IRVING, Texas - These days, Jon Kitna would be forgiven if he surrendered to his imagination.
The urge to consider possibilities now steeped in realism seem too great to resist. The impulse to dream about remaining the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback is too great to ignore.
The laws of human nature suggest as much. But Kitna, 38, defies them with a resoluteness that has allowed him to persist as a 14-year veteran in a cutthroat profession. Since arriving in Dallas before the 2009 season, he has accepted he is not the Cowboys’ first option at quarterback and probably will never be.
“I know my role and that’s the role I have been given,” he said.
“I’m very comfortable in my own skin and where I am at.”
In light of what has transpired in the past two months, some find that hard to believe. At the same time Kitna has revived a dormant career, the Lincoln High School graduate has helped resuscitate a team that had already flatlined when he was pressed into action Oct. 25.
On that day, against the New York Giants, starting quarterback Tony Romo fractured his left clavicle. The injury seemed to spell doom for the Cowboys, who were careening toward a 1-5 record and were suddenly without their franchise player.
These were the daunting circumstances confronted by Kitna, a forgotten backup who had not taken a snap since 2008. When he walked into the huddle that night, he wasn’t expected to succeed.
It was a foregone conclusion the Giants would beat the Cowboys. They did. When Jacksonville and Green Bay then pummeled the Cowboys, few were surprised. The losses were a prelude to the firing of coach Wade Phillips on Nov. 8, and Kitna was an accessory to defeat.
“It wasn’t picture-perfect at first,” receiver Miles Austin said.
Then offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was promoted to interim coach, Kitna began to find his form and the offense became more efficient. Since then, the Cowboys have won four of six games.
The improved productivity can be tied to the performance of Kitna, who has earned a place in the pantheon of great backups.
Kitna might not have effected change the way Jim Plunkett did when he replaced Dan Pastorini and led the Oakland Raiders to the 1980 Super Bowl title. And he has not produced gaudy statistics like Kurt Warner did when he forged an MVP season with St. Louis in 1999 after taking over for injured Trent Green.
But during the two months since he became the Cowboys quarterback, Kitna has a 91.4 passer rating, better than that of Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger in that span.
“You can’t say enough about the guy,” receiver Roy Williams said.
Williams is one of Kitna’s greatest supporters. The two played together with Detroit, and when Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones was searching for Romo’s understudy after the 2008 season, Williams advised him to consider Kitna.
Jones listened. In February 2009, the team acquired Kitna from the Lions in a trade for cornerback Anthony Henry. Kitna embraced the move, saying he wanted to go to a “good place.” He also welcomed the reduced role.
“I am supposed to play as well as I can,” he said, “when I get a chance to play, if I have to play.”
Kitna has stabilized the Cowboys while proving he can compete at the highest level.
Still, Kitna understands what the future holds. Next season, Romo will come back and Kitna will return to the sideline.
While he can accept that reality, others question why he doesn’t yearn for more.
“It couldn’t be me,” Williams said.
“But you’ve got to go with what the man said.”
And the man said he’s content with his station in life.