Hobert "showed potential but needs work" after playing baseball for the first time in years.
"If he starts for the Raiders he'll probably stay," Monroe said. "But if he's third- or fourth-string we'll probably get him back."
For the time being, the Hoberts will make their home in Torrance, near the Raider regular-season headquarters in El Segundo.
"Since leaving Seattle we lived in hotel rooms in Arizona, Florida and California," Heather says, "and we weren't sure how things were going to work out. Finally, we know where we're going to be; finally, we have a real job."
Wearing jersey No. 9
Out again on the practice field, Hobert wears jersey No. 9. He wanted No. 12, which he wore at Washington, where, as every Raider official will tell you, "Billy Joe never played in a losing game. Billy Joe's a winner."
But Marinovich wears No. 12. The Raiders assume Hobert chose No. 9 because it once belonged to Redskins star Sonny Jurgensen. The Raiders think Hobert looks and acts like Jurgensen.
"Nope," Hobert says. "It was going to be either No. 9 because of Joe Kralik (his friend and UW receiver), or No. 10 because of Jim Zorn. Finally, it was No. 9."
Hobert credits Zorn with helping him prepare for the draft.
"I know this will sound weird, but a Christian friend of mine had a dream in which God spoke to him and told him to get ahold of Jim Zorn to help me. He called Jim, and I can't tell you how much I owe him."
Zorn, now an assistant coach at Utah State, was in Seattle recruiting when he got together with Hobert.
"Jim gave me quite a few lessons on how to handle life, and money," Hobert says. "It was important time we spent together."
Hobert doesn't seem sure how to look back at what happened in Seattle.
He boasts, "Everybody is going to hear everything that happened in about five years, as soon as I get the book published. I've been working on it for about a year. Everything dirty and good you wanted to know about certain people."
On the other hand, he said he can't wait until the day he is wealthy enough as a professional athlete to give the University of Washington money to endow a scholarship.
He wants his UW degree
"The university has given me more than I have given it," he said. "One of the things I'm most sorry about is that I didn't work harder in school. I'm five quarters away from graduating, and being a drama major I could probably finish somewhere else, but I want to finish at Washington. We want to eventually settle in Seattle."
Hobert is aware the discovery of his loans from Rice triggered an investigation at the University of Washington that is likely to land the Huskies on probation.
"I love so many of those guys, I'd like to be with them," he says. "Joe Kralik, Tom Gallagher, guys I went to high school with as well."
The same guys who might be home for the holidays instead of at a bowl game.
"I'd be appalled if they were penalized for what I did," he said. "The university had absolutely nothing to do with what I did. At the time, I wasn't even a student, I had withdrawn from school, I had pretty much given up on my life. How could the university have known what I was doing? Coach (Jeff) Woodruff was a hound dog on my wife. My wife had a hard time keeping track of me, let alone the university."
Taking loan `wasn't wrong'
Clearly, Hobert doesn't regret taking the money from Rice, only that he was clumsy in how he did it.
"I'd do it again, but this time I'd have him give it to me on my potential as a baseball player. Guys play professional baseball and college football. The loan wasn't wrong, just the way it was structured. I was greedy. I wasn't much interested in finding out how to do it legally."
Around here, he gets plenty of support.
"I'd have taken the money," offers Jaeger, the six-year pro.
"Hell," adds Davis, "I don't know how those kids survive."
What does continue to bother Hobert, however, is the emotional stress he put his wife and friends through when he was wildly spending the $50,000, drinking, living with another woman, being about as irresponsible as he could be.
"I learned from all of this," he says slowly, "that there is always somebody you have to answer to. There are consequences. My problem was I believed the consequences couldn't touch me. I was a little arrogant. I have to remind myself every now and then that life is not meant to treat Billy Joe Hobert like a king."
But he is arrogant as he strides onto the Raider practice field - a throwback, reformed perhaps, but always the rogue.
Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.