The most disappointing moment in my life occurred November 9, 2011. I had spent three days pouring my soul into an intimate love letter, only to discover that a 20 year old reincarnation of Aphrodite was in fact a lesbian. I have also admired photogenic quarterback Kyle Boller from afar, and while I’ve learned a lesson about judging a book by its cover, the sum of his NFL career has been similarly dismaying. The Southern California native retired on July 29, a day after signing with the San Diego Chargers, closing the chapter on an underwhelming tale of three-and-outs and untimely injuries. I once believed in Boller, but like many attractive individuals, he was merely a tease.
The 6’3”, 220 pound hunk of a man emerged as an NFL prospect during his senior year at Cal-Berkeley. In 12 games, Boller threw for 2,815 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions at a completion rate of 53.4%. The quarterback played in a pro-style offense led by coach Jeff Tedford, who developed NFL arms such as Trent Dilfer, David Carr & Joey Harrington. Boller’s familiarity with the system was viewed as a major asset heading into the 2003 NFL combine.
Under scouts’ eyes, the signal caller wowed evaluators with a rocket arm and confident leadership. Despite concerns over his throwing accuracy, the Baltimore Ravens saw a winner in Boller and traded up with the New England Patriots in 2003 to draft him 19th overall.
The Ravens desperately needed a quarterback, as they failed in recent years to unearth a successor to Vinny Testaverde. Entered Boller, the city’s savior.
To Baltimore’s delight, Boller beat out Chris Redman and Anthony Wright in the preseason to start the opener against the Pittsburg Steelers. The NFL rookie had a knack for check-downs, but began to expand the field, as evidenced by a 15 for 27, 302 yard performance in a loss to Cincinnati. Since running back Jamal Lewis was dominating, coach Brian Billick advised Boller to be conservative with his throws, but it proved insignificant as his development stalled following a week 10 injury.
The quarterback started every game in 2004 and produced a 9-7 record, in spite of mediocre play from under center.
The next offseason, Baltimore acquired receivers Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, and Boller was expected to make the jump entering his third NFL season. Patience was wearing thin in the community.
Boller hyperextended his toe in the first game, and missed the next eight weeks. When he returned, the Ravens had two wins to their name, and his play to finish the season continued to be unimpressive. Boller was benched when the team traded for Steve McNair in 2006, and didn’t catch a break until McNair was lost for the last five games in 2007. The former Cal player tossed more interceptions than touchdowns, but management curiously decided to keep him on the roster.
In 2008, Baltimore fired coach Billick and invested a first round pick in Joe Flacco, so Boller’s days were surely numbered. But the team was kind enough to give him another go-around, and he entered training camp in a three-way competition with the rookie and the unproven Troy Smith. Coincidentally, Boller tore his right labrum in the preseason, and his tenure as a Raven would come to an end. The club did not pursue negotiations to re-sign the quarterback.
Six years into an NFL career, Boller was damaged goods, so he signed with the St. Louis Rams to back up the deteriorating Marc Bulger. The ex-Raven was called into action, and the results were not pretty. Boller amassed a career-worst 61.2 quarterback rating, while completing 55.7% of his throws and averaging 5.1 yards per completion. The lowlight of the year was a 0-35 blowout in San Francisco, where the passer took every snap and compiled a meager 108 yards. Boller was regressing at an age when he should have hit his stride as an NFL quarterback.
No one would blame the Californian if he resorted to the bottle, but life improved. In 2010, Boller married beauty queen Carrie Prejean, and earned a third-string gig with the Oakland Raiders. After minimal action, the Raiders re-signed the quarterback to a one year contract, and he was needed once again when Jason Campbell broke his collarbone. Remaining confidence in Boller was lost when he threw three interceptions in a half against the Chiefs. Oakland moved elsewhere and he signed with the Chargers, and the rest is NFL history.
Boller’s NFL legacy will be defined by 50 touchdowns, 54 interceptions, 8,931 passing yards and a 69.5 quarterback rating. His only playoff berth contribution came as a rookie, and he failed to make an appearance in the Wild Card round.
In his defense, Boller has never been paired with an elite receiver, but he has had the luxury of strong line protection in Baltimore, headlined by All-Pro left tackle Jonathon Odgen. The passer has teamed with elite running backs, but failed to exploit defenses compensating the run. Billick confessed in 2012 to NFL.com that, “Within a couple years, we learned…Boller’s inaccuracy was not solely a result of the poor receivers at Cal, but also Kyle’s occasional nervousness in the pocket, which forced his fundamentals to falter at critical times.” Coach knows best.
It hurts my head to write this, but Kyle Boller’s NFL career was a major let down. While he possessed the physical tools and the charisma to be a star, you have to wonder if he broke a mirror somewhere on draft day. He walks away from a violent sport with mixed emotions, and possibly regret. As for myself, I have to wonder…what could have been?