Q&A: Former Washington great Steve Emtman

June, 30, 2011
6/30/11
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The term "unblockable" probably gets thrown around too much, but Steve Emtman was unblockable at Washington, and he led the Huskies to consecutive Rose Bowl victories and a national championship.

A 290-pound defensive tackle with 9 percent body fat -- he once shocked teammates with a spontaneous back flip before a spring practice -- Emtman was a unanimous All-American, finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting and won both the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy in 1991. He was the frontman for one of the best defenses in college football history, one that gave up just 9.2 points and 67.1 rushing yards per game. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Steve Emtman
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSteve Emtman won both the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy at Washington as well as two straight Rose Bowls.
His NFL career didn't go as planned after he entered the draft as a junior in 1992 and was taken No. 1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts. Injuries derailed his career: He blew out both knees and ruptured a disc in his neck. At age 27, he retired with just 134 tackles, eight sacks and a memorable 90-yard interception return. When the Chicago Bears tried to lure him back into the league, he took score of his body and declined.

"I said, 'I think I can play, but I don't think I can put the product on the field that I'd be proud of,'" Emtman said. "That was my end, if you will. I had a chance to come into camp in Chicago, but I just didn't want to do it. I didn't want to put something on the field that I didn't feel like was me."

Today, he lives in Spokane, Wash., where he's in real estate development and construction. He takes particular pride in a recent project, a master planned community at Eastern Washington University of over 1,300 units.

We decided to check in with Emtman as part of ESPN.com's Simply Saturday feature on college greats who didn't pan out in the NFL.

What would you say is your best memory at Washington?

Steve Emtman: Probably winning the national championship at Washington would rate up there, going undefeated. That whole season, that whole year was probably the highlight, being a part of great team.

Are you still involved with Washington? Do you keep up with their progress?

SE: Since I stopped coaching there a few years back [2005], I moved over to Eastern Washington and started developing full-time now. I haven't really had the time to be involved.

What's your take on why things didn't work out in the NFL?

SE: I would say 12 surgeries. I didn't quit. I came back from ACL, MCL and patella tendon [tears] in 11 months. I busted my ass to do the best I could. I really honestly don't look back at it. I did everything in my power, everything I could to try to earn my money, if you will. I think even the owner of the Colts would tell you that.

Does it frustrate you that when people make lists of NFL busts, you're on them?

SE: The reality is the reality. The only thing that really bothers you is I had a teammate of mine pop off about me being a bust. That irritated me a lot because he knew the situation that I was in. Like I said, I don't know many people who came back as fast as I did from the injuries I had. I know people had the same surgery and never played again. To me, getting back on the field was a feat. It's kind of that I really only answer to myself and God. I don't have to answer to everybody else. But, yeah, I'm a competitor and I wish things would have been different. I wish I had stayed healthy. When I was healthy, I think I did OK. It wasn't like I didn't perform at all. Yeah, there's frustration. Any athlete who sets out to set a higher standard, if you don't reach, it's frustrating. As you get older, though, you look back on it and you go, 'I don't question my work ethic or my effort to be good.' I just didn't achieve everything I wished to achieve.

How do you feel today -- do the injuries still bother you?

SE: You know, all and all, I feel pretty good. I'm not crippled or anything. I definitely feel the aches and pains. But as an athlete looking back, you can only deal with it and move on. I feel like I'm somewhat normal at 41.

Ted Miller | email

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