SI Vault
Bruce Newman
August 26, 1991
Quarterback David Klingler of Houston gets free rein from his exuberant coach John Jenkins
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August 26, 1991

The Kid

Quarterback David Klingler of Houston gets free rein from his exuberant coach John Jenkins

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When David Klingler was a freshman quarterback practicing with the scout team at the University of Houston, he threw a pass so hard it literally split apart the hand of a teammate trying to intercept it. "That was when I was trying to throw everything as hard as I could," Klingler says, as if there were another time. "The linebacker had dropped into pass coverage, and by the time I was set up to throw, he was 25 yards away. He put his hand up to try to intercept the pass, and the ball just split his hand in two. Exploded it."

This was Klingler's first college ovation: the sound of one hand clapping. It took nine stitches to repair the linebacker's middle fingers. When Klingler finally got to start last season, directing the Cougars' run-and-shoot offense designed by coach John Jenkins (following story), he was still throwing the ball hard enough to complete 48 of 76 passes into the teeth of a howling wind while leading Houston to a 44-17 victory over SMU. "I threw some passes that hit the fence at the back of the end zone, and it sounded like a shotgun going off," Klingler says. "From 25 yards away, I can throw the ball hard enough that you'd be better off trying to get out of the way than you would be trying to catch it."

Klingler shrugs, then withdraws a cookie from the bowl his mother has just put in front of him and smiles as he bites down. Klingler has a smile that makes you think about how Beaver Cleaver might have turned out if he had been raised by wolves. "Jimmy crushed a boy's hand once," says Glenda Klingler, referring to her younger son, who as a freshman quarterback for the Cougars will be backing up David. "Isn't that right, Jimmy? Didn't you throw a pass so hard in high school it broke some boy's fingers?" Jimmy acknowledges the truth of this.

Oh, what glorious afternoons those must have been at the Klingler home when the boys returned from school! Milk and cookies, and comparing notes to see who had blown the most receivers out of their helmets in practice.

David Klingler is less concerned these days with turning wide receivers into wet spots on the AstroTurf than with blowing up Cougar opponents. Last year he broke or tied 33 NCAA single-game or season records—22 more than Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer of Brigham Young—while passing for 5,140 yards and 54 touchdowns, 13 more than all of the TDs scored last season by co-national champion Georgia Tech.

Klingler threw 11 of those touchdown passes in an 84-21 rout of Division I-AA Eastern Washington, a feat deemed so politically incorrect by many Heisman voters that it may well have cost Klingler the trophy. Truth is, even if you took away his 11 scoring bombs against Eastern Washington, Klingler still would have led the country in touchdown passes (runner-up Detmer had 41). And the 732 total yards he rolled up while crushing Arizona State 62-45 on the day the Heisman was being awarded to Detmer was 144 yards more than he had accumulated against Eastern Washington.

Still, the mismatch against the by-then-sainted Eagles was more than many Heisman voters could stomach. "[ Klingler] is off my ballot completely," huffed Tom Luicci in the Newark Star-Ledger. "What happened was a disgrace...fraud."

Klingler says the record-breaking 11th touchdown pass was an accident. "I was supposed to go in, throw a quick out and get my ovation," he says. "But the receiver was covered, so I just flung the ball downfield." Wide receiver Marcus Grant settled under the ball in the end zone. "When I came off the field," Klingler says, "the expression on [ Jenkins's] face told me he wasn't happy."

It's not that the affable, even charming, Klingler is insensitive to all the whining about the Cougars' pedal-to-the-metal philosophy after they have a big lead. It's just that the run-and-shoot has a way of altering reality in such a way that passing the ball 91% of the time, as Klingler did last season, begins to seem normal. The run-and-shoot changes context, so that it is possible for Klingler to say in his own defense, "There have been a lot of games where we scored 65 or 70 points and I only threw five touchdown passes," with a perfectly straight face. "I never know how many yards or touchdowns I've thrown for. People tell me after the game, and I'm always surprised. Seven hundred yards doesn't feel any different than 400."

Unless, of course, those extra 300 yards are being stuffed down your throat, in which case it tends to be a very personal experience and not one you tend to forget the next time someone asks who you think should win the Heisman Trophy. That is presumably how it is possible for coaches to argue that Houston's offensive system is an affront to the memory of Amos Alonzo Stagg and in the next breath suggest that Klingler shouldn't win the Heisman because the system is so perfectly designed that any bumbler could run it.

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