The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.), Woody Paige column
March 13--View Gallery View Comments
Case Keenum, The Little Engine That Could, is about to become the Broncos' new quarterback.
The Keenum-Kubiak connection continues.
But the relationship goes even deeper and longer than most people know.
Before Gary Kubiak -- John Elway's confidant -- met Keenum in Houston in 2012, his son Klint, Broncos' offensive assistant/quarterbacks, caught a pass from Special K 10 years ago.
Keenum has played only one game in his life in Colorado -- against CSU in Fort Collins on Sept. 20, 2008. In the prior three games the redshirt sophomore quarterback for the University of Houston threw for 1,061 yards, with 13 touchdowns and one interception (in a loss to Air Force).
However, the Rams kept Keenum distressed and led at halftime 21-3. Case responded with three touchdown passes in the second half (and finished with 38 completions of 55 passes for 385 yards) and was driving Houston, behind 28-25, to a potential winning touchdown inside the CSU 10-yard line.
However, with two seconds remaining, Rams free safety Klint Kubiak made an amazing, leaping, game-saving interception in the end zone.
Keenum would congratulate Kubiak, who will be one of the coaches working with the Broncos' quarterback every day.
Klint's dad certainly was aware of Keenum. Gary began coaching his hometown Texans in 2006, the same year Case arrived from Abilene at Houston -- the only school to offer the state championship quarterback a scholarship.
Keenum was considered too small, too short and too slow at barely over 6 feet and 200 pounds.
All Keenum did was set or tie college football records in eight categories. His passing marks for most yardage (19,217), completed passes (1,546) and touchdowns (155) -- in a high-octane, spread offense -- still stand.
Case assumed in 2012 he would be drafted in a middle round after several interviews. Then, one day, he walked up to the first hole at Wildcat Golf Club, and Gary Kubiak was on the tee. "One more interview," Keenum would say. Kubiak brought Keenum in for a private workout, and called him "a sponge who soaked up everything I told him."
Yet, the Texans, who had two veteran quarterbacks, didn't draft him. No team in the NFL did.
Kubiak, the Broncos' former backup QB who would be regarded as a quarterback whisperer, was the only coach who decided to sign Keenum as a free agent. He served as a scout team quarterback and didn't play a down in 2012. In 2013 he was the backup for the first six games as the Texans struggled.
Case was elevated by Kubiak to starter for the next eight games -- and the Texans lost them all. In Keenum's first home start, Kubiak collapsed on the sideline at halftime, suffering what was diagnosed as a "ministroke." Keenum said afterward that he and the other players "were really worried, and we couldn't focus in the second half." Wade Phillips, who took over as interim coach, mercifully demoted Keenum before the game with the Broncos. The Broncos won 37-13 as Peyton Manning -- a quarterback who also chose to sign with the Broncos as a free agent -- set the all-time single-season touchdown record, as Keenum witnessed from the sideline.
Kubiak would be fired at season's conclusion, and Keenum would be released by new coach Bill O'Brien. He was signed to the Rams' practice squad, then plucked away by the Texans late in the season when they lost two quarterbacks to injury. He won both starts.
The next season, cut again, Keenum returned to the Rams.
In 2016, Kubiak, the Super Bowl-winning coach with the Broncos, and Elway lost Manning to retirement and Brock Osweiler to, of all places, Houston. They tried to trade with the Rams for Keenum in August, but the Rams wanted a high draft pick or a veteran starter. The Broncos balked.
Ultimately, Keenum would join the Vikings the past season, and, when Sam Bradford was hurt, went 12-4 as a starter -- with a miraculous touchdown pass on the final play to beat the Saints in the playoffs, and a blowout loss to the Eagles in the NFC Championship. And the Vikings didn't desire to have Keenum back.
Kubiak obviously had a pivotal role in bringing Elway, Keenum and the Broncos together.
Keenum has been honored with the retirement of his jersey number by the University of Houston.
But he can't wear his number with the Broncos. That number has been retired.
Will Elway let No. 7 come back out of retirement for The Little Engineer That Has Proven He Can?
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