Christian Ponder broke into the professional ranks during a critical time in Minnesota Vikings franchise history.
Ponder replaced no less than the great Brett Favre as the Vikings’ starting quarterback in 2011.
Fans’ expectations of Ponder were sky-high.
Unfortunately, he failed to deliver the goods for the championship-starved franchise after just four disappointing seasons.
And to think guys like Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor were still available when the Vikings selected Ponder in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Christian Ponder’s fade into NFL oblivion is a stern reminder that not all big-name prospects will thrive in the cutthroat business of professional football.
Christian Andrew Ponder was born to David and Christine Ponder in Dallas, TX on February 25, 1988.
He grew up in Grapevine, TX, a suburb located 25 miles northwest of Dallas.
Ponder has two brothers, Jon and Austin.
The former is a year older while the latter is eight years younger.
The Ponder family lived in a simple two-story brick house in Grapevine for almost 20 years.
Even when Christian Ponder was just three years old, his soft-spoken nature was already evident.
According to the Pioneer Press’ Jeremy Fowler, a pre-school teacher once told Christine Ponder her son would “get beat up in high school” because he was too timid around his classmates.
“I knew there were bigger things in store for him,” she told Fowler in May 2011. “He would be able to protect himself naturally.”
Christian Ponder and his friends grew up collecting insects in their neighborhood.
However, he eventually outgrew that phase and began playing street football games.
CHRISTIAN PONDER #'d RARE SP INSERT Card Minnesota Vikings Football CROWN ROYALE pic.twitter.com/sLjbyZEUI7
— Sports Card Clektr (@CardClektr) May 26, 2013
His rifle of an arm as a quarterback garnered plenty of attention.
“That’s how I grew to love the game,” Ponder told the Pioneer Press. “I learned how competitive I was. I wanted to win those games.”
Football is in Christian Ponder’s genes.
His father, David Ponder, was a defensive lineman who suited up for the Florida State Seminoles and Dallas Cowboys.
He also played for the Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Calgary Stampeders.
When Christine was pregnant with Christian, David’s football injuries mounted while he was playing football in Canada.
He eventually hung up his cleats and began a career at UPromise Investments where he became vice president.
That was in 1993 when Christian was five years old.
When he was growing up, he idolized quarterbacks such as FSU’s Chris Weinke and the Cowboys’ Troy Aikman, per Fowler.
Christian Ponder earned a spot on the Colleyville Heritage Panthers high school squad.
According to Fowler, Ponder played for the junior varsity squad only because the quarterback ahead of him became a wide receiver.
Ponder had a strict upbringing in high school: he always had a curfew and wasn’t allowed to stay away from home overnight.
David Ponder even chaperoned his second son during a lake house party after the latter’s senior prom, per the Pioneer Press.
Not only that, but he’d also take videos of Christian during his football practices and break them down with him the following day.
The older Ponder would also pull his son out of football practice if he brought home a paper graded with a “C.”
— DFW GRIDIRON CLASSIC (@DFWGRIDIRON) July 28, 2016
For the most part, it may have been an unusual setup for an eighteen-year-old high school football player.
However, it was for a good reason: instilling discipline and toughness on and off the field.
Christian Ponder eventually broke through after his junior season in high school.
He threw 44 touchdown passes during a two-day span at a well-known offseason football tournament.
It was a sure sign of things to come.
Ponder sprained his ankle with three minutes left during a game against the Denton Ryan Raiders during his senior year.
While he was getting examined on the sidelines, his dad looked him in the eye and told him to “get the hell back in the game if it’s not broken,” per the Pioneer Press.
“You have to keep perspective in moments like that,” Ponder told Folwer during his rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings in 2011. “You’ve got to trust and know he’s just trying to make you better.”
He proved his toughness and tenacity on the gridiron by completing passes under heavy duress or scramble out of the pocket to elude the pass rush.
“There was no fear in him,” David Ponder told the Pioneer Press. “I never thought Christian would quit, even though he could have. And I saw there was immense talent in him.”
His son showed great potential at quarterback during his senior season at Colleyville Heritage.
The younger Ponder threw for 2,214 yards and ran for 911 yards.
He helped the Panthers win six of their 10 games in 2005.
Once Christian Ponder played his final down of high school football, he received a three-star rating from Rivals.com.
He would now embark on a college football career at one of the nation’s most storied programs.
College Days At Florida State
Christian Ponder’s final choices boiled down to the Florida State Seminoles or Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
He eventually chose the former.
Ponder couldn’t ignore the sentimental value of the Sunshine State: his parents had fallen in love at Tampa before they moved to Grapevine, TX when David Ponder began working at UPromise Investments in 1993, per Fowler.
Plus, the lure of playing under center at Florida State where the great Bobby Bowden won two national titles was just too enticing for Ponder, who majored in finance.
“I knew I went to FSU as just another guy in the mix,” Ponder told the Pioneer Press. “But I knew I could play at the highest levels if given a chance.”
When Ponder wasn’t busy with football and classes, he’d just stay in the four-bedroom, 900-square foot home his family purchased for him.
Future NFL kicker Graham Gano was Ponder’s roommate at FSU for three years.
Ponder was so introverted he never uttered a word to Gano for weeks when they first roomed together, per Fowler.
Gano told the Pioneer Press Ponder’s soft-spoken persona threw him off at first:
“I thought this guy was strange, but he told me he was just shy. I started to understand him as just a young player trying not to cause trouble and play good football.”
“We became great friends after that, and over time I saw him develop into a leader.”
Ponder eventually overcame his shyness thanks in large part to a summer telemarketing job after his freshman year at FSU.
Former Seminoles QB Christian Ponder remembers Bobby Bowden https://t.co/mvmBk9MXOc
— Noles247.com (@Noles247) August 8, 2021
The job required him to cold call season-ticket holders and boosters about membership renewals.
“I hated that (telemarketing) job,” Ponder told Fowler. “But I’m glad I did it.”
Nonetheless, Ponder soon got the hang of it.
The wall that separated him from his potential peers began to crumble.
It was during this time he began engaging in Guitar Hero and Nerf ball-throwing marathons with his friends.
The more sociable Ponder redshirted his freshman year at FSU.
The Seminoles went 7-6 and beat the UCLA Bruins in the now-defunct 2006 Emerald Bowl, 44-27.
Ponder didn’t play much as a redshirt freshman during the 2007 NCAA season.
He threw for just one touchdown and two interceptions in eight games.
That year, he was buried fourth in the Seminoles’ quarterback depth chart behind Preston Parker, Drew Weatherford, and Xavier Lee.
Florida State duplicated its 7-6 win-loss record from the year before.
They lost to the Kentucky Wildcats in the 2007 Music City Bowl, 35-28.
Ponder took over starting quarterback duties for the Seminoles during his redshirt sophomore campaign in 2008.
His best game that year was the season-opening 69-0 thrashing of the Western Carolina Catamounts on September 6, 2008.
Ponder threw for 196 yards, three touchdowns, and zero picks on that day.
At season’s end, he passed for 2,006 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
He also ran for a career-best 423 yards and four touchdowns.
— Sam Strong (@SamStrong) September 2, 2017
With Ponder in charge at quarterback, Florida State won nine of its 13 games in 2008.
He helped the Seminoles rout the Wisconsin Badgers in the then-Champs Sports Bowl (now known as the Camping World Bowl) 42-13 on December 27, 2008.
Ponder threw for 199 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions.
He continued to thrive in his role as the Seminoles’ starting signal caller in his redshirt junior year in 2009.
He threw for an impressive 2,717 yards and 14 touchdowns through the season’s first eight games.
During that stretch, he had a five-touchdown game in a close 49-44 loss to the 22nd-ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on October 10, 2009.
In the Seminoles’ next game, Ponder’s 395 passing yards and three touchdown passes helped FSU overcome a 24-6 deficit and beat the North Carolina Tar Heels on the road, 30-27.
It was arguably the best game of Ponder’s college football career.
Regrettably, Ponder’s strong 2009 NCAA season came to a crashing halt just three weeks later.
Ponder separated his shoulder while trying to tackle Clemson Tigers safety DeAndre McDaniel during an interception return in the fourth quarter of the Seminoles’ 40-24 loss on November 7, 2009.
McDaniel, who pointed his finger at Ponder as he was about to shove him out of bounds, shared his thoughts on the play with the Tigers’ official athletics website almost a year later:
“When I caught the ball and started running, I thought I was going to score.”
“Then I saw one of their guys running ahead of me, so I knew I wasn’t going to get there. I saw him (Ponder) and I knew it was him and me.”
“I honestly don’t know why I pointed. I guess it was the emotion. I just hit him.”
The injury forced Ponder to sit out the remainder of the 2009 NCAA campaign.
At that point of the season, Ponder was the ACC’s leader in passing average per game.
Christian Ponder en su época con los Seminoles de Florida State: pic.twitter.com/TtPrFQowud
— NCAA Football – Esp (@ncaafesp) May 25, 2014
He also considered leaving Florida State early for the National Football League.
However, his untimely shoulder injury forced him to reconsider that decision.
With Ponder out during the home stretch of the season, Florida State took a step backward and finished with a mediocre 7-6 win-loss record.
They took solace in their 33-21 win over the West Virginia Mountaineers in the 2010 Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Freshman quarterback E.J. Manuel filled in for an injured Ponder. The former converted 17 of his 24 pass attempts for 189 yards.
Manuel also ran for 70 yards and a touchdown in FSU’s victory.
It was a fitting tribute for Seminoles legend Bobby Bowden, who coached his last football game after a 33-year tenure.
During that stretch, he helped Florida State win two national titles and 12 ACC championships.
As for Christian Ponder, he returned to FSU for his redshirt senior season in 2010.
It was anything but smooth sailing for the soft-spoken quarterback.
Ponder battled through several injuries in FSU head football coach Jimbo Fisher’s first year at the helm.
Nonetheless, Ponder enjoyed a great 2010 NCAA season.
He passed for 2,044 yards, 20 touchdowns, and eight picks in 12 games.
Ponder’s shining moment came on Senior Day against the Seminoles’ hated rivals, the Florida Gators, on November 27, 2010.
Ponder’s 221 passing yards and three touchdown passes helped FSU end its six-game losing skid to Florida in emphatic fashion, 31-7.
The Seminoles won 10 of 14 games in Christian Ponder’s final season in FSU Garnet and Gold.
His final college football game was the 2010 Chick-Fil-A Bowl showdown against the South Carolina Gamecocks on New Year’s Eve.
Unfortunately, Ponder left during the second quarter after he suffered a concussion.
— SportsFanTees.com (@SportsFanTeesCo) October 11, 2016
Despite his absence, the Seminoles went on to win, 26-17.
Once again, E.J. Manuel led the charge for Florida State.
His seven-yard pass to wide receiver Taiwan Easterling padded the Seminoles’ lead to nine with 5:27 left in the game.
FSU never looked back.
Despite finishing his college football career on a sour note, Christian Ponder excelled on the academic front.
He completed his finance major in two-and-a-half years. He also completed his MBA at FSU, per Fowler.
He wrapped up his FSU gridiron stint with 6,872 passing yards, 49 touchdowns, and 30 interceptions.
Ponder also added 10 rushing touchdowns for good measure.
He is fourth all-time in completions and sixth in passing yardage and passing touchdowns at FSU, per TheDailyNole.com.
Christian Ponder was about to take his act to the National Football League.
The Minnesota Vikings made Christian Ponder the 12th overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft.
The Vikings won just six games in 2010.
It was their worst record in four seasons.
They also missed the postseason for the first time in three years.
The Vikings badly needed a quarterback who could replace future Hall of Famer Brett Favre.
Favre hung up his cleats three months earlier after a historic 20-year career.
Christian Ponder had immense shoes to fill.
He was only the third quarterback the Vikings drafted in the first round in their then-51-year history, per NFL.com.
Ponder followed in the footsteps of Tommy Kramer (1977) and Daunte Culpepper (1999).
Vikings fans who attended a draft party inside the team’s practice facility booed when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Ponder’s selection.
Minnesota couldn’t trade up with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the 10th overall selection because they had a steep asking price, per NFL.com.
They couldn’t trade down, either: if they did that, they feared they might miss out on a signal caller of Ponder’s potential.
12 days until the NFL Draft: The Vikings accidentally took Christian Ponder at pick number 12 in 2011. Sometimes I ponder why we did that. pic.twitter.com/OHoAaCT8Xs
— Draftseason (@Draft_season) April 15, 2017
Ponder told NFL.com he was ready for the opportunity:
“I think I’ll be really prepared.”
“I dealt with being the face of Florida State and handling the pressure there.”
“Obviously it’s a whole ‘nother level in the NFL, but I don’t think anyone else puts as much pressure on me as I do myself.”
“I’m a perfectionist. No one’s expectations exceeded mine.”
According to a league source who told ESPN’s John Clayton, Ponder signed a four-year deal with close to $10 million in guaranteed money.
It also contained a fifth-year option.
The Vikings also acquired veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb from the then-Washington Redskins in a trade so he could mentor Ponder.
Regrettably, Christian Ponder didn’t live up to his billing during his rookie season.
He threw for 1,853 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions in 11 games.
Worse, the Vikings regressed.
They won just three games in 2011. It was their worst showing in 27 seasons.
Nevertheless, he showed flashes of his potential on the gridiron.
He passed for a Vikings rookie record 381 yards plus three touchdowns and two picks in Minnesota’s 35-32 home loss to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos on December 5, 2011.
However, he threw an interception in the fourth quarter that led to the Broncos’ winning drive.
Things would look up for Ponder in 2012.
In fact, he would enjoy his finest season as a pro.
Frozen in Time #13 – Vikings vs 49ers: Christian Ponder passed for 2 scores (to his roommate Kyle Rudolph) and he ran for this 23 yard score in this 2012 win. It looked like Ponder was the real deal, but he was more apt to run than pass as his career in MIN unfolded. #vikings pic.twitter.com/kpbIRdm0SA
— VikeFans (@VikeFans) January 7, 2020
While Ponder didn’t register any eye-popping stats, he became a more confident signal caller.
He finished the regular season on a strong note, throwing for 234 yards, three touchdowns, and zero picks against the Vikings’ arch nemesis, the Green Bay Packers, on December 30, 2012.
Ponder finished the 2012 NFL season with a career-best 2,935 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.
His breakthrough year coincided with Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson almost breaking the single-season rushing record.
Despite falling short of the record, Peterson was proclaimed the 2012 NFL MVP.
With Ponder and Peterson clicking on all cylinders, the Vikings improved to 10-6 in 2012.
It was a remarkable seven-game improvement from the season before.
Better yet, Minnesota made it to the postseason for the first time in three years.
Unfortunately, Christian Ponder sat out the Wild Card Game against the Packers on January 5, 2013 due to a deep triceps bruise he sustained against Green Bay in the regular season finale.
Without Ponder, the Vikings lost to the Packers, 24-10.
From that point onward, everything went downhill for Ponder in his NFL career.
Ponder got off to a weak start in the 2013 NFL season.
In November 2013, Christian Ponder would have one of his best days as a pro vs the Packers, going for 233 yards and a 104 QB rating, He would start just one more game in his NFL career after this. #vikings pic.twitter.com/64s4B89gXO
— VikeFans (@VikeFans) November 25, 2018
He threw for a combined two touchdowns and five interceptions during Minnesota’s first three games.
During that span, the Vikings lost to the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, and Cleveland Browns by an average of five points.
All of a sudden, Vikings fans were clamoring for Ponder’s backup, Matt Cassel.
Even with gunslinging Josh Freeman on board, the Vikings battled through quarterback issues in 2013.
Ponder tried to get his act together as the season wound down.
In his next six starts, he threw for five touchdowns and ran for two more.
However, he suffered a concussion in the second quarter of the Vikings’ 23-20 overtime win over the Bears on December 1, 2013.
The injury forced Ponder to sit out the remainder of the 2013 campaign.
While Ponder was recuperating from his concussion, Minnesota alternated wins and losses.
The Vikings were a mere shadow of their old selves, winning just five games during the 2013 NFL season.
Ponder’s uninspired play (1,648 yards, seven touchdowns, and nine interceptions in nine games) had a lot to do with the slide.
At this point, it became increasingly clear Christian Ponder wasn’t the franchise quarterback Vikings GM Rick Spielman and Co. envisioned him to become.
Our 2014 camp photo of Christian Ponder. He'd already been moved to 3rd string, but what I recall is how he would be given a cell phone after practice to avoid the media. As he walked by, we heard him say "I just need to act like I'm talking til I get to the locker room" pic.twitter.com/2lYAulvsS5
— VikeFans (@VikeFans) June 25, 2021
To make matters worse for Ponder, the Vikings drafted highly-touted Louisville Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in 2014.
Ponder was clearly skating on thin ice.
He was now officially a third-string NFL quarterback.
Ponder appeared in just two games in 2014 without a single touchdown throw.
He eventually played out his rookie deal with the Vikings and became an unrestricted free agent.
With the exception of the 2012 NFL campaign, Christian Ponder went 4-15-1 as the Vikings’ starting quarterback.
He had uneventful stints with the Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, and San Francisco 49ers in the next two years.
Even though he was in uniform as a third-stringer, he never took the field and played a single down during that stretch.
He has never suited up for an NFL team since the end of the 2016 NFL season.
Christian Ponder finished his underwhelming NFL career with 6,658 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, and 36 interceptions.
Christian Ponder met his wife, ESPN reporter Samantha Steele, on Twitter.
They got married on December 7, 2012.
It only had been two months since they first met.
Eight months after they got married, Samantha Ponder told TwinCities.com’s Bob Sansevere her husband’s way of treating people make him stand out:
“When things go bad and life doesn’t feel it’s all happy and everybody loves you, when you throw a couple of picks and the fans are booing you, how do you still treat people?”
“That’s one thing I can say about Christian: he treats people well and does not change the way he interacts with fans or anything like that because of the response they’ve given him.”
The Ponders welcome their daughter Bowden Saint-Claire Ponder, in 2014.
They named her after Christian Ponder’s late college football coach at FSU, Bobby Bowden.
— Christian Ponder (@cponder7) January 28, 2020
During the pinnacle of his struggles with the Vikings, Christian Ponder told CBS Minnesota’s Mike Max welcoming his daughter into their family was a blessing:
“It definitely brings a new perspective on things.”
“When football is your world and something like this happens, you get crushed, but when you go home to a smiling daughter and wife, it definitely helps.”
Samantha Ponder revealed to CBS Sports’ Will Brinson in 2017 she stayed home in Minnesota while she was pregnant with her daughter.
The reason: she and her husband were the objects of ridicule every time they went out in public in the Twin Cities.
Three years after Bowden was born, they welcomed their son, Robinson True Ponder.
They named him after NBA basketball great David Robinson and MLB baseball legend Jackie Robinson.
The Ponders put their Phoenix, AZ house on the market for $3.9 million in September 2020.
They also own a residence in New York City.
Ponder is a Christian.
Former NFL quarterback Jon Kitna baptized him.