We’ll conclude our series of interviews conducted for the story on the 1991 team that ran in Sunday’s paper with a Q-and-A with Steve Emtman. A defensive tackle from Cheney, Emtman was a two-time All-American and was the No. 1 pick in the 1992 NFL Draft, the only Husky ever so honored. Emtman (pictured in a 1991 game against Arizona in a Mark Harrison photo) is again living in Cheney working in real estate construction.
He talked in the interview about what he remembers about the 1991 season, his decision to attend UW, and his thoughts on the Huskies of today.
On what he remembers of the 1991 season: “Looking back, I try to look forward and not back much but obviously it was a great experience in life and now that you are out in the real world and moving on in life and everything else and the one thing I remember the best is just what a team it was and what a group of guys that would never have probably otherwise come together came together as such a tight-knit group and accomplished what we accomplished. We were a group of guys that were from all over and connected and had a common goal. A credit to the coaching staff that managed that thing so well and then the leadership we had that was always looking at you from every angle, from the coaches to the players.
I think that was the difference from other teams I’d been part of, the difference was not where the coaching stopped but where it didn’t stop with the players and the leaders. I think there was never a letdown. The season before that when we came back we kind of made a team commitment on the flight back from the previous Rose Bowl that we weren’t going to lose, we were going to do whatever it took at that point. There was kind of that commitment from everybody to not let things slip from that goal. Obviously we had some pretty good talent and some great coaches but it was just how everyone worked together the way they did. I’ve never seen that anywhere else in athletics, I don’t think.”
On the defensive change after the 1989 season: “The defense at that time was something like Oregon’s offense is now. The reason that Oregon was successful on offense last year is the same reason we were successful on defense, because people went into the game terrified at the prospect of something that was new. They didn’t know that you weren’t going to have success unless you attack that defense and you won’t have success against that offense if you sit back on your heels. That was the same thing offenses were doing against our offense and part of the reason we had success is that people didn’t know how to handle it. People were trying to defend our defense instead of trying to attack offensively.”
On if the defensive change altered his role: “Absolutely. The supporting cast I had around me and the scheme I had made me successful, there is no question. That was something that you are only as good as the people around you and that’s why I had success, the scheme we were in that allowed me to have that attack approach where you didn’t sit and read stuff — you obviously read on the fly — but you could attack a point or attack a gap. And other teams I played on tried the two-gap stuff and read and react and that’s probably not the best for my ability, I guess.”
On how the 1990 UCLA loss motivated the team for 1991: “That was one thing that I’ve always looked back on that I remember the best, missing that tackle late in the game on that last drive and them going down — you remember those things to make sure there won’t be any other mistakes like that. That one game probably cost us a second national championship. I think we were ranked No. 2 and were 22-point favorites and to go out there and blow out. .. thanks for reminding me. Now I’m going to have a crappy day.”
On the opener against Stanford and what the defense thought of the offense with the QB change: “I think defensively we didn’t worry about the offense, we just took care of ourselves. We just did whatever we needed to get it done, if we needed to. Our attitude was we do what we have to do to win and let the offense take care of itself. That was kind of the attitude we took with the Lambright-led defense that we had was to win it on defense if we needed to.”
On the Nebraska game and how it changed the season: “That was a huge game, yeah. Thinking back the one thing that I recall looking back at that era was obviously the Nebraska game and the fans, their fans were incredible. One of the most amazing things I’ve ever been a part of was winning that game and their fans stand and applaud — you don’t get that at Oregon. Shows you how much class the Nebraska fans have, at least in that era. The thing I remember the most about that year, and a lot of people don’t realize it, is when we start getting compared to teams in other eras, is I think I played about four times in the fourth quarter that season.
We took the defense out in the first series of the third quarter most of our games that year. Had coach (Don) James had a different philosophy I would guess we gave up more than 50 percent of our points were on our second and third defense. I remember several times (Dave) Hoffman yelling and screaming to get us put back in the game when there was a drive going on the second or third defense, and two or three times he was successful getting us put back in the game in the third quarter. So I recall that and looking at some of these teams now that run the score up on people and we had some 54-0s that easily could have been 70 or 80 if we left the ones in. But that was kind of the thing and part of how we became successful in the future is a lot of the young guys got almost as many plays that year as I got by the end of the year. We’d come out at halftime play the first series and then I was done in half the games, probably.”
On the Arizona game and the first two plays when he made sacks on each: “That was just one of those games where nothing went wrong. I think I had a tackle for a loss going against a guy where he tripped over my foot in the backfield if I remember right, so it was kind of one of those days. It was one of those games where you have 13-14 tackles in the first half and play a series in the second half and that was it.”
On the players paying attention to what Miami was doing: “We did. I think everyone did a little bit. We were actually pretty good to do what we were coached to do, which was to focus on the task at hand and one step at a time and not look ahead or behind or anything like that and just focus on that week and take care of yourself and what we had to do. Obviously we would love to have that playoff, but we had it a few years later, so. …”
Does it bother him that there are two official national titlists that year?: “It doesn’t really matter to me. We did everything we could do. There’s always going to be that bias. It’s like had we played I think there is no question to anybody at that time as strong as the Pac-10 was and everything else, I think we know what would have happened.”
On if he’d like to be more involved in the program: “I think Tyrone Willingham should be thanked for that. I just right now we are a Washington program led by SC and I think they are doing a great job and going in the right direction. I’m just doing what I’m doing and haven’t really had the time to get involved. I support what they are doing and am 100 percent behind them and think they are doing a good job. It’s their program, not mine. I had my two years (as an assistant strength coach under Rick Neuehisel) and I think that’s the frustrating part of it is we went though some tough times there and unfortunately our leadership felt the way they did, but now we are in good hands, I believe.
Nick Holt runs the kind of defense that I think we all appreciate. He’s definitely got the attitude that we like to see as former Huskies, but I just I think looking at Husky football from my standpoint I think what I respected even before the championship the teams that were successful it wasn’t just winning the Pac-10 being the most important thing but making sure that every team that walked into Husky Stadium respected the Huskies when they left — win, lose or draw — I think that’s the philosophy and the attitude that matters most if you are Huskies. Winning is important obviously, but it’s the attitude on the field and the intensity has to be such that whoever walks on the field they have to respect the Purple and Gold when they walk out and I think we are headed in that direction.”
On how close he was to going to WSU and ending up at UW instead: “Definitely it was real close. I think people don’t realize how close I was to going to WSU. I almost committed to him in his office when I was there but I decided to take my UW trip and had such a good time on that. The whole story has been told before of when I was headed back to the airport and was told that if I was scared to compete go to WSU because I wasn’t going to be guaranteed anything at Washington. I liked that attitude and I wish more coaches would be that way today instead of telling a kid he is so great and he is going to play. If you want to compete come to Washington and that’s kind of what sold me at the time was the challenge.
I definitely wasn’t the No. 1 recruit that year — I was just another guy. But the challenge was made that if you are scared of getting lost in the depth and competing go somewhere else, we don’t want you, that we want people who want to compete against the best and play against the best. I guess it was a simple challenge. I don’t think that happens anymore in recruiting, unfortunately, and at the end that’s what destroys the great programs is you’ve got all that great talent at the end of the day but are they truly guys you want in your foxhole, and I think we definitely had that right mix in 1991. We had the guys that had the talent, the Beno Bryants and Napoleon Kaufmans and those types of guys but to have a lot of guys who will have your back all the time, that was kind of the combination that worked for us.”