Sept. 5, 2009
SEATTLE (AP) - As he tried to leave the pregame party, fans kept patting Billy Joe Hobert on the shoulder.
"Good to see you," many of them said to the one-time big man on campus of Washington football on Saturday night as he attended his first game at Husky Stadium since he left school in 1992 engulfed in controversy.
Hobert didn't need to hear that from the few fans that recognized him 17 years after he last took a snap for the Huskies. Time has healed any of the lingering wounds from the venom Hobert felt from fans after his actions landed the Huskies on probation.
"It's one of those things I'd just as soon let go," Hobert said before Washington played LSU in Steve Sarkisian's first game as Huskies coach.
Hobert was the quarterback of Washington's 1991 co-national championship team that shared the title with Miami.
Part of Sarkisian's mission since taking the Washington job has been reconnecting with past players that may have felt alienated.
There's no bigger reconnection than with Hobert.
A year after he was named Rose Bowl MVP and led the Huskies to the highest point in their football history, Hobert became a villain. He was suspended during the 1992 season after it was discovered he had accepted $50,000 in loans in violation of NCAA rules. Washington was later put on probation for Hobert's transgressions and the program has never reached the same level of success as when Hobert was playing.
Washington never lost in any game Hobert played, going 27-0. He hasn't totally been disconnected from the program, attending Washington games near his home in Southern California. But after years of pestering from friends still in Seattle, and the new attitude Sarkisian has brought to the program, Hobert finally decided to return.
"A lot of different reasons, Sark coming in and changing the attitude about how Husky football is presented to the public ... I'm glad I did. I'm really excited," he said.
And Hobert doesn't plan on being a stranger anymore. As his work schedule allows, Hobert plans to make regular trips for Washington home games in the future. He was already having flashbacks of his playing days a few hours before kickoff Saturday night.
"I'll be a little jealous because a part of me, even though I'm getting fat and gray, a part of me still remembers that feeling of coming down the tunnel, and barking at the team, and slapping at the wall and getting that emotional hype," Hobert said. "Right now I'm probably more of a fan than what I was when I was back playing."