David Klingler could have been the Cincinnati Bengals’ franchise quarterback in the early 1990s.
Klingler, the highly-touted successor of Pro Bowl quarterback Boomer Esiason, either broke or tied an astonishing 33 NCAA records after his junior season with the Houston Cougars in 1990.
Klingler’s dynamite arm was the major reason behind Houston’s explosive offense in the early 1990s. It was only a matter of time before he took the NFL by storm.
Alas, Kingler was a shadow of his old self when he played for the Bengals from 1992 to 1995.
A potentially career-ending elbow injury and a leaky Cincinnati offensive line didn’t help matters for Klingler.
By the time he concluded his third pro football season in 1994, pass rushers had sacked him an incredible 82 times.
Klingler spent two unremarkable seasons with the Oakland Raiders before retiring from the NFL at the age of 28 following the 1997 NFL season.
This is David Klingler’s football story.
David Ryan Klingler was born to parents Dick and Glenda in Houston, TX on February 17, 1969.
David spent the first six years of his life in Ada, OH, where his dad, Dick, worked in his grandfather’s gas station.
Before David turned seven years old in 1969, Dick Klingler heard about better employment opportunities in the Texas oil sector. He trusted his instincts and moved his family to the Lone Star State.
The older Klingler told Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Newman in August 1991 that business went well for the first several years. Unfortunately, management laid-off workers who had spent fewer than 13 years with the company.
Dick Klingler’s career became a bumpy roller-coaster ride from that point onward—layoffs became a recurring trend as David and his younger brother Jimmy were growing up in Texas.
Their father, who once worked as a technician at a steel plant, took on a job as a security guard with the same company so he could make ends meet.
David Klingler told USA Football’s Eric Moreno in 2021 that he grew up playing baseball in Texas. It wasn’t until his freshman season in high school that he became a quarterback.
Stratford Alumni David Klingler No. 7 to be retired on Oct. 29 along with Case Keenum at the University of Houston. pic.twitter.com/0FSFZiViBV
— Spring Branch Sports Line (@YourBranchNews) October 19, 2016
David also played pee wee football as a youngster. Whenever he and his teammates needed new footballs, his dad Dick called his grandmother Betty, who stitched the balls’ linings at a Wilson Sporting Goods factory in Ada, OH. Betty would then send several footballs to her grandchildren in Texas.
Klingler attended Stratford High School in Houston, TX. He lettered in football and basketball for the Stratford Spartans.
Klingler paled in comparison to the gunslinger he became in the college football ranks in the early 1990s. David was a wishbone quarterback who directed a run-heavy offense for the Spartans.
According to the Los Angeles Times’ Gene Wojciechowski, Klingler averaged barely five pass attempts per game in high school.
As David’s high school football career neared its conclusion, he accepted a football scholarship from the Houston Cougars.
The University of Houston’s proximity to his home and the coaching staff were among Klinger’s main reasons for choosing the school.
Cougars offensive coordinator John Jenkins also showed him a highlight reel featuring then-Houston Gamblers quarterback Jim Kelly that helped convince Klingler to commit to his program, per Wojciechowski.
Klingler, the timid high school quarterback, would come out guns blazing as his college football career with the Houston Cougars progressed.
College Days with the Houston Cougars
David Klingler attended the University of Houston from 1988 to 1991. He suited up for Houston Cougars head football coaches Jack Pardee and John Jenkins.
Jenkins, the man who showed Klingler a highlight reel of Houston Gamblers signal caller Jim Kelly, gave David the catchy moniker “Slinger” shortly after he arrived on campus.
Klingler served notice that he could hold his own in the college football ranks entering his true freshman season with the Cougars in 1988.
Klingler threw a pass that had so much zip, the ball split a teammate linebacker’s hand when he tried to pick it off during a scrimmage. Doctors had to use nine stitches to patch up his hand, per Newman.
As talented as David Klingler was, he had to wait for his chance to shine. He played behind Cougars starting quarterback Andre Ware from 1988 to 1989.
Klingler had a combined 902 passing yards, eight touchdown passes, and one interception in his freshman and sophomore seasons at Houston. He patiently learned the intricacies of the school’s run-and-shoot system he first heard about when he was in high school.
Klingler showed Jenkins that he already knew that system inside out prior to the 1988 Aloha Bowl against the Washington State Cougars.
Jenkins gave all his quarterbacks a 350-page playbook with blank grid charts the day before. He asked them to fill it out with various offensive schemes and defensive alignments.
Lo and behold, David exceeded Jenkins’s expectations. He drew up just about every conceivable scenario imaginable.
“I nearly felt guilty about giving him that workbook,” Jenkins told the Los Angeles Times in the fall of 1991. “But dang if that son of a gun didn’t miss a thing. Not a thing.”
Klingler’s work captivated Jenkins so much, the latter kept the playbook.
When Andre Ware decided to declare for the 1990 NFL Draft, David Klingler made the most of his golden opportunity.
David’s stock as an NFL-ready quarterback rose dramatically during his junior season in 1990 when he had an incredible 5,140 passing yards and 54 touchdowns.
Klingler was at his absolute best when he racked up 11 touchdown passes in an 84-21 rout of the Eastern Washington Eagles on November 17, 1990.
David never expected to have 11 touchdown passes. Since Eagles’ defensive backs were all over his intended receivers, he did the next best thing—he threw a desperate Hail Mary pass that wideout Marcus Grant somehow caught in the end zone.
Klingler ended his junior season on a strong note by racking up 732 all-purpose yards in a 62-45 victory over the Arizona State Sun Devils one week later.
By the time the 1990 NCAA campaign ended, David Klingler had either broken or tied 33 NCAA records. To put things in perspective, Klingler’s totals exceeded Heisman Trophy-winning BYU Cougars quarterback Ty Detmer’s by an astounding 22 records.
Although Klingler finished fifth in the 1990 Heisman Trophy voting, he still earned First-Team All-SWC and SWC Offensive Player of the Year honors. He also won the 1990 Sammy Baugh Trophy as the country’s top passer in the college football ranks.
In the end, Klingler just shrugged off missing out on the 1990 Heisman Trophy.
“I don’t think the Heisman represents the best college football player, anyway,” Klingler told Sports Illustrated in the summer of 1991. “The Heisman’s just a doorstep that’s going to end up gathering dust on somebody’s floor.”
Jimmy Klingler, David’s younger brother, committed to the Cougars prior to the 1991 NCAA campaign. The former played behind his older sibling at quarterback.
David knew how to kick back and relax off the gridiron. He was an avid freshwater fisherman and he learned how to play golf in the summer prior to his senior season with the Cougars.
“If they would have given me a full fishing scholarship, I think I would have taken it,” Klingler told the Los Angeles Times in September 1991.
David Klingler’s dynamite arm literally made headlines in the summer of 1991. He graced the cover of Sports Illustrated’s annual college football preview issue as the quarterback who led the country’s most explosive offense.
On this date in 1991. Houston 73 Louisiana Tech 3. In the 2nd qtr, David Klingler threw 6 TD passes, 9 for the game. (Photo: Sports Illustrated, August 26, 1991) #CollegeFootball @ClintKPoppe @UHCougarFB #GoCoogs #Houston pic.twitter.com/V5wXN5TZdQ
— History of College Football (@HistColFootball) August 31, 2022
Although Klingler’s stats as a senior were nowhere near his production in 1990, he still impressed NFL scouts and coaches with his 3,388 passing yards and 29 touchdowns in ten games for the Cougars in 1991.
Klingler even set a new NCAA record with eight touchdowns in the second quarter alone against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs that year.
Despite David’s impressive showing, Houston regressed considerably during his senior campaign. The Cougars, who had a gaudy 10-1 win-loss record in the first year of the John Jenkins era, could only muster four victories the following season.
Klingler finished his college football career with 9,430 passing yards, 91 touchdowns, and 38 interceptions.
The Cincinnati Bengals thought David Klingler was their next franchise quarterback. To the dismay of Bengals fans, an unfortunate series of events ultimately derailed Klingler’s once-promising pro football career.
Pro Football Career
The Cincinnati Bengals made David Klingler the sixth overall selection of the 1992 NFL Draft.
The Bengals were on the lookout for their next franchise quarterback who would eventually replace 31-year-old starter, Boomer Esiason.
Cincinnati had not made the postseason in 17 of the past 24 seasons since the legendary Paul Brown established the franchise in 1968.
It seemed like David Klingler was the quarterback who would lead the Bengals to the promised land. Ironically, he wasn’t on the Bengals’ radar heading into the 1992 NFL Draft.
Bengals president and owner Mike Brown—Paul Brown’s son—remembered that head coach Dave Shula wanted Klingler badly.
“Dave (Shula) was the one that wanted Klingler,” Brown told the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Jim Owczarski in the summer of 2017. “We weren’t going to draft Klingler. We had no plans to draft Klingler until literally the day before the draft or the day of the draft even—I’ve forgotten which.”
After sizing up Klingler during a pre-draft workout, Shula thought he was the next big thing. Although David wasn’t on Dan Marino’s level, Shula still thought he had plenty of upside.
🏈 Steelers 10 sacks in Cincinnati
Steelers welcome David Klingler to the NFL in 1992 by breaking their team record for most sacks in a game in a 21-9 victory.pic.twitter.com/cJaMlCyRZb
— Steel City Star (@steelcitystar) December 21, 2020
Klingler’s selection surprised his agent, Leigh Steinberg.
Steinberg told the Cincinnati Enquirer 25 years later that the Bengals drafting a quarterback when they still had Pro Bowler Boomer Esiason didn’t make any sense.
Plus, Steinberg and the Bengals did not keep in touch during the lead-up to the 1992 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately, Dave Shula’s gamble on David Klingler would backfire miserably.
Klingler joined Cincinnati during a tumultuous time in franchise history. The team was going through a transitional phase following Brown’s death just a month prior to David’s senior season with the Houston Cougars.
Not only that, but Klingler and his Bengals teammates were also adjusting to new head coach Dave Shula’s system.
Klingler had 530 passing yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions backing up Esiason in the latter’s last year in Cincinnati in 1992.
Esiason offered the Cincinnati Enquirer an honest assessment of Klingler’s rookie year in the NFL.
“Much like my rookie year, he just wasn’t ready,” Esiason told Owczarski in 2017.
The Bengals won just five games in Klingler’s rookie season and missed the postseason for the second consecutive year.
After Cincinnati traded Esiason to the New York Jets prior to the 1993 NFL campaign, Shula made Klingler his starting quarterback.
Klingler was nowhere near the explosive quarterback he was during his college days. He had 1,935 passing yards, six touchdowns, and nine interceptions in 14 games for the Bengals in 1993.
With Klingler under center, Cincinnati had an atrocious 3-13 win-loss record that year.
Things went from bad to worse for Klingler when he sustained elbow and shoulder injuries the following offseason.
Those injuries took a toll on Klingler’s performance on the football field—he had 1,327 passing yards, six touchdowns, and nine interceptions while going 1-7 in his first eight starts for the Bengals in 1994.
Klingler was already dinged up after playing just three pro football seasons. The leaky and porous Bengals offensive line allowed pass rushers to sack him 82 times from 1992 to 1994.
At that point, Dave Shula had seen enough. He yanked Klingler from the starting lineup and replaced him with Jeff Blake.
Blake didn’t fare much better. He won just two of his final eight starts as Cincinnati duplicated its horrendous 3-13 win-loss record from the previous season.
With Klingler languishing on the bench, Cincinnati won seven games in 1995. Klingler, who played behind Blake, had just 88 passing yards, one touchdown, and one interception in three games that year.
The trend continued when Klingler signed with the Oakland Raiders prior to the 1996 NFL season. Over the next two seasons, he was buried deep in the quarterback depth chart behind Jeff Hostetler and Jeff George.
Klingler took the field just twice in his two seasons with the Silver and Black. He had a combined 114 passing yards and one interception from 1996 to 1997.
The Raiders were an average team during David Klingler’s two-year tenure. They averaged barely six wins and missed the postseason each time.
Klingler had one shot at redemption when the Green Bay Packers signed him in 1997. Regrettably, they released him prior to the start of the 1997 NFL season.
David Klingler retired from the National Football League after the Packers waived him. The 28-year-old quarterback had 3,994 passing yards, 16 touchdown passes, and 22 interceptions in his six-season pro football career from 1992 to 1997.
David Klingler, his wife Katie, and their two sons, Luke and James (named after Biblical characters), currently reside in the Katy, TX area.
As Klingler’s pro football career dwindled in the mid-1990s, several coaches approached him about a possible football coaching career after he retired from the gridiron.
One man who thought Klingler had what it took to excel in the NFL coaching ranks was Oakland Raiders head coach Joe Bugel.
Bugel told Klingler during the 1997 NFL season that he could find a spot for him on his coaching staff if he decided to retire.
Klingler then asked Bugel if he had any regrets about coaching in the National Football League. The former told Texas Monthly’s Kelly Dearmore in the summer of 2021 that he remembered Bugel could not make eye contact with him after he asked that question.
An emotional Bugel told Klingler that he kissed his young son goodnight and before he knew it, he had already turned 16 years old.
The message to David Klingler was loud and clear—the grind of coaching in the National Football League could have serious repercussions on his family life. He never wanted to become a part of that.
“I could count the number of coaches I knew who were still married on one hand,” Klingler told Dearmore 24 years after his conversation with Bugel.
When Bugel reached out to Klingler, the latter thought about his wife, Katy, and their toddler. He politely declined Bugel’s offer and told him he would embark on a post-football career that allowed him to prioritize family matters.
It did not take long for David Klingler to find out what his life’s calling was.
Klingler and his wife went to a summer Bible study after his rookie year with the Cincinnati Bengals in 1992.
It turned out that Houston Oilers players had organized the Bible study. Pastor Voddie Baucham, who presided over the meeting, met with Klingler afterward.
Although Klingler only had one season of pro football experience under his belt, Baucham encouraged him to hang up his cleats and attend seminary.
Fast forward five years later and David Klingler retired from the National Football League. He worked as a rancher in Texas for the next three years.
Baucham reached out to him again and this time around, the former Bengals quarterback said yes.
Klingler told Dearmore in 2021 that he had no intentions of becoming a pastor. He just wanted to dig deeper into Scripture and let the chips fall where they may. David eventually studied at Dallas Theological Seminary in Houston, TX in 2000.
Theology resonated deeply with David the moment he set foot in the seminary. Charles Baylis, his “Genesis to Judges” professor, inspired him to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible during his first semester.
During Klingler’s early years in seminary, his once-dynamite throwing arm had degraded considerably.
“I can’t throw a football 35 yards anymore,” the 33-year-old Klingler told Geoff Hobson of the Cincinnati Bengals’ official website in 2002. “Whether you’re Dan Marino or David Klingler, there comes a time you can’t do it anymore, and it’s time to do something else.”
Klingler hit the books hard and eventually earned his master’s degree in theology in 2004. He taught Hebrew at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary shortly afterward.
During this time, Klingler enrolled in Dallas Theological Seminary’s Ph.D. course on the Old Testament.
Klingler’s career as a pastor gained more traction in subsequent years. After wrapping up his Ph.D. in 2010, his alma mater, the Dallas Theological Seminary, promoted him to its executive director position.
At that point in David Klingler’s life, he spoke Latin, French, Aramaic, Syriac, Hebrew, German, and Greek aside from his native English, per Texas Monthly.
Klingler’s post-football career and family life keep him so busy that he has not kept tabs on the National Football League in recent years.
Ironically, his wife, Katie, has been more up-to-speed about football than he has been.
“My wife likes watching football, but I don’t,” Klingler confessed to Texas Monthly in 2021. “For me, watching football would be like an accountant that still goes to CPA seminars after they retire.”
According to Dearmore, Klingler passed on his football genes to his two sons, Luke and James. Luke is a former redshirt freshman quarterback for his dad’s college alma mater, the Houston Cougars.
The Cougars retired David Klingler’s No. 7 jersey in the fall of 2016.
Klingler wrote a book entitled Validity in the Identification and Interpretation of Literary Allusions in the Hebrew Bible in October 2021. He currently hosts the Teach Me the Bible podcast.