Yak, Brother Yak!

Former Husky All-American linebacker Dave Hoffman's voice is distinct in that it doesn't resonate so much as it rumbles. I interviewed him recently and he spoke to me from his desk in the Washington, DC area, where he works for the Secret Service. When I brought up a story from the 1992 Washington-Oregon game in Eugene, Hoffman started to belly laugh, and it was like a gravelly, baritone foghorn blasting away in my ear.

"Speaking for myself, I always enjoyed it when we went on the road," said Hoffman of his playing days at Washington. "I always enjoyed going into another team's stadium and wearing the black hat, and beat up guys in their own backyard. Before the games, linebackers normally warm up in the corner of the end zone. The Oregon fans don't like us very much, to put it lightly. They were yelling all kinds of stuff, and somebody threw a dog biscuit at us. Coach Lambright picked it up and his eyes were starting to change color like they did when he got intense. I grabbed it from him, pulled my facemask and helmet up, turned toward the crowd and ate it. After that, the fans in that corner got real quiet. They didn't yell or throw anything else during the warm ups…" Hoffman again laughs heartily, before adding: "And I have to say that it didn't taste as bad as I thought it would."

Dave Hoffman's Husky career culminated in 1993 with All-American honors and appearances in three Rose Bowls. He played with the Pittsburgh Steelers for two seasons but came back too soon from an injury, and this truncated his career. "I tore my groin the second year there, and I never fully recovered. I came back too soon, as I was anxious to get back out there. I re-injured it, and like I said, never fully recovered."

When his career with the NFL coming to an abrupt end, Hoffman wasn't yet clear on which career path to choose. "I wasn't fully aware of what I wanted to do. One thing I had in my pocket was my degree from the University of Washington. That obviously helped me. I wanted to do something that would keep me physically active, and give me a reason to keep going to the gym and working out. I love my country and I wanted to get involved in something that would enable me to serve it. The Secret Service involved extensive training… I love it, as the experience is somewhat similar to football in that there is a team atmosphere, a sense of working together and formulating a plan to accomplish (the task at hand)."

Hoffman was asked how Don James' program helped prepare him for the rigors of his current job. "When you play for Don James, he tells you right away as a 17 or 18-year old that when you're done with the UW program, you'll be prepared to succeed at anything in life. Because playing for him you're always busy, always having to get better… And after going through that, everything else in life seems easy."

I mentioned to Hoffman that approximately 85% of the former Husky players I have interviewed from the Don James era look back fondly and what his program did for them as people, and that about 15% look back with varying degrees of resentment.

Responded Hoffman: "Yea, you can make of it a positive experience, or a negative experience. It is up to you… I do know that when we were walking across campus after class, and heading down to practice and film study and all that, we would see the other students and know that their day was over. They could go do whatever. But our day was just beginning. We still had hours to go."

For obvious reasons, Hoffman couldn't go into much on-the-record detail of his experiences in the Secret Service. Since the attacks of 9/11, Hoffman said that more Secret Service manpower has been deployed and there has been cooperation with the Terrorism Task Force. In general, Hoffman has enjoyed various aspects of his job.

"We protect certain notables, including, of course, the President of the United States and his family. We do foreign heads of state, when they come into the country. And when the President is going to make a visit, no stone is left unturned."

These days Dave Hoffman follows the Huskies as best he can from 3,000 miles away. His best source of information is via his regular conversations with former Husky All-American and current strength & conditioning coach Steve Emtman. "I was talking with him recently, and I won't mention the player's name, but the player was interviewing me from Steve's office about my current job. It was fun to help out like that and let people know that this job (Secret Service) is a gratifying and enjoyable line of work to get into."

Hoffman was asked about his memories and former teammates that comprised those three Rose Bowl teams. The tone of his baritone sandblaster voice got more emphatic: "The memories I have of that time are so fond and so special. It is hard to put into words… Of my teammates, they meant so much to me, and I'd go down any alley, go into any country, with those guys… The Rose Bowls, going back to Nebraska and beating them there was special. It's hard to put into words what all that meant to me."

Hoffman was asked about the late Jaime Fields, who died three years ago in a hit and run car accident in California.

"I was just thinking about him yesterday", said Hoffman, his voice softening in intensity. "Jaime comes into my mind once or twice a week. I draw strength from his memory. He was a teammate I kept in touch with. He was a humble, intense competitor, and just magnificent as a player and as a person. We shared a passion for striking, and that brought us close."

I started to mention the ferocious hit that Fields laid on a Michigan running back in the 1992 Rose Bowl. I didn't even get through the sentence as Hoffman's gravelly baritone laugh erupted again atop my sentence. "YEP! That hit said it all!"

I asked Hoffman who was the toughest Husky he ever saw, and he mentioned his brother, Steve. "It was incredible how physically and mentally tough he was. He played through several (severe) injuries and never complained. A lot people don't know what he went through… But of course, there were a lot of tough players I saw... Clifford, Emtman, many of them."

In concluding the interview, I could barely get through the last question because I was laughing too hard. I had once read somewhere that when he was on the field, he would get so worked up, he would constantly be yelling at his teammates and opposing players alike, and no one could understand what he was saying. It was best mimicked as "Yak! Brother, Yak!" I asked Hoffman to translate for us.

Hoffman's hearty foghorn laughter joined my own for several seconds. "I think that is probably the closest translation of it," he said. "I really enjoyed hitting so much, just striking people. I enjoyed being out on the field so much. I would get so intense and whatever came out of my mouth… I don't know. It may seem weird to some people to hear me say that I enjoyed the violent aspect of the game, but I did. I would walk down the tunnel to practice, and I would have a battle with myself to keep my (injured) neck fresh, and save myself a bit for the games.

"But I just couldn't stop! With our team, practices were very intense, and by comparison the games seemed easy."
Derek Johnson can be reached at vieux_montreal@msn.com

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