11-2-02, 1:30 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
For a man who is studying, Greek, Hebrew, German, French, and Latin, David Klingler probably didn't lose it in translation.
The Bengals, the franchise he was supposed to save 10 years ago, comes to his town this weekend in much the same shape he found them.
Winless. Ridiculed. Still searching for the franchise quarterback he was supposed to be when the Bengals shocked even themselves when they took him with the sixth pick in the 1992 draft.
But if Klingler feels vindicated with an I-told-you-so exclamation point, he doesn't say it. There just isn't a lot of time to think about it.
"I just found out this week from a guy I teach with that Brett Favre got hurt," Klingler says in his car driving from class Friday night to his suburban Houston home in Katy, Tex. "I really haven't had time to follow it. What kind of year are they having?"
When you're the father of two children ages 6 and 3, are in the third year of getting your Master's degree in theology, are an adjunct professor at a Bible college, and are preaching Sundays until your church finds a pastor, you can be excused for not knowing Akili Smith's passer rating.
"I can't throw a football 35 yards anymore. If I could still do it, I'd miss it, but I can't," says the man who could make a ball sing "American Pie," while whipping it 85 yards and setting every NCAA record the number geeks could invent. "Whether you're Dan Marino or David Klingler, there comes a time you can't do it anymore, and it's time to do something else. And I'm very happy with my life right now."
He has, of course, heard of Smith and has read and seen some things. The week of the 1999 NFL Draft,
when the Bengals declared they were going to take a quarterback No. 1 to correct the mistake they made with Klingler, he had a warning.
"Obviously I've heard that he's had a tough time there and I feel badly for him," says Klingler, probably best known for getting sacked 82 times in his first three seasons. "If it were up to me, I would never draft a quarterback with a high pick. I just have a low opinion of them, I guess. A quarterback can win the Super Bowl for you, the one game. But he can't get you to the
playoffs. He needs everybody else. I think the quarterback should be the last piece. If I were doing it again, I'd want to be drafted No. 28. Look at that great quarterback class of '83. The guys you remember are John Elway and Marino. They're the guys who went to the good teams that had the same systems in place for years and years."
Systems. Klingler refers to the word often. It's exactly what Klingler and Smith didn't have. In his first season, Dana Bible was the Bengals' offensive coordinator. The next year it was Mike Pope until late in the season, when quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson took over the playcalling. Then the next year Bruce Coslet was the offensive coordinator.
"That was four in three years," Klingler says. "I think I could have done well in Dana's system or Mike's, but I just wasn't in them long enough. But I guess I was really only comfortable in the Run-and-Shoot, offense I had in college."
Smith can relate. He's had three coordinators in four seasons and in the year 2000 he was the second piece of the puzzle next to Corey Dillon and far from the last. The next year, his third, Bob Bratkowski brought an offense in which he finally felt comfortable.
"Either that," says Klingler of his plan for rookie quarterbacks, "or I'd bring them in and make them sit for three years. It would make everybody mad, but I think that's the best way."
Ten years after his time, Klingler now lives in the same town where a No. 1 rookie quarterback named David is taking the same kind of shots. The Texans' David Carr has already taken 44 sacks, but Klingler hasn't been aching with him on each hit.
"I watched a little bit of their game against Dallas and I saw a play or two against Baltimore," he says. "Yeah, it's mental as well as physical. A quarterback can only be part of it, not the whole thing."
Klingler takes no shots at the Bengals. They changed his throwing motion, which wrecked his elbow. The untried, ineffective offensive line of '92-94 still sends tingling through his back at times if the movement and weather is right.
But he has high regard for Bengals President Mike Brown and remembers 1995 when his dangling right arm was "useless," but Brown kept him around anyway.
"I still have a soft spot for the Bengals," Klingler says. "I want to see them have success because I'd like to see it for Mike because I really admire and respect his loyalty. You don't see that kind of loyalty anymore. And the fans there deserve a winner because of their loyalty. I'd like to see them win for the fans."
There was more than a hint of bitterness in his final days here, and there was a bit when he spoke before the '99 draft. But if it sounds like there is virtually no bitterness now, it's because there isn't. Time has done its inexorable job and the plate is just too full to have a bad taste on the side.
He's a few years away from getting his Ph.D in theology, and he has found a talent in interpreting the Bible for others. He gets up at 3 a.m. Wednesdays and Fridays to drive to Dallas for class, and other days he's in Houston teaching at Bible college.
"I've got class pretty much all day," Klingler says of Saturday. "Then Sunday I'm in church."
In fact, he has been at the front of his church the past few weeks while his committee finds a new pastor. Klingler says he has no interest in having a flock of his own.
"But I like the idea of teaching people to be pastors," Klingler says. "I'm happy with what I'm doing."
Somehow, that was nice to hear on a weekend in his hometown where 10 years is, at the same time, so close and so very far away.