Quarterback U. -- Ex-Huskies' Careers Are Part Of Legacy Unmatched At Any Other School
Seattle Times Staff Reporter
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Another ex-Husky quarterback is on the rise, and somewhere in Seattle, Sonny Sixkiller gives a satisfied nod. Tom Flick smiles. Tim Cowan takes note.
Jacksonville's Mark Brunell, the hottest young quarterback in the NFL this side of former Packer teammate Brett Favre, has emerged as the latest shining example of the University of Washington's quarterback legacy.
Undeniably, the Huskies breed quarterbacks. Since Sixkiller launched this modern era in 1970, dragging the program from the staid wishbone into a comparatively wide-open passing attack, every UW starting quarterback except one has gone on to a professional career.
Granted, they've been of wildly varying degrees of success, ranking from Warren Moon's possible Hall of Fame tenure to the journeyman status of Tom Porras, but they've been there, earning money throwing the football, in numbers no other school can match.
Brunell, who will face the Seahawks tonight, is having one of the best passing seasons in league history, one that should land him in the top 10 for passing yardage and total offense. He is being called a young John Elway, quite an accomplishment for someone who had to battle Billy Joe Hobert for playing time in college even after leading a Rose Bowl victory as a sophomore.
"At times, it was real difficult, because I was the one sitting on the bench," Brunell said. "I was fortunate enough, even though I didn't play a lot in college, I did get an opportunity to show what I can do at this level. Things have worked out. My college experience was wonderful."
Brunell and Hobert begat Damon Huard, just as Cary Conklin had passed the torch to them, and Chris Chandler and Hugh Millen to Conklin.
"I think the reason is that in the Don James era, the UW tended to gravitate toward the big, strong-armed type quarterback," Millen said. "That tends to be the guy the NFL looks at."
And virtually without exception, they have come to look in Seattle.
"(UW has) done as good a job as anyone, maybe better, for whatever reason," said Chandler, a Husky from 1984-87 and now starting for the Houston Oilers. "Heck, when I was there, I didn't gain any knowledge of the passing game. It was not a quarterback-factory offense. I was a little jealous when Gilby (current Seahawk assistant Keith Gilbertson) came right after I left and spread it out and started throwing the ball all over the yard.
"I think what Don James did, he taught you how to prepare; not necessarily the offenses and the type of system you get in the NFL, but he gave you the tools to adapt and learn things."
The Husky quarterbacks have remained, if not close, at least cognizant of each other's feats, their triumphs and setbacks.
"There's a little bit of kinship, kind of a fraternity," Millen said. "It's kind of like a jeep driver who sees another jeep driver. He honks."
For fans in Seattle, it is easy to follow the careers of the Husky quarterbacks still in the NFL, like Brunell, the Vikings' Moon, Chandler and Oakland's Hobert. Here's a look at the others who have come and gone through the years - some still waiting for one more chance.
DAMON HUARD (1992-95)
It was politics that drove Huard out of pro football before he barely got started. So go figure: Huard is now immersed in one of the the biggest political issues in Seattle.
Huard, who graduated from the UW this year with a business degree, is working for Paul Allen's Football Northwest as they attempt to work out a stadium solution that will allow them to complete their purchase of the Seahawks.
"This job combines my two biggest interests: football, my No. 1 passion, and business," Huard said. "I'm having a great time with it. I'm involved with one of the hottest topics in the city, day in and day out. I'm around influential people, get to do a lot of public speaking. This is the next best thing."
Undrafted after three seasons guiding the Huskies, Huard signed as a free agent with the Bengals, but was cut during training camp. He does not plan to continue his football career, which consisted of two series in one preseason game.
"I really like what I'm doing," he said. "All the politics involved in Cincinnati discouraged me. I thought I played well enough to make the team. Unfortunately, they kept some 5-11, 180-pound guy out of McNeese State (Kerry Joseph) who could make tackles on the kickoff team."
Huard had another distasteful experience when Miami flew him and four other quarterbacks in for a workout. Because of Hurricane Hannah, the workout consisted of throwing five passes. Coach Jimmy Johnson didn't even watch, and no one bothered to videotape them. The quarterback they signed from the workout was cut a week later when the Dolphins signed Craig Erickson.
"That left a bad taste in my mouth about the process of being a player," said Huard, who hasn't pursued feelers from the World and Arena leagues. "I'd love to be in the front office making decisions about the player."
Huard approached Football Northwest with his resume, and they hired him. His job has no official title, but he worked as a liaison with the UW during pursuit of a Husky Stadium solution, as well as doing considerable speaking to community groups explaining Allen's agenda.
"I'm finding this fascinating, all the politics," he said. "The experience gained in a short time has been unreal. Hopefully, I'll work hard and do a good job, and if Paul buys the team, hopefully there will be a spot for me somewhere."
CARY CONKLIN (1986-89)
Conklin is the only one of the Husky quarterbacks who owns a Super Bowl ring, but it's typical of his career that he didn't actually suit up for the game. Conklin spent that 1991 season on injured reserve with Washington, which went on to beat Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVI as Conklin watched in street clothes.
Conklin was felled that year by a knee injury, the same one that two years later knocked him out of his competition with Mark Rypien for Washington's starting job; the same one that plagued him his entire career and ended it prematurely after the 1995 season.
Conklin, 28, played minimally for the 49ers last year as their third quarterback but decided after the season he could no longer fight the inevitable. In six NFL seasons, he had three knee operations and played seven games.
"I just decided to retire, because physically I couldn't do it anymore," Conklin said. "I didn't want to walk around crippled the rest of my life. I got out at the right time."
Conklin is a volunteer student assistant coach for the Huskies, working with the quarterbacks. He hopes to stay in coaching at the collegiate level.
As for his career, he savors the few memories he has, like his first career start, against Philadelphia, when he threw three touchdown passes. Typically, Randall Cunningham threw a touchdown pass with three seconds remaining to beat Washington.
"I really feel I got everything I could out of my career," he said. "It was injury-riddled, to say the least."
HUGH MILLEN (1984-85)
Cut in August by New Orleans, Millen isn't ready to concede that his career is over. He has spent the season in the Seattle area waiting for the call that hasn't come. A November tryout with Arizona yielded nothing, but Millen, 33, will probably be in camp somewhere next season.
"I don't want to be a hanger on, but if I still feel I could play, I would consider giving it one more shot next year," he said. "My goal was to play 10 years. I always said, beyond that, everything is gravy. Last year was my 10th year. We'll see."
In his career, Millen has played for the Rams, Falcons, Patriots, Cowboys and Broncos, backing up Pro Bowl quarterbacks Jim Everett, Chris Miller, Troy Aikman and John Elway. Millen holds Denver team records for completion percentage, interception avoidance and consecutive completions, but his shining moment was 1991, when he started for the Patriots and was team MVP, earning a two-year contract that was the highest in team history.
These days, Millen lives in Bothell on Lake Washington and monitors the investment business he co-owns in Snohomish County with a college friend. He also works out to prepare for one more NFL shot, not wanting to end his career with the memory of a sub-par showing in New Orleans.
"It's such a cliche to say, `I don't want to go out that way,' " he said. "I'm not hung up on my legacy. I'm at peace with the fact I'm not going to the Hall of Fame, but I'm lucky enough to be in a situation where I can call my shots the rest of the way."
TIM COWAN (1980, 82)
Tucked between Flick and Steve Pelluer, Tim Cowan had a hard-luck Husky career, starting six games, but he lasted four seasons in the CFL and won a Grey Cup with British Columbia in 1985.
"It was a great experience," he said. "I saw Canada. My children (Joe, now 12, and Patrick, 10) were born over there. I was lucky to play after school, because I spent a lot of time on the bench (at UW)."
In 1987, the Seahawks brought Cowan in for a brief tryout ("I was over there probably about an hour," he joked) but wound up signing Jeff Kemp to be Dave Krieg's backup.
It was to be his final pro football experience, though Jim Mora, who recruited Cowan to the UW, called with an offer to come to the New Orleans Saints' camp and compete with John Fourcade for the third-string job.
"I said it's been great, but it's time to get a real job," Cowan said.
The only time Cowan questioned that decision came two years later when he turned on a television and saw Fourcade at quarterback for the Saints on "Monday Night Football."
"I had beat him out on the B.C. Lions," Cowan said. "I said, `Gee, that could have been me.' But really, it was just a pleasure to have that exposure with the Seahawks. It was fun to be a part of it even for a short time."
Cowan authored one of the greatest games in UW history - a record-setting 33-for-53, 350-yard effort in the 1982 Aloha Bowl against Boomer Esiason's Maryland team. But after winning the starting job as a junior, Cowan suffered torn ligaments in his thumb in the second game and lost his job to Pelluer.
"Steve took us to the Rose Bowl as a sophomore, and how did I expect to see the field after that?" he asked.
Now a business-insurance salesman living in Kirkland, Cowan keeps his hand in football by doing some volunteer coaching at Bellevue High School.
Cowan, 36, is trying to gather many of the Husky quarterbacks and other alumni for a charity golf tournament in June.
"The great thing is that the Huskies are really a big, big family," he said.
STEVE PELLUER (1980-83)
Just this week, Pelluer got an offer to return to the World League team in Frankfurt, Germany, for which he played last season. He faces a tough decision. Pelluer has been working on his real-estate license and preparing to join the work force. On the other hand, he feels he played well enough in the World League last year that some NFL teams might be interested.
He waited this season for a call from a team in the NFL, where he spent seven seasons from 1984-90 with Dallas and Kansas City.
"I thought I might have an opportunity if there were some injuries and a need somewhere," he said. "It was a little disappointing. I certainly thought I was better than a lot of quarterbacks in the league."
He worked out often with current Husky quarterbacks Brock Huard and Shane Fortney and rekindled his vitality in the process.
"I've really enjoyed Shane and Brock," he said. "They're just great guys. I can't believe how mature they are - and immature at times. It's so refreshing to be around them, Brock especially. You can tell he loves football. It got me excited about football being around him."
Pelluer's career has been tenuous since Denver cut him from training camp in 1992. He sat out the next three seasons, spending the time getting a masters degree in human relations at Colorado Christian University and restoring a log cabin he had purchased in the Rocky Mountains. He also met his future wife, Jennifer, with whom he now has a five-month-old daughter, Jessica.
His football career, it seemed, was over, but in 1994, when Winnipeg of the CFL called, he answered.
"I really had no desire to play anymore," he said. "It was a shock to most people that I was even thinking about it."
His Winnipeg experience didn't go well - a shoulder dislocation required surgery - but it whet his appetite enough that he pursued the World League opportunity the following year. Pelluer guided Frankfurt to the title game and was one of the top three quarterbacks in the league statistically.
If Pelluer makes it back to the NFL, he wants to correct mistakes he made the first time.
"I wish I had been more mature going into it than I was," he said. "I had some real thrills, and I learned a lot in a hurry. But I think if I did it over again, I'd do it differently. I was pretty arrogant. I think most of my growing occurred when I got out of football."
TOM PORRAS (1978-79)
Of all the Husky quarterbacks, none has had a longer and more varied career than Porras, who this year retired after 15 years that have brought him to the NFL, the USFL, the CFL and the Arena League.
"I've told my friends, `If I try to play again, shoot me,' " Porras said.
Porras has sneaked in 10 years of coaching in the Arena League and at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College, and he runs a training service for young quarterbacks in the Phoenix area. Now he's pursuing a full-time coaching job.
Oh, yes - throughout it all, he has pursued an entertainment career as the "Singing Quarterback," doing a lounge act that includes an Elvis impression, some Beatles songs, oldies and lots of country and western.
After leaving UW, Porras tried out with the Raiders as a wide receiver, but didn't last long.
He hooked on with the semipro Ventura County Americans of Oxnard, Calif., until the USFL came calling. He played for the Chicago Blitz, Arizona Wranglers and Arizona Outlaws - different incarnations of the same team - before moving on to the CFL, where he played six seasons with Hamilton, Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary.
An Arena League career followed, with stops with Albany, Las Vegas and, this past spring, Charlotte. Along the way, he played for George Allen and Frank Kush, played with Doug Williams and Greg Landry, and probably had more fun than anyone.
"The best thing I did was play as long as I could and go through as many scenarios as I could," he said. "I learned a lot. Sometimes things don't go like you want them to. I think when I did play, I played well. There are things I can pass on to young people, like how to take the good with the bad."
TOM FLICK (1976-80)
Flick stopped calling signals in 1988, but his voice is still being heard. In fact, he's approaching a million listeners for the motivational speeches he gives through the company he runs out of his Redmond home, Tom Flick Communications.
Flick speaks in about 20 states, usually to school districts, businesses and athletic teams, on subjects like excellence, leadership, goal setting, character and morality - "things that Mom and Dad used to teach this nation that we've somehow forgotten," he said.
Flick also has a weekly radio show and markets tapes and videos of his speeches, but he says his "passion" is his parenting seminars. Tom and his wife, Molly, a former cheerleader at the UW, have an 8-year-old son, Joe, and a 4 1/2-year-old daughter, Jenny.
"I love being a dad and a husband," he said.
His love went out of football in 1988 after a moderately successful seven-year NFL career with Washington, New England, Cleveland, San Diego and the N.Y. Jets. He loved playing behind Dan Fouts in San Diego but was cut as part of a youth movement. While he was with the Jets, his mom contracted cancer and died shortly after the season - two weeks before Joe was born.
"My interests changed dramatically from athletics to being a dad," he said. "I had played well enough when Fouts was injured to extend my career a good couple of years, but I just lost interest with my mom gone. I retired. I lost 20 pounds in two months. When they called and asked me to come to offseason camp, I didn't have any interest."
Now 38, he says his football career seems like a different lifetime. The speaking career he began with Washington of the NFL, largely as a way to earn spending money, has burgeoned into a successful business that leaves football on the periphery of his life.
"Dan Fouts had a great quote: Football is a great game, and a crummy business," he said. "I love the game and the friendships, and I don't think I'll ever experience that level of excitement and competition. But I'm more content being a husband and father."
SONNY SIXKILLER (1970-72)
Now 45, Sixkiller says his football memories are fading. But Seattle fans will never forget Sixkiller, who became a local folk hero and a national phenomenon in his Husky heyday. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1971 and the subject of a hit song, "The Ballad of Sonny Sixkiller."
"For a little kid from Ashland, Oregon, it was a great opportunity, and I took it as far as I could," said Sixkiller, who was unprepared for the fuss he would cause. "It was hard to grasp. Here I was, an 18-, 19-year-old kid. To have all that big-time stuff thrown at you, it was real tough. I tried to avoid as much of it as I could."
Sixkiller's name is still sprinkled throughout the Husky record book, but his pro career never took off. Undrafted, largely because of his size (slightly under 6 feet), Sixkiller got a tryout with the Chuck Knox-coached Rams in 1973 but was cut. The Rams kept John Hadl, Ron Jaworski and James Harris ahead of Sixkiller, who never even got into an exhibition game.
"I don't have any regrets at all about that," he said. "Shoot, I had a chance to work out with the Rams, and they didn't sign just anyone off the streets."
Sixkiller tried the CFL next, playing a season with Toronto before joining the Philadelphia Bell and Hawaii Hawaiians of the World Football League before the league disbanded. In 1976, Sixkiller signed a contract with the San Diego Chargers but didn't report.
"My arm was too sore," he said. "That was the end of my career. If I had been healthy, who knows? I wasn't going to be a hanger on. . . . It's time to get on with your life."
Today, Sixkiller is the on-premise manager for the Stroh Beverage Company. His oldest son, Casey, is a freshman at Dartmouth, while his two other children, Jesse and Tyson, are in junior high. He remains close to the Husky athletic program as an analyst for Fox Sports NW rebroadcasts of UW football games.
"I love being on the sideline and talking to players and have them open up to you," he said. ----------------------------------------------------------------- Husky QBs who went pro
Damon Huard UW (1992-95): 36g, 458-764, 5692 yards, 34 TD, 28 int. Pro: Cincinnati, cut in training camp, 1996.
Mark Brunell UW (1989-92): 32 g, 259-498, 3,423 yards, 23 TD, 16 int Pro: Green Bay 1993-94, Jacksonville 1995-current.
Billy Joe Hobart UW (1990-92): 23 g, 248-427, 3,028 yards, 27 TD, 13 int. Pro: Los Angeles/Oakland, 1993-present.
Cary Conklin UW (1986-89): 31 g, 401-747, 4,850 yards, 31 TD, 36 int. Pro: Washington 1990-93, San Francisco 1995.
Chris Chandler UW (1984-87): 29 g, 326-587, 4,161 yards, 32 TD, 27 int. Pro: Indianapolis 1988-89, Tampa Bay 1990-91, Phoenix 1991-93, L.A. Rams 1994, Houston 1995-present.
Hugh Millen UW (1984-85): 19 g, 247-435, 2,616 yards, 11 TD, 23 int. Pro: L.A. Rams 1986-87, Atlanta 1988-90, New England 1991-92, Dallas 1993, Denver 1994-95, New Orleans 1996 (cut in training camp).
Steve Pelluer UW (1980-83): 34 g, 436-755, 4,603, 30 TD, 26 int. Pro: Dallas 1984-88, Kansas City 1989-90, Denver 1992, Winnipeg (CFL) 1994, Frankfurt (World League), 1995.
Tim Cowan UW (1980, '82) TK Pro: British Columbia (CFL) 1983-85, Toronto (CFL) 1986.
Tom Porras UW (1978-79) TK Pro: Chicago Blitz, Arizona Wranglers/Outlaws (USFL), 1980-82, Hamilton, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, (CFL) 1985-90, Albany, Las Vegas, Charlotte (Arena) 1991-96.
Tom Flick UW (1976-80): 28 g , 252-418, 3,171 yards, 24 TD, 20 int. Pro: Washington 1981, New England 1982-83, Cleveland 1984-85, San Diego 1986, NY Jets 1987.
Warren Moon UW (1975-77): 30 g, 242-496, 3,277 yards, 19 tD, 17 int. Pro: Edmonton (CFL) 1978-83, Houston 1984-93, Minnesota 1994-present.
Sonny Sixkiller UW (1970-72): 28 g, 385-811, 5,496 yards, 35 TD, 51 int. Pro: Philadelphia, Hawaii (WFL), 1973-75.
Bob Schloredt (1958-60) Pro: British Columbia (CFL), tow seasons.
Don Heinrich (1949-50, '52) Pro: N.Y. Giants (1954-59), Dallas 1060, Oakland 1962 .
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