SAN DIEGO — He had played in all but one of the games this season for which he has been healthy, nine in all. Denver Broncos backup tackle Keith Kartz, a graduate of San Dieguito High School, figured he might play a bit Sunday in Super Bowl XXII. Told as much to the 20 friends and family for whom he found tickets to the game.
"Yeah, they all knew they might see me a little bit," Kartz said. "But then . . . "
But then 22 minutes into the game, Keith Kartz became a regular. Starting left tackle Dave Studdard went down with a sprained knee, and it was time. . .
Mr. Dexter Manley, meet the kid from Encinitas.
Kartz, who spent the week telling his story of a comeback battle from stomach cancer, completed a season worthy of a dream by playing the remainder of the Broncos' 42-10 loss to the Washington Redskins.
Never mind that Manley seemed to enjoy himself more against Kartz than against Studdard, getting his only sack after going over Kartz. And never mind that the Denver offense, which had run up 198 total yards in the 22 minutes with Studdard, managed only 129 yards in the 38 minutes with Kartz.
Sometimes, for some people, the game really is the thing.
"No, I'm not tired at all," said Kartz, who then paused. "Well, maybe a little bit.
"It was something to play. Of course, it's really still just a game, and you still have to block the guy, but it felt different."
He said he was ready to come in--"I am always ready, it's my job."
But he said there was one thing for which he was not prepared.
"You know, Dexter Manley is not a bad guy," he said. "He didn't say very much. Didn't say anything when I came in. Really said nothing.
"Of course, after a while, he didn't have anything to be mad about. You're up 30-some points, you don't get mad."
Kartz admitted he committed errors. He admitted he got beat.
"Manley is a great player; I made some mistakes, I know that," he said. "But I got a chance, and I learned. I am going to Denver in the off-season, and (I'm) just going to build up and work and get better."
The hardest part of this game, said Kartz, was before the game.
"All the talking, all the highs and lows and highs and lows--we were just ready to play," he said. "I know I was."
But now that he really did play, and his team really did get cleaned up? Now that he must face the family and friends after this? Is it better not to play and lose, or play or lose?
"To them, it doesn't matter," he said of the people who have supported him in his trials. "If they care if I lose, then they aren't friends. That's how I look at all of this. I'm very, very happy just to be here."