The mountain that is the NFC West was steep enough for the St. Louis Rams before franchise quarterback Sam Bradford blew out the same knee for the second time in less than a year.
Standing between the Rams and the potential utter despair of playing 16 games with no shot of hanging with Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona is … Shaun Hill?
Yeah, that Shaun Hill.
The Shaun Hill who broke into the league as an undrafted rookie on the Vikings’ 2002 practice squad. The Shaun Hill who was sent to Amsterdam to learn the game in NFL Europe in 2003. The same Shaun Hill who actually lasted four seasons with the Vikings and played just two snaps in one regular season game.
Both of them were kneel downs to end the 2005 season finale, a victory over the Bears.
“Probably the first one was the best,” Hill joked. “There was a lot of excitement about that first kneel down. The second one, it was kind of over.”
Coach Mike Tice, the fellow former Maryland quarterback responsible for bringing Hill into the NFL, was fired in the locker room after the game.
“I thought, ‘Well, if this is the end of my career, I’m going to have the world’s shortest highlight film,’” Hill said.
Nine years later, at 34, he is on his fourth team in 13 seasons. He went 13-13 as a spot starter in San Francisco and Detroit before signing with the Rams before this season. In 34 career games, he has completed 62 percent of his passes with 41 touchdowns, 23 interceptions and an 85.9 passer rating.
“Obviously, we went through this last year when we lost Sam for nine games,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “It was very important to us that we had a guy to provide the leadership, to play, that knows what it takes to prepare himself for each and every week.”
Hill’s only opening day start came with the 49ers in 2009. He completed 18 of 31 passes for 209 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions and an 89.3 passer rating in a 20-16 win over the Cardinals.
His last start came as a Lion against the Vikings during Week 17 of the 2010 season. He completed 28 of 39 passes for 258 yards, one touchdown, one interception and an 87.3 passer rating in a 20-13 win.
Since then, Hill has thrown only 16 passes in five games. But, here he is. Again.
And if someone would have predicted in 2002 that he’d be starting opening day in 2014?
“I probably would have thought they were a little bit crazy,” Hill said. “But, to be honest with you … the mind-set that I’ve tried to carry through my whole career is I don’t know how long I’m going to be here so let’s give it all we got today and let tomorrow take care of itself.”