Dan Doornink: The Doctor Is In
Dan Doornink runs for a touchdown in a game for the Seahawks. Herald file photo
uring an eight-year NFL career that included seven with the Seattle Seahawks, Dan Doornink was asked to do a lot of things. He came into the league as a fullback, saw plenty of action on special teams, and started splitting time at halfback before finding his niche as a third-down back who caught plenty of passes out of the backfield.
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unlike most professional football players, Dan Doornink never dreamed of playing in the NFL. Many of his Friday and Saturday nights at Wapato High School included a jam-packed gym filled with basketball fans, and he was just fine with hitting game-winning jump shots and taking back-to-back trips to the state basketball tournament and allowing those to be the highlights of his athletic career. But Doornink played a little quarterback too, and when he got an unexpected letter from the Washington State University football program, he hung up his hi-tops and decided to play for the Cougars – no matter how short-lived his football career might be. As it turned out, the only part of Doornink's football career that got cut short earlier than expected was his tenure at quarterback. As would be the pattern of his football life, he was asked to change positions early in his freshman season because the injury-plagued Cougars were short on runners. "There weren't enough running backs to even run the (practice) drill," Doornink recalled of his first position switch. "There were a few guys standing around, including myself and (future NFL quarterback) Jack Thompson. Jack had tree-trunk legs and wasn't the fastest guy, so the coach looked over at me and said: 'Dan, why don't you step in there?' "Within two weeks, I was starting as a freshman."
Dan Doornink catches a pass before running to the end zone for a touchdown. Herald file photo
Dan Doornink (#33) during a game for the Seahawks. Herald file photo
There was quite a bit of hype. It's holiday time, and the Seattle metro area is going wacko over the game. When we get to the ballpark, you usually go out to warm up while everyone's still walking in, but we went out and everyone was already there. It was a wild deal, enough to get your adrenaline going. I'm not an adrenaline guy; I usually didn't get that keyed up for games. But that game, it was just electric. There were all the 'Raider Buster' shirts or whatever was the deal in those days. You could be two feet away from a guy on the field, and he could be yelling at you, and you couldn't hear what he was saying. So when the Raiders were trying to call their plays and call audibles, there was no way you could hear anything. Because of Curt Warner's injury, we had to limp through the season with a running back-by-proxy operation. We didn't have any outstanding running backs, but we had an outstanding defense; our defense was awesome. So if we could not turn the ball over and score a few points, we would win a few games. That was the philosophy going into the playoffs that year. We're playing a Raider team that has an excellent defense too. But they have an offense where we think we can stone them. And we're playing in the Kingdome, which cuts down on the abilities of an opposing offense just because it's so loud in there. As it was in those days, the Seahawks generally had a simple offensive plan. While we did have some sneaky things on third downs and stuff, we didn't have a big package on offense. We had Dan and David Hughes, and that's what we were going to do.T
The Raiders got the ball first, and my recollection is that we had a couple big defensive plays and a big hit on special teams. And when we get the ball, we run a play called the 34 Dive. It's a dive play, where I line up in the 'I' position, they hand it to me, and I go over the tackle. It was to the side where Howie Long was playing defensive end for the Raiders. If Howie goes inside, I go outside. If he goes to the outside, I turn it up inside. It's a pretty simple play. So we run that play. Then we run the same play, with me as the blocker and David Hughes as the ball carrier. Then we ran the 34 again. And again. Same play and same play. Same play, same play, same play. Some of the time I'd move over and block, but most of the time I'd be carrying the ball. It was a defensive struggle because our goal was to occupy the ball and not turn it over. We ran 18 times in the first half and threw just four passes. One of them went for a touchdown, from Dave Krieg to Daryl Turner, to give us a 7-0 halftime lead. Then we went back to the run. Again and again. Same play. We just kept going like that. We threw only 10 passes in the game, and a couple of them were play-action passes. We basically ran the same play every single time. We had them back on their heels. It was an unexpected move by Chuck Knox. I'm sure they were expecting us to have to pass or do shenanigans to win the game, but we just wanted to grind it out, five yards or six yards or eight yards at a time. It was usually third-and-2, and we'd run it again. We just didn't have to pass that much in the game. I recall a time in the middle of the third quarter, and I'm sitting in my stance at tailback. Sometimes you can see right into an opponent's eyes. I could see right into Howie's eyes. Back in those days, he was such a powerful guy. That's why you ran plays right at him. He'd dominate his offensive lineman so much, that you'd go at him, see what direction he went, then run away. Anyway, I looked him in the eyes, and nodded my head like: 'Yup, it's the same play again.' And it went for 15 yards. So they took out one of their safeties and put in a fourth linebacker. They had a four-man line, four linebackers, only three defensive backs. And they still couldn't stop us. We kept running it at them. It was a dominating game all around. Those were the days when the Seahawk-Raider rivalry was a great thing. Out on the field, if there was a fight or guys pushing, I'd go over to Matt Millen and push him and say, 'How about you?' But it was all in fun. They were good guys. We had respect for them, and they had respect for us. It's not like we had this overpowering offensive line. We didn't have the most gifted line, we just had a bunch of guys that had the will to win. In fact, our left tackle, Ron Essink, was hurt and we had to bring in a sub. That was the only game Sid Abramowitz ever started for us at tackle. It was a superb game plan; but you need a game plan, and then you need guys who can execute it. We had not-flashy guys, but guys who could execute; guys with a lot of will. David Hughes was my blocker, and I was his blocker. Steve Largent was out there blocking the defensive backs. As it turned out, we had a few good plays and dominated the game. We didn't have any turnovers, the defense did a good job, and we won 13-7. We ran the ball 51 times and threw just 10 passes, only four of which were complete. I had 126 yards, the highest total of my career, on 29 carries. David Hughes carried the ball 14 times for 54 yards. The odd thing after that game is the Raiders had lots of good things to say about us afterward. Howie Long said something like, 'Dan Doornink had a heart as big as the Kingdome,' or something like that. The amazing thing was that both Matt Millen and Howie Long gave me a call at my home the next day. I didn't even have a listed number. No idea how they got my number, but they called me to congratulate me. That game put us in the national spotlight. I can still picture Kenny Easley running back a punt and making an interception and making some amazing hits. There was that magic in the dome, and there was that magic in the city too.
Dan Doornink is tackled during a game for the Seahawks. Herald file photo
he magic did not last – for Doornink or the Seahawks. The year after his breakout game against the Raiders, Doornink suffered a broken fibula that ended his season prematurely. While he came back from the injury for the following training camp, in 1986, the time away had put his mind on life after football. He was ready to move on with his life. During the 1980 season, Doornink's third in the NFL, he had quietly started taking classes at the University of Washington medical school in preparation for his post-football career. It would prove to be a pivotal decision in his future, especially when football was taken out of his life earlier than he had hoped. So when the struggling Seahawks cut Doornink after the 1986 training camp, there was a part of him that felt relieved. His football career was over, and it was time for the medical career to begin. He went back to medical school the following day, and got his Ph.D. less than a year later. "There's always this saying during cut time, and the saying was: 'It may be time for you to get on with you life's work.' And that held true for me," said Doornink, who went on to have a successful medical career as an internist on the eastern side of Washington state. "I played longer than I ever would've guessed. Even though I wanted to play one more year, it turned out that it worked out perfectly." The man who now answers to "Dr. Dan" has moved on to much more important work than playing football. While he spends his time saving lives now, he'll never forget the time he saved an injury-depleted football team from playoff extinction. And neither will the Seahawks fans. Next week in Chapter 18 of "The Game of My Life," Keith Simpson remembers the day when the Seahawks' secondary made history with four interception returns for touchdowns.
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