Time To Get Dirty -- Hawks' Stouffer Figures This Is His Year For Soiled Jerseys

If Kelly Stouffer finally has his breakthrough season as an NFL quarterback, look for Seahawk TV ratings to soar in tiny Rushville, Neb.

Rushville, a burg of 1,200 in northwestern Nebraska, near the South Dakota border, is the hometown of the Seattle quarterback who likes small-town values and John Wayne movies.

Rushville has no theater or stoplight, but it does have satellite dishes; and when Stouffer plays, people in town and out in the country stop to watch.

"If the phone rings after the game starts, we know it's someone who can't find it" on TV, said Donna Thies, the quarterback's mother-in-law. She and her husband operate a grocery store 22 miles north of Rushville and a Stouffer pass from the Sioux Reservation in South Dakota where Kelly and his wife, Barb, were married in 1988.

A frontier spirit lingers in Rushville, and perhaps that explains the appeal John Wayne holds for the quarterback.

"I just like the way he handles himself," Stouffer said of the late actor. "He makes you proud to be an American. . . . I like his attitude toward life - be proud of where you come from, what you're all about and what you're doing."

The star-crossed football player says he would like to quarterback in the same style.

"I would like to have some of those same qualities as far as toughness and being willing to get in there and get dirty," he said. "That's real important as a quarterback."

Stouffer should get his chance to get dirty this year. With Dave Krieg now collecting a Kansas City paycheck, Stouffer is No. 1 on the depth chart but must fend off Dan McGwire, last year's top draft choice, to keep the starting job. Full-squad workouts begin Wednesday.

Not surprisingly, Stouffer is the best athlete in Rushville history and qualifies as a local icon.

"I've got a Seattle Seahawks banner over my desk," said Bill Engel, athletic director at Rushville High School. "Kelly is probably one in a lifetime we'll get here."

If Rushville adores Stouffer, the feeling is mutual.

"A lot of people do business on their word back where I come from," he said. "If your word is no good, it gets around real fast, and then your name is no good."

The Stouffers have purchased 1,400 acres outside Rushville and might move there when he has thrown the final pass of his football career. For now, home is on an acre of land east of Redmond ("We live as rural as we can," he says), where the couple has three horses, two dogs, "one mean cat" and four doves.

One horse is a gentle animal named Jane. Stouffer rides her at the behest of his wife, a registered nurse and superior rider who wasted no words in telling him basketball hardly qualified as a lifelong hobby.

The menagerie will get an addition in February, when the couple's first baby is due.


A high-school buddy, Kurt Finke, says Stouffer was the conscience among his friends, "the one who kept us pretty much in line" and discouraged things such as packing beer along on fishing trips.

"Alcohol had caused problems in my family," said Stouffer, whose father and one brother are recovering alcoholics. "It wasn't real fun around our house at times.

"The thing they did (in quitting drinking) was just unbelievable," he said. "I'm so proud of what they did. That's one of the things I enjoy talking about more than anything."

Stouffer said his father, Lanny, now a retired grocer, has stayed away from alcohol for about 10 years; his brother, Kevin, 30, for four years.

The quarterback occasionally consumes a beer but never drinks in public.

"I don't want some little kid to see me with a beer in my hand," he said. "They don't know me well enough to know I don't do it to get drunk."


Heading out of high school, Stouffer was courted by major colleges, including Nebraska; but recruiters had trouble evaluating him because he had played such small-school competition. He opted for pass-happy Garden City Junior College in Kansas, where he set a national junior-college record by attempting 74 passes in one game, then moved on, after one season, to Colorado State.

Stouffer's parents and his future wife and in-laws would drive all night to get to his games at Garden City. Barb and Kelly's sister, Shelly, were cheerleaders at Rushville High School, so the departure had to wait until the Rushville Longhorns had played Friday night.

"We'd drive all night and share the driving," said Kelly's mother, Shirley, who still operates a day-care center in her home. She and her husband also sell ice out of their garage.


Stouffer majored in biology (he needs three classes, including much-feared calculus, to complete his degree) at Colorado State, where he set school passing records as a three-year starter. He was offensive MVP in the East-West Shrine Game and a first-round draft pick of the then-St. Louis Cardinals, who made him the sixth choice in the 1987 NFL draft.

Stouffer and agents Mike Blatt (the same Blatt recently acquitted of murder charges by two hung juries) and Frank Bauer of Stockton, Calif., never came to terms with the Cardinals. Stouffer was traded to Seattle in 1988 and signed.


Stouffer, 28, looks forward to his first successful season with the Seahawks since 1988, when he started six games (3-3 record) and set an NFL rookie record by throwing for 370 yards in a victory over New Orleans.

He was benched when Krieg returned to health. He started two games in 1989, none in 1990 and only one last year after suffering a separated shoulder in the exhibition opener. His regular-season start, in Week 15 in Atlanta, was brief - he suffered a knee injury while hanging onto the ball too long and giving up a safety.

Asked if he considers himself either lucky or unlucky, Stouffer replied:

"I'm more than lucky. I'm extremely blessed to be doing what I'm doing. I totally believe that. The things that have gone on, I hesitate to call them unlucky because they have added a lot to the person I am right now. You have to work through a lot of struggles and hard times. . . . . I feel like I can handle adversity because I've had to."

Mike Mitchell, Stouffer's high-school coach, talked to his former star this summer and found him excited about the upcoming season.

"He said for the first time since his college days he felt like his old self," Mitchell said.

Stouffer, who didn't get much chance to earn his $800,000 salary last season, is seeking satisfaction this year, something that has eluded him since 1988.

"As a rookie I played and contributed," he said. "I started six games and we were leading the division when I got through playing those six games. I had a part of winning that division championship. I feel I'm more than capable of doing that again."