Nov. 22, 2006
SEATTLE (AP) - Most likely, Johnny Durocher's final collegiate football play was one to forget -- a badly thrown pass, intercepted and returned for a touchdown, while he was getting knocked loopy by a vicious block.
But DuRocher will always remember that play and not for its on-field result. Instead, the concussion the Washington quarterback suffered led to the discovery of a benign brain tumor that will likely end his football career.
"I was disappointed but at the same time I'm glad they caught it. If they hadn't caught it, a couple more years from now it could have been something major," DuRocher said Tuesday. "And I get a chance to get it out soon."
The tumor is located in DuRocher's cerebellum, near the back of his skull. DuRocher is being cared for by Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, chief of neurosurgery at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, and surgery is scheduled for Nov. 30.
Ellenbogen was in surgery Tuesday and unavailable for comment.
DuRocher's tumor probably would have gone undiscovered if not for the concussion he sustained in the third quarter of Washington's 20-3 loss to Stanford on Nov. 11.
On the play, DuRocher overthrew tight end Robert Lewis and underthrew receiver Sonny Shackelford, hitting Stanford safety Bo McNally in his chest. McNally then sprinted in front of the Washington sideline for a 49-yard touchdown.
DuRocher started toward the sideline to try to tackle McNally, but he was flattened by a block. DuRocher wasn't sure who laid him out, but "I'm thinking about writing that guy a thank you."
DuRocher was taken to the University of Washington Medical Center for a CAT scan, and doctors immediately noticed an abnormality. He was brought back for additional MRIs, and Ellenbogen confirmed the diagnosis the day before Washington played rival Washington State in the Apple Cup.
Instead of being with his teammates in Pullman, DuRocher was at home, watching the game on TV as the Huskies won, and accepting his situation.
"It's real disappointing, you want to play, and you've been playing for so long," DuRocher said. "And it's different too when it's your say of when you get to stop playing. I don't really have much of a say in this, so it's pretty disappointing."
DuRocher said he noticed the abnormality on the MRIs and the tumor could have continued growing and become an issue a few years from now.
Coach Tyrone Willingham knew of DuRocher's situation before the Apple Cup but spoke to the team about DuRocher's absence only in generalities.
DuRocher might talk to Willingham about being a student coach next fall.
"When you have a player that has a concussion there is a great deal of concern. Then as we worked through these events you realize the concussion may have been the best thing to ever happen at this particular time," Willingham said. "That's one of the sad things you have to say but it brings a great sense of joy that now you may have stopped or prevented a problem."
DuRocher started his collegiate career at rival Oregon but transferred to Washington after his freshman season in Eugene.
Last year, DuRocher appeared in relief in five games. He played in two games this season. He led a fourth-quarter rally in Washington's 26-23 overtime loss to Arizona State but struggled badly against Stanford, completing just 1 of 9 passes and was intercepted twice before his injury.
While football is done, DuRocher's athletic career at Washington isn't over. He's been cleared to pitch for the Huskies' baseball team once he recovers from surgery, although he hasn't played baseball since his sophomore year of high school and he was a catcher then.
DuRocher worked out with some members of the baseball team last spring and reportedly throws in the low 90s. Two of the best pieces of news DuRocher received was he won't have to shave his head for surgery and he won't need to wear a helmet for baseball.
"Once I came to grips with the fact it was going to happen regardless of if I want it to or not, then it's easier to accept," DuRocher said. "I think I'm handling it probably about as good as you probably could. It has to come out."