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Culture / Newsy

Case Keenum Finds Respect in St. Louis

Banished University of Houston Icon Creating NFL Buzz

BY // 08.28.15

Houston’s not just a city of transplants. It also sends interesting people out into world who have a great impact on their new communities. In PaperCity’s new “Where Are They Now?” series, we’ll catch up with prominent Houstonians who happen to lay their heads down elsewhere.

Case Keenum just won’t go away. You can banish him to St, Louis (the Houston Texans have done it twice now), haughtily insist that everyone needs to forget him (610 AM Sports Radio‘s hosts do that by reflex) … and still, there Keenum is, popping back up in the city conversation.

The University of Houston icon is still the only Houston athlete I’ve ever been asked about while waiting to pick up my son at his school. CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz (arguably the most recognizable name at the network now that David Letterman has retired) brings up Keenum every time I run into him.

Now, with the Texans quarterback situation getting settled this week in a way that many find thoroughly unsatisfying, Keenum’s name is popping back up. There he was on Fox’s version of Sunday Night Football, throwing an 80-yard touchdown pass in what turned out to be the single highest-rated show on TV that night.

Case Keenum is the quarterback who got away — or maybe more accurately, the quarterback who never had a real chance. Coaching and timing never worked out for Keenum with the Texans. Now, he’s emerged as the favorite to win the St. Louis Rams backup quarterback job behind Nick Foles, another talented Texas import.

Emerging from a training camp as the clear No. 2 would be a career milestone for a fourth-year professional football player who’s had to claw for everything he’s got in the NFL. Despite shattering a horde of NCAA passing records at the University of Houston, Keenum went undrafted. Despite being the only Texans quarterback who managed to post a winning record last season (a perfect emergency 2-0), Keenum found himself jettisoned by coach Bill O’Brien.

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But Keenum’s oft-dismissed career has found solid ground and huge future upside. He showed the arm strength many doubted he had on that 80-yard touchdown pass, throwing a dart that traveled at least 50 yards in the air and hit receiver Chris Givens in stride. He added another 33-yard pass in the game, continuing to flash the knack for creating big plays that he’s shown every place he’s ever taken a snap.

In a world where upscale clothing store M Penner now regularly runs ads on 610 AM, Houston’s sports radio giant, it’s clear how a hometown figure like Case Keenum is important to many more people in the city than just typical sports fans. It’s no stretch to call Keenum a legend at the University of Houston, known for far more than football. UH president Renu Khator memorably trotted out Keenum, front and center, to announce the university push for Tier One academic status. And Keenum fit right in on that stage in a sharp oil-office appropriate button-down shirt, delivering a speech.

Now the 27-year-old is surprising another NFL team even as the one that got rid of him deals with a backup quarterback who couldn’t even get himself to practice on time. Keenum’s never let the dismissals of his talent get to him the way it apparently did to the Texans’ second-choice quarterback Ryan Mallett this week.

Case Keenum’s mantra is simple and consistent: “It’s not about proving people wrong. To me, it’s about proving the people who believed in me right.”

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who has been coaching in the NFL for more than 30 years, now counts himself among the believers.

“(Keenum) can make all of the throws and he’s got that enthusiasm and the ‘It’ factor in the huddle,” Fisher said in a recent press conference. “We thought it would be a good deal for us, so it worked out.”

The guy who built his name in Houston, becoming an important part of this city, is making it work out in St. Louis. One throw at a time.

Fierce determination does travel.

Home, chic home.

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