The Dallas Cowboys have yet to make it official, but it would appear that quarterback Jon Kitna is going to retire at age 39. If the source who leaked this intelligence to the Dallas Morning News is correct, one of the more unlikely NFL careers in local sports history has ended the same way it began, utterly without fanfare.
A Lincoln High (Tacoma) graduate who played collegiately at Central Washington University, Kitna signed with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent in 1996 and spent his first months as a professional with NFL Europe’s Barcelona Dragons, a now-defunct franchise he led to the World Bowl championship.
Returning to Seattle after his foreign conquest, Kitna spent most of the 1997-98 NFL seasons backing up Warren Moon before taking over as the Seahawks starter in the final five 1998 games after Moon suffered an injury.
When the Seahawks elected not to re-sign Moon for the 1999 season, Kitna became Seattle’s full-time starter and led the Seahawks, by throwing for 3,346 yards and 23 touchdowns, to a 9-7 record and the AFC West title.
Kitna began greasing his way out of Seattle when he opened the 2000 season by flipping four interceptions in a 23-0 loss at Miami. By the end of the year, head coach Mike Holmgren, never enamored of him anyway, determined that Kitna was not a long-term solution, let him go and replaced him with veteran Trent Dilfer and a young Matt Hasselbeck.
Kitna departed, but his improbable NFL odyssey had just begun. He found employment first as an unrestricted free agent in Cincinnati, where he started 46 games between 2001-05, and was named the 2003 Comeback Player of the Year by Associated Press after throwing 26 TDs and leading the Bengals to their first non-losing season since 1996.
Kitna’s most memorable Bengal moment occurred on Oct. 26, 2003, when he threw for 244 yards and two TDs in a 27-24 win over Holmgren’s Seahawks.
Once the Bengals had Carson Palmer ready to take over at quarterback, they had no further use for Kitna, who moved on as an unrestricted free agent to Detroit, where he promptly posted back-to-back 4,000-yard passing seasons (2006-07), setting Lions franchise records both years.
Traded to Dallas in 2009, where the Cowboys installed him as Tony Romos backup, Kitna managed to make 12 starts in three seasons when injuries shelved Romo. The end for Kitna came midway through 2011, when the Cowboys placed him on injured reserve.
While Kitna will never be regarded as among the best undrafted quarterbacks in NFL history Moon heads that group with nine Pro Bowl appearances, with Kurt Warner a close second and Dave Krieg somewhere on the list Kitna acquitted himself as well as any uninvited guest who ever took an NFL snap.
No, he never went to a Pro Bowl, nor did he get anywhere near a Super Bowl. But he managed a 138-game career, 127 as a starter. For a kid out of Tacoma/Central Washington, that’s remarkable bordering on absurd. Guys like Kitna almost always have as much of a chance of succeeding in the NFL as I have of making a career out of pole dancing. But, as they say in TD commercials, wait — there’s more:
- Kitna threw for 29,745 yards and 169 touchdowns, or 6,547 more yards and 50 more touchdown passes than the combined total (23,198) of the four quarterbacks — Tony Banks (15,315/77), Danny Kannell (5,129/31), Bobby Hoying (2,544/11) and Jeff Lewis (210/0) — selected in the 1996 NFL Draft.
- Kitna, who entered the NFL in 1997, threw for more yards (29,745) and TDs (169) than the highest-drafted quarterback in the 1997 body snatch, Jake Plummer (29,253, 161 TDs).
- In roughly the same number of games (138 for Kitna, 141 for Matt Hasselbeck), Kitna threw for more career yards (29,745) than Hasselbeck produced in his 10 seasons in Seattle, 29,434.
- Kitna also threw for more yards than Dave Krieg did in his 12 years in Seattle, 26,132 (also a comparable number of games: 138 for Kitna, 129 for Krieg).
- Kitna will have to buy a ticket if he wants to see the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he can tell anyone who will listen that in 38 fewer career starts (127) than Hall of Famer Troy Aikman made (165), Kitna threw four more TD passes, 169-165 (to eliminate any confusion/outrage, we are not suggesting that Kitna was a better quarterback than Aikman, only that he threw more TD passes).
- As long as we’re talking about Aikman: Aikman, 16 fourth-quarter comebacks, 21 game-winning drives; Kitna 18 fourth-quarter comebacks, 22-game winning drives.
- Kitna (77.4) can also boast to any grandkids that he finished with a better career passer rating than Broadway Joe Namath (65.5).
- Kitna further produced as many 400-yard passing games (2) as John Elway, Bret Farve, Jim Kelly and Ken Anderson (see Aikman caveat).
- 300-yard games?: Kitna had 16. This is how many these guys had: Aikman (13), Mark Rypien (13), Steve McNair (12), Bernie Kosar (10), Ken Stabler (10), Doug Flutie (8). And we can’t resist saying (even though the game has changed) that Kitna’s 16 are four more than Norm Van Brocklin (6) and Roger Staubach (6) had combined.
- And finally: Kitna, in 15 seasons, threw for more NFL yards (29,745) than Everett native Chris Chandler had (28,484) in 18 years — and did so in 25 fewer starts.
Only one state-bred quarterback, Drew Bledsoe (born in Walla Walla), threw for more NFL yards (44,611) than Kitna. But Bledsoe was a No. 1 overall draft choice, whereas Kitna left CWU in the manner of a waif with his nose pressed against a bakery window.
Kitna’s 29,745 yards and 169 TDs also doubled the total of Marc Wilson (Bremerton born), a No. 1 pick of the Raiders (1980), who threw for 14,391 and 86 TDs, and overwhelmed Mark Rypien’s (technically a Canadian, Rypien grew up in Eastern Washington) 18,473 yards and 115 TDs.
Kitna wont make any Hall of Fame, except perhaps Central Washingtons. He might have been inducted into the Barcelona Dragons Hall of Fame, if they had survived.
One more thing Kitna can tell anyone with a mind to listen: How his pro career measured up against the best modern-era quarterbacks native to Washington (excluding Bledsoe and Chandler) who played their college football in this state (ranked by passing yards):
|Billy Joe Hobert||UW||1995-99||29||3,371||23|
As we said at the top, Kitna’s has to be one of the more unlikely and gutsy NFL careers, ever. Next: Kitna has long said that his post-retirement dream is to become a high school teacher and football coach in his hometown of Tacoma.
Best wishes to him in those pursuits.