By Maxwell A. Quinn

Jon Kitna has come full circle, and is back to where he began – having fun, playing with controlled abandon, and enjoying the moment.

Kitna, the only quarterback in the NFL to take every snap in 2004, posted career highs in virtually every offensive category – completions, yardage, touchdowns, completion percentage and passer rating, and was awarded the Associated Press NFL Comeback Player of the Year, outdistancing Quincy Carter of the Cowboys, Orlando Brown of the Ravens, Stephen Davis of the Panthers, and safety Jerome Woods of the Chiefs.

“It was very interesting getting that award,” says Kitna. “To me that award goes to somebody coming back from injury, like Orlando Brown. It’s always nice to be recognized for what you do on the field, so that was a humbling thing.

“I attribute it to the success of the Bengals. When the team is doing well, the quarterback is talked about, and people were talking about the Bengals again.”

The Bengals lost their first three games, and Carson Palmer, the Heisman Trophy winner drafted by the Bengals, was promoted from #3 quarterback to backup. If the Bengals had continued losing, it would
have been only a matter of time before Kitna would be on the bench, cheering for Palmer, a position he finds himself in going into 2005.

But the Bengals turned it on, finishing at 8-8, ending years of futility for Cincinnati fans. And Kitna held his job throughout the season.

It was a great season for Kitna, for something more important than winning the Comeback Player of the Year award, for something more important than the career highs in passing statistics, for something more important even than the unexpected success of the team.

He was back to playing football in his most comfortable fashion – slinging the ball from the hip, playing on the edge of recklessness, having fun.

“I felt like I knew what I was doing. I felt like I was free again, after playing almost four years in bondage.”

It was a book Kitna read that made the difference. “I read “Wild at Heart” and the light turned on. The book talked about how men don’t deal with hurts. I thought I had, but I hadn’t. The four years before this one I had lost my passion and desire.

“I had gone from nothing to lose to thinking I had everything to lose”

For four years Kitna felt that his career hinged on every snap, every play, every opportunity, every pass. He started to focus on staying in the league, keeping his position, trying to
impress; instead of simply enjoying the game and playing for the sheer fun of it.

And then everything changed. “God restored me to the person He had created me to be. The lights came on. It was an adventure again.”

Now, heading into the new season, Kitna, despite his achievements on the field last year, despite his career highs, despite winning the Comeback Player of the Year award, has lost his job. Carson Palmer has been installed as the #1 quarterback of the Bengals.

Is Kitna disappointed? Bitter? Upset? Whining about the unfairness of it?

Just the opposite.

“God has brought me full circle,” he says. “When I came into the NFL I totally trusted Him. I knew the only way I was in the NFL was because of God. I just went wherever He took me. I had no agenda, no aspirations, no goals aside from following Him.

It’s like when Jesus called Peter to step out of the boat and walk on the water. Peter was fine until he looked down.

“It was the same with me. I looked down and said, ‘there’s a lot at stake here.’”

So what does the future hold for Jon Kitna?

Anything and everything. And anything and everything is just fine for Jon. “I can envision many different scenarios, and I’m excited by all of them. I’m just following wherever God leads.”

The circle is complete. Jon Kitna. Comeback Player of the Year, has come back – back to where he started – back to where God wants him.

And there is no place he’d rather be.