Dan Doornink went from eighth-string quarterback to running back at WSU before ending up going to med school at UW while becoming a Seahawks fan favorite. Now 62, "Dr. Dan" is an internist in Yakima.
Dan Doornink looks back and wonders how he did it.
After four excellent seasons as a running back at Washington State (1974 to 1977), Doornink spent eight years in the NFL, including the final seven with the Seahawks while also going to medical school at the University of Washington.
It allowed the Wapato native to accomplish two dreams: playing football at the top level and following in the footsteps of his father, who was a family doctor in Wapato.
Not that it was easy for the man they call Dr. Dan, now 62 and an internist in Yakima.
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“I was competing against guys who didn’t have to study all the time,” Doornink said. “It was hard and challenging and I didn’t get much sleep those years.”
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Classes began at 8 a.m., football practice was in the afternoon, then he would study past midnight. That would repeat itself day after day.
But Doornink had overcome bigger challenges — like finding a way onto the field as a WSU freshman.
“I started out as a quarterback for the first two weeks,” Doornink said. “Jack Thompson (who went on to set NCAA passing records) and I were seventh-string quarterback or eighth-string quarterback — sometimes I would be eighth and he would be seventh. We never got our pants dirty for the first two weeks.”
But when a bunch of running backs got hurt, Doornink was moved to running back because as a quarterback, he knew all the plays.
“So I got in there and ran over the first-team cornerback, a senior cornerback, and I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to do that,” said Doornink. “A couple weeks later, I was starting. In those days, it was unheard of to have freshmen start.”
Doornink, who could play both tailback and fullback at 6 feet 3 and 210 pounds, finished his career second on WSU’s all-time rushing list with 1,739 yards and first all-time in running-back receptions with 105 (and it is still fourth best).
Doornink played for three coaches in his last three seasons — Jim Sweeney, Jackie Sherrill and Warren Powers — and while he said it was difficult at the time having to earn a spot each year, it proved to be a good thing.
“It was, because I learned how to compete against other guys,” he said. “The other thing I learned in college was how to catch balls. A lot of the running backs that got drafted, they hadn’t caught 10 balls in their whole careers, and I caught a lot of balls.”
That experience proved invaluable in the NFL. He was drafted in the seventh round by the New York Giants, and after one season there, was traded to the Seahawks. He became a fan favorite in his seven seasons with the Seahawks, playing mostly as a third-down back and catching passes for first downs time and time again.
“It was great because in those days they would try to cover the running back with a linebacker and there were no linebackers around who could cover a good running back,” Doornink said. “Those were fun days.”
Doornink finished his NFL career in 1985 with 1,836 rushing yards and 209 receptions. Those numbers don’t include the biggest game of his career, when he rushed for a career-high 126 yards in a playoff win over the Oakland Raiders in 1984.
He was just six months from finishing his medical degree when he retired from the NFL. His teammates called him “Doctor.” He even once diagnosed a teammate’s illness.
“One of our offensive lineman was losing weight and nobody could figure out what it was,” Doornink said. “I questioned him a lot, and I told him I thought he had giardia (an intestinal disease), and lo and behold, he had giardia. So I gained a lot of respect because I had figured out that he had giardia when there were other doctors who couldn’t figure it out.”
The football stadium at Wapato High School is named after him. Doornink settled in Yakima and raised four children. Son Tyler followed in his father’s footsteps and is a medical resident at UC Irvine.
Although he went to medical school at UW, Doornink remains “fully a Cougar” and a Seahawk.
“I never wear purple and gold,” he said. “At the Doornink family reunion, we randomly pick different colors, and this year we’ve got purple. I’ve decided to not even wear it.”