ENGLEWOOD • Case Keenum and Colorado are not on a first-name basis … yet. He’s still “Keenum,” or the new guy, or the new quarterback. Nothing against him personally; it’s a process. Even John and Peyton had to earn it.
And the process of getting to know Case Keenum, the man, is not a difficult task, aside from the time constraints inherent with being the quarterback here. Keenum will take a selfie with just about anyone. He’s a native West Texan who hollered across the practice fields to compliment a co-worker’s cowboy boots, so Keenum and Von — now there’s a first-name guy — should get along just fine.
Saturday, the Broncos host his old team, the Minnesota Vikings, in a preseason game that also accounts for Keenum’s first real, live public appearance as Colorado’s quarterback. The first-team offense is expected to play two series. Keenum said he has “no bad feelings” toward the Vikings, but come on, he wants to play well. He helped the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game. Then they let him go.
Dripping sweat beads after a training camp practice, Keenum opened up. The Cliff’s notes, for those with somewhere to be: the women in his life are a big deal to him, Air Force football represents his personal “No Fly Zone,” the Broncos’ increasingly robust collection of playmakers (his name’s Courtland Sutton) is adjusting expectations, and Keenum semi-regrets taking $100 from John Elway at Castle Pines Golf Club.
“I thought about it afterward that it’s not always a good idea to beat your boss,” Keenum said.
Above all is Keenum’s Christian faith.
Start with that one, since that’s where it all starts for Keenum. His new book — “Playing for More: Trust Beyond What You Can Say” — publishes Sept. 4, Week 1 of the Broncos season. It’s a 224-page testimonial in which Keenum tells the Hollywood-y tale of how a former two-star recruit with one college scholarship offer developed into a $36 million starting quarterback in the NFL. It’s a true story.
His book, and his life, are rooted in and driven by scripture. He prayed before the “Minnesota Miracle” (“God had his fingerprints on that one,” he said) and prays at all times while in uniform — in the locker room before practice, at halftime during games, with and for teammates.
“I’ve always prayed that no matter what happens, I will let my light shine. It’s a lesson I learned early in college: we’ve been given these talents to maximize our talents to glorify God. That’s why we’re here,” he said. “It’s a saying from FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes): you play for the audience of one. Win or lose, you play for the audience of one. Nothing else matters.”
This is about the time when some folks tune out. I’m a Christian as well, and even I get it: Why would a God (who we can’t see!) care about a football game (that doesn’t really matter!). Keenum’s answer was almost identical to Russell Wilson’s answer when I asked the Seahawks star the same question before Super Bowl XLVIII: the real pressure’s already off.
“For me, being a believer and knowing it’s not up to me to earn acceptance or earn salvation, I know that I don’t earn anything by winning or losing. If I give everything I’ve got — as much as I hate losing, and I really hate losing — it doesn’t matter if I win or lose,” Keenum said. “That’s what we’re called to do. You leave the results up to him. He’s got it. It is a comfort level.
“For me, I think it’s actually harder to play football without being a Christian or without having faith, because then it’s all on you. My identity is not whether I win or lose. My identity is that I’m loved by Christ and I’m saved. I don’t have to earn that. The hard stuff’s done.”
So that’s the first bullet point to know about the new guy. What else? He’s known his wife since Wylie High in Abilene, Texas, and Kimberly Keenum sounds like a pretty cool lady. When Case blew out a knee during his senior season at the University of Houston, Kimberly slept on the couch when his mom came to visit and shelved her own life to help him through a long rehab. She studied, memorized and recited plays from the playbook during a season of “Hard Knocks” when the Keenums were with the Rams.
“She’s my best friend. She’s been with me through so many different ups and downs. I would not be here without her. That’s the truth. She’s so loving. She’s selfless. She’s always giving. She’s never thinking about herself. She’s a beautiful woman.”
Hold on, I’m taking notes.
“I’m lucky to be her husband.”
The Keenums could use your prayers as well. Case said his beloved grandmother has fought dementia, and anyone who’s gone through that knows how tough it is. Grandma Stella is “my No. 1 fan,” he said, traveling from coast to coast to watch him play in person.
“We’ve been praying about it a lot,” he said. “That’s all we can do sometimes is pray.”
I haven’t a clue how this whole thing turns out for Keenum and the Broncos. They’re light on quality depth, but this rookie class is for real and they have really good players in places you need really good players. Through 10 days of training camp the Keenum-led offense has been nothing short of a revelation, but that could be three years of three-and-outs talking. So we’ll see. The jury’s out until they prove it on the field.
“They’ve exceeded my expectations,” Keenum said of Sutton, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and the wide receivers, for example.
What else? Oh, right, Air Force.
“I was afraid you were going to bring that up.”
Keenum’s Houston Cougars played Jon Davis’ Falcons in the 2009 Armed Forces Bowl.
Air Force intercepted Keenum six times.
“They were relentless, man. They kept coming. Those guys are right up my alley — a bunch of undersized dudes that just played their butts off,” Keenum said. “We had a few tipped balls early. Then I forced one or two. And it got out of hand. I do remember Kliff Kingsbury, one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever had, came in at halftime: ‘All right, I don’t care if you throw 10 touchdowns or 10 interceptions, we’re going to keep throwing the ball.’ Obviously I was fired up about that game plan. Problem was, I kept throwing interceptions.”
Keenum went 1-2 against Air Force. Guess that’s good or bad, depending on your allegiances.
“We played them more than I would’ve liked to,” Keenum said with a laugh. “We relocated one game to Dallas because of the hurricane (Ike) and played it at like 10 in the morning. So we had to get up at like 5. Well, those Air Force guys don’t mind getting up at 5 in the morning. I don’t think they completed a pass that day and there’s hurricane-like winds and rain and they beat us. They get after you. I’m glad I don’t have to play Air Force anymore. That’s a good thing.”
It’s a good thing to get to know the new guy.
Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at email@example.com