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Week 6 in the NFL

Where's He Been Hiding?

Damon Huard, who has made a career out of not playing quarterback, jumps into Green's starting spot with Chiefs

October 15, 2006|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

Before last month, quarterback Damon Huard of the Kansas City Chiefs had not completed a pass in six years.

He had thrown one.

The few fans who even bothered to learn his name last summer probably regarded Huard the way fans regard most backup quarterbacks: Other than the waning moments of a blowout victory, the less seen the better.

But then the unthinkable happened: Trent Green, who had made 81 consecutive starts for the Chiefs, suffered a concussion after taking a vicious hit from Robert Geathers in a season-opening loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Chiefs fans feared the worst, especially when Huard fumbled twice after taking over in the third quarter against the Bengals and, kept under wraps a week later by a cautious coaching staff, led an offense that produced only two field goals in a 9-6 overtime loss to the Denver Broncos.

Elizabeth Merrill of the Kansas City Star calculated that it had been 2,121 days since the most recent of Huard's previous six NFL starts, so the fans' anxiety and the coaches' trepidation were understandable.

Two games later, though, Huard and the Chiefs are eliciting more optimistic responses. A 41-0 rout of the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago and last Sunday's 23-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, in which Huard led a rally that wiped out a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit and tarnished Matt Leinart's first NFL start, evened the Chiefs' record at 2-2 going into today's game at Pittsburgh.

And Huard, who won two Super Bowl rings in three seasons with the New England Patriots without completing a pass, has led the revival. His career-best day at Arizona -- 26 completions in 38 attempts, 288 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions -- earned him a small taste of seldom-won recognition: Damon Huard, virtually unknown a month earlier, was the AFC's offensive player of the week.

"I think more than anything it's a reflection of our team and the ability of the guys to rally around me," he told reporters upon hearing the news. "It's never been about me. It's about getting the ball in the hands of our playmakers."

Huard's 107.4 passer rating -- he has completed 70.2% of his passes, with five touchdowns and no interceptions -- ranks second in the NFL, ahead of Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman and just about everyone else. Only David Carr of the Houston Texans ranks higher, at 108.9. And only Marc Bulger of the St. Louis Rams has thrown more passes without an interception.

"I couldn't be prouder," Carl Peterson, Chiefs president and general manager, told reporters last week, praising Huard's play as "not good, but terrific."

Said understated Coach Herm Edwards: "I'm very pleased."

Probably a bit surprised too.

Huard, who was not drafted even though he left Washington as the school's all-time passing leader, is a 10-year veteran whose on-the-field experience tops out at barely 2 1/2 seasons.

As a backup to Dan Marino with the Miami Dolphins, Tom Brady with the Patriots and Green with the Chiefs -- is it any wonder he rarely left the sidelines? -- Huard had played in only 38 games before this season. Even after signing with the Chiefs two years ago, he wasn't Green's No. 1 backup until Todd Collins signed with the Washington Redskins last March.

For Huard, a 33-year-old husband and father of three whose career began inauspiciously and nearly petered out altogether six years ago, anonymity has been a constant NFL companion.

Son of a high school football coach and the oldest of three quarterback-playing brothers from Puyallup, Wash. -- middle brother Brock also played at Washington and in the NFL, Luke at North Carolina -- Huard was cut by the Bengals in training camp in 1996 in his first stab at making a living in pro football.

Believing that his NFL career might have ended before it started, he returned to Seattle and helped campaign for a new stadium for the Seahawks.

At the time, he might have thought that lobbying for votes was about as close to the NFL as he would ever come again. But before the 1997 season, the Dolphins called.

Huard has been gainfully employed as an NFL player ever since, even if he hasn't spent much time playing. Subbing for an injured Marino, he was 4-1 as a starter for the Dolphins in 1999.

Marino, who retired after the season, lobbied for his friend to replace him, but new coach Dave Wannstedt opted for Jay Fiedler. Huard left for New England after making one more start in 2000 and virtually disappeared.

Until last month.

Leading a ball-control offense and relying on short, safe passes while shaking off years of rust, Huard has proved accurate. Against the 49ers, he completed eight of 10 third-down passes. Last week, his 15-yard touchdown pass to Samie Parker was perfectly placed in the corner of the end zone, and he later connected with running back Larry Johnson on a screen pass that turned into a 78-yard gain, setting up the winning field goal.

"You want to get out there and play," Huard recently told the Seattle Times, addressing his situation. "That's why you practice every day."

Even when you have to wait six years between starts.

*

jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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