When Steve Emtman tore through the college ranks as a member of the Washington Huskies, he was destined for greatness.
The 6’4″, 293-lb. Emtman was an unblockable force of nature who plowed through offensive linemen with little effort.
He also had an unparalleled work ethic in the weight room and football field.
Regrettably, several injuries took a massive toll on his six-year NFL career.
Had he not been crippled by these injuries, he would’ve been in the same stratosphere as Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Joe Greene, Alan Page, and Deacon Jones – some of the greatest defensive linemen in NFL history.
He could’ve been a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Despite Emtman’s unfortunate turn of events on the gridiron, he eventually got his life together off it.
That’s all that matters.
Steven Charles Emtman was born in Spokane, WA on April 16, 1970.
Emtman grew up on a wheat farm in Cheney, a town 16 miles south of Spokane.
He was a three-sport star at Cheney High School, excelling in football, basketball, and track and field.
Emtman was an All-American defensive lineman and all-state selection in football, an All-Frontier League selection in basketball, and a two-time Class 3A discus champion.
Emtman’s dominance as a Cheney Blackhawks lineman earned him honorable mention status in MaxPrep’s most dominant high school athletes from Washington State.
Other football players who made the list were Drew Bledsoe, Mark Rypien, Morris “Red” Badgro, Kasen Williams, Jack Thompson, Chris Chandler, and Ahmad Rashad.
— Washington Football (@UW_Football) April 16, 2015
Despite Emtman’s athletic achievements, he told The Seattle Times in May 2007 he wasn’t highly recruited out of high school.
“I proved that aggressiveness and work ethic can carry you a long way,” he said. “I wasn’t that far, frankly from being a walk-on.”
Steve Emtman flew under the radar of many college football scouts.
He would make them pay for their ignorance sooner than later.
College Days With The Washington Huskies
Steve Emtman’s college football career began in unusual fashion.
He made his verbal commitment to the Washington Huskies at the break of dawn.
It all started when then-Huskies offensive coordinator Gary Pinkel recruited Emtman in1988.
Shortly after Pinkel picked him up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Emtman asked what should he do once he decides to commit to Washington’s football program.
“Call me, man. You can call me any time,” Pinkel told Emtman (via SI.com’s Dan Raley). “The second you want to commit, just call me. Just call me. It doesn’t matter. We’d love to have you.”
Emtman called him at five o’clock the following morning.
The Cheney recruit uttered six words that would radically change his future.
“I want to be a Husky.”
“I know Coach (Don) James will be really excited,” Pinkel replied. “But I think we should wait until seven o’clock until we call him.”
Little did Steve Emtman know he was about to become part of the greatest recruiting class in Washington Huskies football history.
That class included Emtman and Lincoln Kennedy, who were both inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in later years.
Other notable names included Mark Brunell, Jay Barry, Jaime Fields, James Clifford, Orlando McKay, Walter Bailey, Mario Bailey, and Dave Hoffmann.
One of the most dominant defensive tackles I have ever seen, Washington Husky, Steve Emtman pic.twitter.com/zLBvvQrjZO
— 80s/90s College Football (@Stephen49090103) April 19, 2020
Emtman wanted to wear his No. 74 jersey from his Cheney Blackhawks high school days when he started playing for the Huskies.
However, the coaching staff gave the number to the heavily-recruited defensive tackle Mike Lustyk from Interlake High School.
Emtman wound up wearing No. 90 instead.
He made his first appearance as a Washington Husky redshirt freshman defensive tackle in the 1989 NCAA season.
That year, the Don James-led Huskies finished with an 8-4 win-loss record.
Washington beat the Florida Gators 34-7 in the now-defunct Freedom Bowl on December 30, 1989.
When Emtman was a redshirt freshman, he was a lean, 6’4″ and 270 lbs.
According to SI.com’s Dan Raley, Emtman transformed into “a weight-lifting maniac” and “hulking monster” in the ensuing offseason.
When Emtman began hitting the weights, he tipped the scales at a muscular 300 lbs., per Raley.
Emtman’s college teammate, fullback Leif Johnson, told SI.com he marveled at his incredible transformation:
“He was very fiery, a very emotional guy, and he still is I think. He runs hot and cold pretty quick, but he loved to play football.”
“He got really big. How all of this happened, I’m not all together sure. He kind of metamorphosed himself into something he wasn’t at the start.”
We are Steve Emtman days away from #collegefootball #kickoff. He on the 1991 @UW_Football undefeated national championship team. Emtman won @outlandtrophy & @LombardiAward & finished 4th @HeismanTrophy voting. He had 62 tackles & 20.5 tackles for loss. #countdowntokickoff #90days pic.twitter.com/epFGk1Ji5Z
— 🏈LastWordOnCFB🏈 (@LastWordOnCFB) May 30, 2021
Emtman’s eye-catching physique made others wonder if he was cutting corners.
He’s been asked several times over the years if he used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) during his football career.
While he did admit it was a fair question, he also denied taking PEDs, per Raley.
Emtman even told SI.com he would’ve had the same doubts about someone with a similar physique.
The only thing he admitted was his addiction to working out, which he did excessively to the detriment of his NFL career.
After Emtman redshirted his freshman season with the Huskies, he not only became a starting defensive lineman, but he also helped the program gain a stranglehold on the Pac-10.
Emtman’s imposing presence helped Washington win 10 of its 12 games in 1990.
The Huskies’ most impressive wins were against the fifth-ranked USC Trojans (31-0), the 19th-ranked Oregon Ducks (38-17), and the 23rd-ranked Arizona Wildcats (54-10).
At the beginning of the 1990 NCAA season, the Huskies were ranked 20th.
Once the season ended, they were ranked eighth in the nation.
No. 1 overall pick to the Indianapolis Colts in 1992, Washington Huskies legend Steve Emtman 🏈 pic.twitter.com/tzb4EXlBje
— Adam Ballinger Art (@adam_ballinger) September 3, 2018
Washington’s memorable campaign culminated in a 46-34 win over the 17th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes in the 1991 Rose Bowl.
Sophomore quarterback Mark Brunell wound up with Rose Bowl MVP honors after he racked up 191 all-purpose yards, passed for two touchdowns, and ran for two more scores.
Senior running back Greg Lewis finished with 128 yards on the ground.
It was Washington’s 11th Rose Bowl appearance.
The win over Iowa improved its Rose Bowl record to 5-5-1.
If the 1990 season was a memorable one for Steve Emtman, the following campaign was one for the ages.
Emtman was at the forefront of one of the most dominant defenses in college football history.
The Huskies allowed a paltry 67.1 yards and 9.8 points per game in 1991, per the University of Washington Magazine’s Jon Marmor.
They also averaged 42.1 points per game.
The point discrepancy between the Huskies and their opponents was indicative of their talent level.
Aside from Emtman, twenty-seven of the 1991 Huskies played in the NFL.
According to Marmor, five of them were first-round draft selections.
Unfortunately, junior quarterback Mark Brunell, the 1991 Rose Bowl MVP, underwent offseason knee surgery.
His backup, Billy Joe Hobert, stepped up and led fourth-ranked Washington to two road wins early in the 1991 NCAA season: a 42-7 rout of the Stanford Cardinal and a 36-21 comeback victory over the ninth-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Steve Emtman, @UW_Football's star defensive tackle, is celebrating his 50th birthday today. Emtman claimed the 1991 @outlandtrophy during the glory years of Coach Don James. He was selected No. 1 overall in the 1992 NFL Draft by the @Colts. @TheFWAA pic.twitter.com/yfJvcBhjD7
— Outland Trophy (@outlandtrophy) April 16, 2020
Then-Huskies head football coach Don James told Marmor he knew his squad would be the favorites after the win over Nebraska:
“I knew after the Nebraska game that we had a chance to go into every game favored to win.”
“We might not have won every game, but no one had more talent than we did. No one.”
Two weeks later, the third-ranked Washington Huskies took on the Arizona Wildcats at Husky Stadium on October 5, 1991.
Steve Emtman made a significant mark on that game.
First, he burst through the Wildcats’ offensive line and flattened their quarterback, George Malauulu.
Emtman did it again in the very next play, resulting in a tackle for a loss.
The 72,495 Huskies fans in attendance whooped it up in the stands.
Emtman’s imposing presence all game long helped the Huskies cruise to a 54-0 blowout win over the Wildcats.
Emtman, who had an impressive 10 tackles, told The Seattle Times’ Roger Underwood the memories of that game still lingered in his mind after 16 years:
“That was one of those games that sticks out in your mind. Everything went right for me that day.”
“I got a tackle for loss where I totally missed the tackle and the running back tripped over my foot.”
For his part, then-Wildcats head football coach Dick Tomey told Underwood Steve Emtman was in a class of his own:
“Steve Emtman has to be the best defensive lineman in the country. Nobody blocks him and the folks around him are great football players.”
“Washington has as good a team as the Pac-10 has had, ever.”
Tomey even compared Emtman to the late, great Junior Seau during the latter’s heyday with the USC Trojans.
Tomey considered the 1991 Washington Huskies defense more suffocating than the Trojans’ past defensive units.
“It doesn’t give you chance to breathe,” he told The Seattle Times.
It all started with Steve Emtman.
— Washington Athletics (@UWAthletics) October 2, 2014
The Huskies went on to win the remaining games on their schedule and finish the regular season with an unblemished 11-0 slate.
Next up were the fourth-ranked Michigan Wolverines in the 1992 Rose Bowl.
Prior to that game, Steve Emtman showed flashes of his leadership potential.
His backup, D’Marco Farr, gave up and didn’t finish a line stunt drill during their Rose Bowl scrimmage.
“Steve Emtman comes running on the field and he clotheslines D’Marco,” former Huskies linebackers coach Chris Tormey told SI.com’s Dan Raley in December 2020. “He says, ‘If you ever do that again, I’m going to…'”
Tormey told SI.com Emtman wrapped up his threat to Farr with several expletives.
“That was a moment of leadership from Steve that kind of set the tone for our football team and that game,” he added.
Emtman displayed his off-field tenacity and leadership at a time when he was sick with the flu.
According to SI.com’s Dan Raley, Emtman had been sick “for the better part of a week.” He had to be accompanied to a Southern California hospital for additional fluid intake.
It didn’t matter in the end.
Emtman played out of his mind on game day. He flipped the Wolverines’ offensive linemen and blockers around as if they were rag dolls.
1-1-1992, the undefeated Washington Huskies beat Michigan 34-14 in the Rose Bowl to win the National Championship. Billy Joe Hobert threw 2 touchdowns & ran for 1. @M_Brunell8 came in & threw a 4th quarter touchdown. Hobert & Steve Emtman split Player of the Game. pic.twitter.com/1Wdwz7m1Hn
— Scott F (@TheFrizz87) January 2, 2021
Huskies cornerback Walter Bailey, who helped put the clamps on Michigan wide receiver Desmond Howard (who finished with just one reception for 35 yards), told SI.com Emtman was a sight to behold:
“Steve Emtman, single-handedly, through double and triple teams, was basically unblockable.”
“It was like watching the most destructive, disruptive performance I’ve ever seen.”
“He had a ferocious game with the All-American linemen that they had and it was just beautiful to watch. He was just amazing to watch.”
The Huskies prevailed, 34-14.
They won their second consecutive Rose Bowl and second claimed national title.
Emtman and quarterback Billy Joe Hobert – who recorded 192 passing yards, passed for a touchdown, and ran for one more – were proclaimed co-MVPs of the 1992 Rose Bowl.
At season’s end, Emtman also won the Lombardi Award, the Bill Willis Award, the UPI Lineman of the Year, and the Outland Trophy.
He also finished fourth in the 1991 Heisman Trophy voting and earned Unanimous All-American honors.
At that point in time, Emtman also had won two Morris Trophies and two Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Despite the slew of accolades, Emtman decided to skip his senior season at Washington and declare for the 1992 NFL Draft.
Big Steve Emtman was a unanimous All-American for the Washington Huskies in 1991 as he helped them win national title.
Only 90 days until college football is back. pic.twitter.com/QBm5v4pa6B
— FloFootball (@FloFootball) June 2, 2018
Without a doubt, Steve Emtman was one of the most dominant players in Washington Huskies football history.
Johnson aptly summed up Emtman’s dominance in college football:
“They put him in the middle of that defense and it was really something to watch. When you’re in it, you kind of get used to it.”
“But when you step back, you go, ‘That’s not normal. That’s not a normal occurrence.'”
Now the bigger question loomed: could Steve Emtman dominate the NFL like he did in the collegiate ranks?
The Indianapolis Colts made Steve Emtman the first overall pick of the 1992 NFL Draft.
Back then, the Colts were the laughingstock of the league.
They couldn’t beat anybody: Indianapolis’ 1-15 record was the worst in the NFL.
Indy ranked 26th in team defense after it allowed the opposition to amass 5,127 yards in 1991.
The Colts were also 26th in scoring defense, allowing an average of 23.8 points per game.
Worse, Indianapolis ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing defense.
Opposing running backs gashed the Colts’ defense for 2,327 yards.
If there was one guy who could plug those holes, it was Steve Emtman.
Emtman signed a four-year rookie deal with the Colts worth $9 million.
At the time, it was the richest deal for a defensive player in the NFL, per The Baltimore Sun’s Vito Stellino.
— Colts Cave Man (@RickStevens63) April 25, 2019
Emtman’s average annual salary of $2.25 million was a remarkable 40 percent increase over Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Russell Maryland’s.
Maryland was the first overall selection of the 1991 NFL Draft.
For their part, the Colts also made history in 1992.
According to Stellino, they became the first team since the 1958 Chicago Cardinals to own the first two picks in the draft.
Indy selected highly-touted Texas A&M Aggies linebacker Quentin Coryatt with the second overall selection.
Emtman and Coryatt’s contracts took up at least $16 million of the Colts’ payroll, per The Baltimore Sun.
The Colts envisioned them becoming their one-two punch on defense.
Emtman’s NFL career got off to a decent start.
He started nine games and recorded three sacks.
Without a doubt, Emtman’s moment of glory in the NFL came in Week 8 against Dan Marino’s undefeated Miami Dolphins.
The Colts held a precarious 24-20 lead with just 17 seconds left in the game.
Marino, the Dolphins’ Hall-of-Fame quarterback, was eyeing running back Bobby Humphrey on a timing route at the Colts’ seven-yard line.
Somehow, Emtman, who was five yards from Marino, reached up and intercepted the pass.
Not only that, but he ran the ball the other way for a 90-yard pick-six.
Steve Emtman. He was the first overall pick in the 1992 NFL Draft. His pro career was derailed by injuries almost as soon as it started. If you want an idea of how good he could have been watch this:https://t.co/5xbqv7R1hf
— Aharon Williams (@a_ron_dubya) March 6, 2021
His teammates swarmed him in the end zone.
Emtman’s late-game heroics sealed the Colts’ emphatic 31-20 victory over Miami.
“I just got my hands up. It hit my hands and stuck,” Emtman told The Associated Press (via The Los Angeles Times). “Next thing I knew, I was running.”
After Emtman’s ninth start with the Colts, the bottom suddenly fell out.
He sustained a season-ending knee injury in Indy’s 28-0 shutout loss and rematch with the Dolphins at the Hoosier Dome in Week 10.
Despite Emtman’s injury, the Colts finished with a respectable 9-7 win-loss record – an eight-game improvement from the previous season.
Emtman suited up in five games for Indy and registered one sack in the 1993 NFL season before he tore his right knee’s patellar tendon.
He was placed on the injured reserve list yet again.
With Emtman indisposed, the Colts limped to a 4-12 win-loss mark in 1993.
Emtman sought redemption in 1994, hoping he could make a big impact after two injury-shortened seasons.
Alas, lightning struck thrice for Steve Emtman.
Emtman ruptured a disc in his neck after playing in just four games.
He recorded just one sack during that stretch.
The injury-riddled career of the first pick in the 1992 @NFL Draft, Steve Emtman of the 1991 national champion @UW_Football and @Colts, @Dolphins, and Washington (from September 25, 1995) #siglorydays pic.twitter.com/lsg10FghAc
— Sports Illustrated A Page A Day (@SIglorydays) December 16, 2019
While Indianapolis improved to 8-8 in 1994, the team missed the postseason for a seventh straight year.
The Colts offered Emtman a $1.3 million salary reduction with various playing time-based incentives two days before training gamp kicked off in July 1995.
Emtman turned down the offer, saying it had nothing to do with money.
Instead, he told The Indianapolis Star’s Phillip B. Wilson it was about how the Colts treated him:
“This has everything to do with the way I was treated. I’ve busted my ass for the organization – I’ve given them blood, sweat, and tears – and what happens?”
“They back me into a corner. For them to come to me two days before training camp with a take-it-or-leave-it offer gave me no leverage.”
The Colts released Emtman after he refused their offer.
Looking back at his underwhelming NFL career, Emtman told Fox Sports (via The Indianapolis Star) in 2016 his injury-riddled stint with the Colts has been weighing heavily on his conscience:
“I know definitely there were some expectations which I obviously (didn’t meet), and after the injuries my first few years, trying to play out my career, I was never the same.”
“Those years were tough on me, and that’s probably the thing I look back on most. I obviously wish that I would have stayed healthy, but you can only do the best you can.”
Emtman’s next stop was South Florida.
He had narrowed down his search to the San Francisco 49ers or the team he tormented three years earlier, the Miami Dolphins.
The 49ers offered “a $200,000 base salary, plus a $100 signing bonus with the chance to earn $1.5 million in incentives,” per The Associated Press (via Deseret.com).
Not only did the Dolphins match the 49ers’ offer, but they also sweetened the pot with a $750,000 signing bonus.
That made all the difference for Steve Emtman.
— Columnist, Phins com (@PhinsChris) June 10, 2021
He spent the next two seasons in Miami. That was the healthiest stretch of his NFL career – he played in a total of 29 games and started five.
With Emtman aboard, the Dolphins went 9-7 in the 1995 NFL season.
Unfortunately, they lost to Jim Kelly’s Buffalo Bills 37-22 in the 1995 AFC Wild Card Game.
Miami slipped to 8-8 and missed the postseason in 1996.
Nonetheless, Steve Emtman registered the best. numbers of his pro career: 33 tackles and two forced fumbles.
Regrettably, it was his last season in Miami.
He showed up for the 49ers’ training camp in July 1997 but they eventually released him.
Emtman passed up on several tryout opportunities from other teams.
He also considered retirement for two to three weeks.
When the then-Washington Redskins called him, he decided to give it one more shot.
Emtman suited up in just three games for Washington, producing just four tackles.
The Redskins went 8-7-1 and dropped out of playoff contention for the fifth straight year.
Twenty-seven-year-old Steve Emtman hung up his cleats at the conclusion of the 1997 NFL season.
— Drew Bledsoe (@DrewBledsoe) November 24, 2012
He played in a total of 50 games, started 19, and recorded one interception, three forced fumbles, and 50 solo tackles.
He earned an estimated $8.8 million during his six-year NFL career.
Despite Steve Emtman’s lackluster NFL career, things would look up for him in his post-football life.
Once Steve Emtman’s NFL career concluded, he returned to his home state of Washington.
He was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
Emtman yearned for an opportunity with his college football team, the Washington Huskies, as a strength coach.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get the job.
Emtman told SeattlePI.com’s Art Thiel in 2006 he was “very frustrated” with the turn of events.
Nevertheless, he became the defensive line and strength and conditioning coach of the Indoor Football League’s (IFL) Spokane Shock in 2007.
In April 2007, Emtman was inducted into the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Hall of Fame.
— Colts Cards (@ColtsCards1) August 1, 2020
Emtman has also become a successful real estate developer in the Pacific Northwest.
Emtman is the owner of Takoda Park, LLC, a real estate company which develops residential units in Washington State, per SpokaneJournal.com’s Treva Lind.
He is also a partner of Cheney Properties, LLC, another real estate firm.
Steve Emtman has been recently involved in Champions 4 Children, a charitable foundation which assists children in need.