January 13, 2012

Jon Kitna's Seahawks Legacy

With the reports that Jon Kitna is retiring from football, I thought it would be a good time to look back at Kitna's time with the Seahawks over a decade ago. After leaving Seattle, Kitna carved out a nice career mostly as a competent back up with a few memorable stretches as a starter (particularly in Cincinnati). He threw for almost 30,000 yards and 169 touchdowns over his 15-year career, which is pretty damn good for an undrafted free agent from Central Washington University... but for Twelves, Kitna's career has a really specific flavor and meaning, which is what I want to talk about today.

I actually saw Kitna play once in college. It was the one and only game I went to while I was a student at Western Washington, and I remember two things about it: I went with a girl I was obsessed with (who I've talked about in this space before), and Kitna absolutely TORCHED our Vikings. I never gave the guy another thought until he stuck on the Seahawks' roster in 1997.

Kitna got a start in the penultimate game of the 1997 season, and he rallied the Seahawks to a dramatic 22-21 win over Oakland after falling behind 21-3 by halftime (still the 2nd-biggest comeback win in team history). In 1998, Kitna took over at QB for the final five games (he was the QB for the infamous "Phantom Touchdown" game v the Jets), and led the Hawks to three wins. Warren Moon was allowed to leave for Kansas City, and Mike Holmgren installed Kitna as the starter for the 1999 season.

As I've talked about before, for the first 10 weeks of the 1999 season, it really looked like Kitna was going to follow in the footsteps of Jim Zorn and Dave Krieg: lightly regarded college QBs who grew into competent/damn-near-great/sometimes-even-Pro Bowl NFL signal callers in Seattle. The Seahawks were 8-2, and Kitna was playing excellent football. The team was on the verge of giving him a HUGE long-term contract (media reports even began circulating about it), and I was on the verge of investing $75 in a Kitna Seahawks jersey.

Then the big, mean, nasty Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to town. They didn't just beat the Seahawks on the scoreboard- They BRUTALIZED us. Kitna would throw five interceptions, and the Bucs gave the rest of our opponents the blueprint for beating us: Blitz Kitna, Blitz Kitna, and Blitz Kitna. Seattle would lose 5 of their last 6 games (6 of 7 if you include the Wild Card loss at home to Miami), and Kitna's hold on the starting job became much more tenuous.

Kitna probably lost his chance to remain Seattle's long-term starter on Kickoff Weekend 2000 with a four-interception disaster in a shutout loss at Miami. He'd bounce back a bit after that, but Holmgren finally benched him for Brock Huard in Mid-October- Seattle had gone 3-9 in Kitna's last 12 starts at that point. Huard was so awful that Kitna quickly returned to the starting line-up, but Holmgren had seen enough- after the 2000 season ended, he let Kitna walk and traded for Matt Hasselbeck.

I happened to be there at Husky Stadium for Kitna's last great moment in a Seahawks uniform: That crazy 2000 win over Jon Gruden's mighty Oakland Raiders. In miserable conditions Kitna led the Seahawks to a dramatic upset win with a touchdown drive in the final minutes, and for a fleeting moment we could ignore his limitations and just focus on what endeared him to to us Twelves: His enthusiasm, his toughness, and his (ugh, I hate this term) moxie... but he was never going to lead us where we wanted to go, so we parted ways.

If there are lessons to be learned from Kitna's time in Seattle, I'd say they're as follows:

1) Along with a lot of Twelves, I wanted Kitna to be "The Next Dave Krieg" so badly that it blinded me to his limitations. It's easy to fall into believing a pre-fabricated narrative, and I think it's just as dangerous for us Twelves to fall into the "Matt Flynn could be The Next Hasselbeck" mental trap.

2) Jon Kitna was never going to magically "level-up" into an elite QB. It took Mike Holmgren one year to figure that out (maybe even less). Thankfully, I think Coach Carroll already knows that about Tarvaris Jackson- He's under no illusions that T-Jack will ever develop into Drew Brees. The question is whether Carroll will find HIS equivalent of Matt Hasselbeck, and if he'll be able to find him soon enough to take advantage of our young, quickly improving roster.

What do you think, sirs? Any Kitna memories to share?

1 comment:

MrMopar41 said...

Just stumbled across your awesome site today, great stuff here. My Kitna memory dates back to 99 when the suprising Hawks started fast at 8-2 before the collapse began. Seattle was trailing 30-20 late in Mile high. So late infact that they needed the old TD with onside kick then a long Todd Peterson field goal. Kitnas long pass to Derrick Mayes looked to be the old story of too little too late. Somehow they got the onside kick make a couple of short plays to get in TP range and tied the game forcing OT. Seahwks win the toss and started to drive (I think it was snowing by this time?) Could it be Seattle would be in the drivers seat for the playoffs win a rare mile high win? Nope..... Denver sacked Kitna and returned the fumble for the game winning TD. Seattle would later limp in the playoffs and loose the last game in the Beloved dome.