WSU reinforced a sense of hard work and humility that carried him through graduation, his NFL career, and medical school
In an exam room at his Yakima medical practice, former Seattle Seahawks running back Dan Doornink ’78 hunches his shoulders and hardens his brow as he re-enacts a key 1979 play against the then-reigning world champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Expecting a blitz, Doornink says, he locked eyes with an opposing defender and then glanced to the sideline.
“Smart guys like him learn how to read the eyes of the receivers,” Doornink explains.
With the snap, the Pittsburgh defender bolted for the sideline, but Doornink broke toward midfield, caught the ball and ran about 50 yards for a touchdown. Doornink says that his hours of studying film, subtle strategizing, and hard practice paid off at that crucial moment.
“This whole play was made by me going like that,” he says, flicking his eyes to one side. “It was all done before it even got started.”
A black-and-white photo from the play now hangs on the exam room wall. Doornink, 59, grew up in nearby Wapato, where the high school football field bears his name, before playing with WSU and the Seahawks. He returned to central Washington 25 years ago to join his brother’s practice at Memorial Cornerstone Medicine.
Broad-shouldered and square-jawed, Doornink still moves with the heavy grace of the gridiron. He cruises the bright corridors of the clinic, noting the practice had moved into the new facility in December. Doornink says most of his patients rely on Medicare. He manages their treatment to keep them out of the hospital as much as possible.
“In a day, I might see eight patients who have 80 birthdays or more,” he says. “They were a population that worked hard, didn’t look for a handout. There was no safety net. You just did what you had to do. So they’re sort of a fun group to work with.”
Doornink says early work in the nearby orchards and playing sports against other regional farm boys helped toughen him up for his football career. He received a scholarship to WSU where he soon started at tailback while also balancing his demanding pre-med studies.
He says his time at WSU reinforced a sense of hard work and humility that helped carry him through graduation, his eight-season career with the NFL, and medical school at the University of Washington. He notes that he thinks a WSU medical school would certainly benefit rural communities.
“I used the same philosophy in medical school that I used in football,” he says. “I’m not the smartest kid on the block, but if you’re not a brilliant person, what do you do? You study more than everybody else.”
Doornink credits his steady work ethic and strong faith for his successes. He has a comfortable patient load. He and his wife live just minutes from the clinic. He now spends most of his free time visiting his children and grandchildren.
But he says he will never forget those small, glorious moments on the field: The fake-out against the Steelers in ’79, his first WSU start on national TV against Stanford, and maybe his greatest—rushing 126 yards against the defending champion Los Angeles Raiders in 1984.
Doornink tilts back his head and closes his eyes. A grin spreads across his face as his right hand grips at the empty air, like he can almost feel the ball and hear the cheering fans again.
“I can see it in my vision,” he says, “where the guy was and the moves I had to make. It’s still sort of exciting to think about those times.”