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Sports >  WSU football

Former Washington State, Seahawks running back Dan Doornink reflects on career in football

Seattle Seahawks running back Dan Doornink (33) raises his fists in the air during the fourth quarter of a game on Dec. 24, 1984, in Seattle. Doornink gained 126 yards as the Seahawks defeated the Los Angeles Raiders 13-7 in the AFC wild-card playoff game.  (Associated Press)
Seattle Seahawks running back Dan Doornink (33) raises his fists in the air during the fourth quarter of a game on Dec. 24, 1984, in Seattle. Doornink gained 126 yards as the Seahawks defeated the Los Angeles Raiders 13-7 in the AFC wild-card playoff game. (Associated Press)
By David Oriard For The Spokesman-Review

Superstars get to retire. Most other NFL players get cut. It’s Dan Doornink’s story of when he was cut by the Seattle Seahawks that is a testament to his dedication to the game, his teammates and his coaches.

“I didn’t know I was going to get cut,” Doornink said in a phone interview. He recalled being in the weight room doing his usual workout before practice. Seahawks special teams coach Rusty Tillman, the one known for having to deliver bad news, entered the room.

“Rusty comes in and he sees me there and then he starts bawling,” Doornink said, the emotion rising in his voice 34 years later. “He came and he just broke down. I went over to him and I said, ‘Rusty, you don’t have to say anything, I know what’s happening. I will get my playbook and take it to the coach.’ ”

That was Dan Doornink then. The ultimate teammate, the guy working out before practice, and the one hustling on every play.

This is Dan Doornink now, a medical internist who has spent his practicing years in the Yakima Valley, continuing his family’s tradition. His father had a practice for more than four decades  in Wapato, and that clinic is now a Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic location.

Since March 2  Doornink has been working at another Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic. He said there are 21 locations throughout Washington and Oregon, including an association with three Unify Community Health locations in Spokane.

“It’s been a pleasure to work with and take care of patients that need you,” he said.

Because of a rare blood condition that may leave him vulnerable to the coronavirus, Doornink works in the administration building doing video and telephone calls.

“I’ve probably diagnosed between 150 and 200 cases in the Yakima Valley. We are one of the hot spots in the whole country,” he said.

It was during his time with the Seahawks that Doornink completed most of his M.D. studies at the University of Washington. He did his residency work at Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane, then returned to the Yakima Valley.

Seahawks, 1979-1985

When he looks back at his football career, one that took him from Wapato High to Washington State University and ultimately an eight-year NFL career, he recalls the dedication, preparation and hustle that made him successful.

“You’ve got to make yourself stand out. And the way you make yourself stand out is you have to make yourself hustle on every single play,” he said.

And that he did. In fact, in his first preseason game with the Seahawks after being acquired in a trade following one season with the New York Giants, Doornink recalled a play in which he was pass blocking in the backfield, ran up field to follow a 20-yard pass play to Steve Largent and recovered a fumble. The coaches were so impressed with his hustle that they showed the play repeatedly in a film session and then required all the players to follow the ball to the end of the play – every single play – in practice.

In the first of his seven seasons with the Seahawks, the team finished 9-7 for its second consecutive winning season without making the playoffs.

Three losing seasons followed, then in 1983 the Seahawks again went 9-7, this time making the playoffs. They beat Denver 31-7 in the wild-card round and followed with a 27-20 win at Miami. The Los Angeles Raiders beat Seattle 30-14 in the AFC Championship and went on to win the Super Bowl. The season was the first in Seattle for coach Chuck Knox and rookie running back Curt Warner. It was also the first year as a starter for quarterback Dave Krieg.

The following season brought more success. The Seahawks went 12-4, finishing second in the AFC West behind the 13-3 Broncos and rookie quarterback John Elway.

The Seahawks defeated the Super Bowl champion Raiders 13-7 in the wild-card round. It was a memorable game for the winners and the losers.

“That was exciting, making the playoffs. To beat the Super Bowl champions in the Dome was really remarkable,” Doornink said.

In that 1984 playoff game, the Seahawks - who had almost no running game since Warner suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener - ran the ball 51 times and passed only 10. Although it hadn’t been the norm during the season, it was classic Ground Chuck.

“We ran the same play time after time – one side then the other,” recalled Doornink, who carried 29 times for a career-high 126 yards.

“Near the end of the game, we decided to go for it on fourth down,” Doornink said, going on to describe some eye contact with Long in which Doornink nodded his head to say they were coming right at the future Hall of Famer one more time.

“We got 7 yards and that was the game.”

The Seahawks lost to Miami 31-10 in the next round and did not make the playoffs in 1985, Doornink’s last season.

Washington State years, 1974-1977

The back-to-back playoff appearances were the only postseason games for Doornink since high school when Wapato made back-to-back state tournament appearances – in basketball.

His days at WSU were complicated by the fact that he played for three coaches – Jim Sweeney, Jackie Sherrill and Warren Powers – his final three years.

Several players also played for a fourth coach, Jim Walden.

New coaches mean new challenges. He gave the example of how as a sophomore, in Sweeney’s last season, he took pain-killing injections in his ribs before several games: “I did that for my team,” he said. “The new coach doesn’t know that. You have to prove yourself all over again.”

He was recruited as a quarterback out of high school.

Depending on the day and the whim of the coaches he was listed as seventh or eighth on the depth chart during preseason camp his freshman year. Doornink would be seventh one day, perhaps eighth the next, his spot always interchangeable with that of Jack Thompson.

“We never got to do anything,” Doornink said. “They never had to wash my pants the first couple of weeks of practice.”

The depth at running back was becoming a problem due to several injuries, so Doornink stepped in. He had some running skills from his run-oriented high school offense and had learned all the plays while competing at quarterback for the Cougars.

By the time he was finished, Doornink was third on WSU’s all-time rushing list, though he is no longer in the top 10, and it was at WSU that he developed his pass-catching skills. The Cougars went 6-5 his senior year but were not invited to a bowl game.

He wishes his recruiting class would have had the opportunity to play for Sweeney its entire careers.

The Cougars had eight players drafted after Doornink’s senior season, yet he feels so many coaching changes left some of their potential unfulfilled.

“I loved coach Sweeney,” Doornink said. “I wish he would have had the chance to coach the guys he recruited in my class.

“We would have been awesome.”

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