Even in a concourse of purple-clad University of Washington football fans Saturday, the presence of Billy Joe Hobert stood out.
After spending an hour or so parading through prefunction booths, chatting with UW teammates from the early 1990s and even doing a brief radio interview, Hobert tried to wiggle through an exit, but got stuck behind a crowd of people.
And once fans recognized the Puyallup native, they turned their attention to him.
“Welcome back, Billy Joe,” one middle-aged man exclaimed, putting his arms on top of Hobert’s stout shoulders. And the sentiment, repeated over and over, was met by welcoming glances.
The 38-year-old Hobert had not been in or near Husky Stadium since 1992 – the year he left the program and the university for taking a series of loans totaling $50,000, that cost him the rest of his college eligibility.
This came a season after he led the Huskies to a share of the 1991 national championship with an undefeated season that included a Rose Bowl victory over Michigan.
In 1993, the Pacific-10 Conference placed the school on two years of probation. The infractions were wide-ranging, but most of the blame was directed toward Hobert, who was already in his rookie season with the Los Angeles Raiders.
As has been the case during much of new coach Steve Sarkisian’s short tenure, he has tried to reconnect former players with the new regime. Thus, Hobert was contacted and invited to the season opener Saturday against No. 11 Louisiana State.
Hobert accepted “for a lot of different reasons,” among them how Sarkisian has helped change attitudes about UW football.
“As you can see, this is absolutely insane what they’ve done,” Hobert said.
“Plus, there’s been a heavy push by (sports-talk radio station) KJR and a lot of my friends there at the radio station. They’ve been asking me year after year after year, so I said, ‘Fine.’ ”
Hobert played for four NFL teams in nine seasons. His last stop was Indianapolis in 2001. He currently lives in San Clemente, Calif., just south of Los Angeles, and is employed by a national energy-drink company. He arrived in Seattle on Wednesday in time to give a presentation.
The past is the past, he said.
“It’s one of those things,” he said. “I’d as soon just let it go.”
He has attended a handful of UW games over the years – UCLA, USC and Arizona – but always on the road.
Until Saturday, when he got to watch a blissful group of players and coaches run through the tunnel and crowd into Husky Stadium to prepare for the game.
“Part of me, even though I’m getting fat and gray … still remembers that feeling of coming down the tunnel and barking at the team and slapping at the wall and getting that emotional high,” Hobert said.
“I’m glad (I came). I’m really excited. I’m a little bummed out my family couldn’t make the trip with me, but they’ll be up here next year.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442
• Online: Saturday night’s Washington-LSU game ended after press time. Read about it at www.theolympian.com/sports