Kelly Stouffer was primed for stardom after his three-year college football career with the Colorado State Rams.
Stouffer’s gunslinging prowess helped him set several school football records. It seemed he was a can’t-miss prospect coming out of the college ranks.
Regrettably, Kelly Stouffer became one of the biggest quarterback busts in Seattle Seahawks history, and quite possibly, NFL history.
After Stouffer held out with the then-St. Louis Cardinals due to a contract dispute in 1987, he spent his entire five-year NFL career in Seattle.
Stouffer had a chance to prove his worth with the Seahawks but became more entrenched as a third-string quarterback.
Had Kelly Stouffer made the most of his opportunity, he would probably have lived up to his billing as the sixth overall selection of the 1987 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately, he never did.
Kelly Wayne Stouffer was born to parents Lanny and Shirley in Scottsbluff, NE on July 6, 1964.
He has a brother Kevin and a sister Shelly.
Their father Lanny ran a grocery store in their neighborhood. On the other hand, his wife Shirley ran a daycare center in her home. The couple also sold ice from their garage.
Lanny and Kevin Stouffer were alcoholics when Kelly was already playing football.
“Alcohol had caused problems in my family,” Kelly Stouffer told The Seattle Times’ Craig Smith in July 1992. “It wasn’t real fun around our house at times.”
Stouffer’s backup quarterback with the Rushville Longhorns, Kurt Finkey, told Smith his friend acted as their conscience and discouraged them from consuming alcohol during their formative years.
Stouffer’s brother and father eventually sobered up many years later. He told The Seattle Times he was proud of their accomplishment. It’s one of the things he loves telling other people.
While Stouffer grew up becoming disenchanted with alcohol, he never completely shunned it.
According to Smith, Stouffer drank the occasional beer when he became an adult but never did it in public.
Stouffer attended Rushville High School in northwest Nebraska near the South Dakota border.
Kelly Stouffer was Rushville High Class of 1982. Here he is playing football and basketball for the Longhorns. If anyone at @grmustangs knows where I can get a copy of that wanted poster, don't be shy! pic.twitter.com/0fCL6li5f0
— Suiting Up Varsity (@SuitUpVarsity) September 7, 2018
He was a two-sport star for the Rushville Longhorns.
Stouffer wasn’t too shabby on the hardwood: he averaged 25.1 points and 14.8 rebounds per game for the Longhorns as a senior in 1982.
He played well enough on the gridiron that major football programs such as the Nebraska Cornhuskers wanted to recruit him.
However, they had reservations about Stouffer because he went up against smaller competition in high school, per The Seattle Times.
Kelly Stouffer would eventually set several school passing records with the Colorado State Rams during his college football career.
College Days With The Colorado State Rams
Kelly Stouffer initially attended Garden City Junior College in Kansas.
He set a national JUCO record in 1983 when he had 74 pass attempts in a single game.
Stouffer had a large entourage in the stands when he played junior college football in Kansas.
His parents, sister, girlfriend, and his girlfriend’s parents would drive all night to Garden City, KS.
Kelly Stouffer’s sister Shelly and girlfriend Barbara were cheerleaders for the Rushville football team.
Since the games were played on Friday nights, the group had to wait for them to end before they drove all the way to Kansas.
Stouffer eventually headed out west to Colorado after one season.
He attended Colorado State University from 1984 to 1986. While he majored in biology, he wouldn’t finish his degree until almost two decades later.
Before Kelly Stouffer became one of ESPN's top college football TV analysts, he was the 𝗡𝗼. 𝟲 overall pick in 1987 pic.twitter.com/ClvOy8Wexm
— Colorado State Football (@CSUFootball) April 21, 2020
Stouffer wrote in The Coloradoan in November 2016 that his recruiting trip to the CSU took all of ten minutes because Colorado State Rams head football coach Sonny Lubick and quarterbacks coach Noel Mazzone made him feel at home right away.
However, Stouffer felt more at home at Hughes Stadium.
According to Stouffer, a distinct scent at Hughes Stadium during his redshirt freshman year in 1984 told him it was his home away from his home state of Nebraska:
“This might sound a bit silly but as I stepped onto the field it was the smell of the grass that struck me first,” Stouffer wrote in The Coloradoan. “There was an almost overwhelming sense that I was home.”
Stouffer also wrote the scent of grass and feeling of belonging never left him in his three years wearing a Rams uniform.
He never felt that way in any stadium in his entire football career.
Stouffer also had a lot of fond memories at Hughes Stadium when he suited up for the Rams.
He never forgot the moves Colorado State quarterback Terry Nugent made when Stouffer redshirted in 1984. Stouffer was also thankful to Nugent for taking an interest in him back then.
Stouffer also remembered Mazzone chewing him out at halftime near the locker room stairwell because he talked back to him.
Stouffer recalled legendary CSU defensive tackle and then-athletics director Fum McGraw singing “Fum’s Song” before one game. Stouffer thought McGraw’s gesture reflected the magnitude of that particular game.
The Rams weren’t a very good football team with Kelly Stouffer under center.
Colorado State averaged just five wins per year from 1984 to 1986.
Despite the Rams’ mediocrity, Stouffer exceeded everybody’s expectations.
As of 2005, he held the school’s all-time records in career passing yards (7,141), career pass attempts (1,027), career pass completions (593), and career pass percentage (.578).
With that, Grayson now owns the Colorado State pass completion record (578). Previously held by Kelly Stouffer (1984-86).
— Colorado State Football (@CSUFootball) October 25, 2014
His 402 passing yards against the Utah Utes in 1984 tied him with Terry Nugent for sixth all-time.
Stouffer’s gaudy passing records raised his draft stock after he played his final down for the Rams.
Unfortunately, Kelly Stouffer would never become the big-name quarterback many experts thought he’d become.
Instead, he became one of the most infamous contract holdouts and quarterback busts in NFL history.
Pro Football Career
The then-St. Louis Cardinals (now known as the Arizona Cardinals) made Kelly Stouffer the sixth overall selection of the 1987 NFL Draft.
OTD 1987: With the 6th pick in the draft, the Cards selected QB Kelly Stouffer out of Colorado State. He would never sign a contract and play only 22 career NFL games with Seattle. #BigRed1980s pic.twitter.com/aEt3h23eOc
— St. Louis Football Cardinals (@BigRed_STL) April 29, 2021
The pick confirmed suspicions that Cardinals quarterback Neil Lomax was skating on thin ice, per SI.com’s Paul Zimmerman.
Regrettably, Stouffer never played a single down in a Cardinals uniform.
Stouffer held out for the entire 1987 NFL season because he wasn’t able to come to terms with the Cardinals on a contract.
Stouffer’s agents Mike Blatt and Frank Bauer asked the Cardinals for a four-year, $3.2 million contract.
The Cardinals – who became the Phoenix Cardinals in 1988 – initially countered with just $1.3 million over four years.
They eventually upped their offer to $1.8 million, which was the going rate for a player drafted sixth overall.
However, Blatt countered their client was a quarterback – a position that commanded a premium deal.
That’s when negotiations hit a standstill.
Stouffer stayed in St. Louis for six weeks in June and July so he could presumably learn the team’s offense. That plan never materialized.
“I never sat down with a coach, never saw a film,” he told Zimmerman.
Stouffer told SI.com that he felt the Cardinals never wanted him to get the starting quarterback job.
He knew about Miami Dolphins assistant coach Dan Shula watching film with legendary quarterback Dan Marino and teaching him the intricacies of their offense.
Stouffer envisioned himself learning the Cardinals’ offense in the same manner.
Instead, he felt that they were using him as a pawn to keep Lomax on his toes.
“I felt I was being used,” he told Zimmerman. “They were using me to pressure Lomax. At the time they could have signed me for $2.2 million, but everything’s hardened now. It’s been put in cement.”
While the rest of the Cardinals players sweated buckets at training camp, Stouffer went on a short vacation in Cass Lake in Minnesota with his girlfriend Barbara Thies and her parents.
He then returned to his old stomping grounds in Rushville, NE where he hit the weights hard, ran, and waited.
Stouffer took a correspondence course in children’s literature at Chardon State in the afternoons. When that was done, he watched the soap opera “Days of Our Lives” on television daily.
“I’ve been miserable to live with, but my family understands,” Stouffer told SI.com in April 1988.
According to Zimmerman, Stouffer threw a hundred footballs every night while he was in exile in Nebraska.
Stouffer settled into his nightly routine after basketball or volleyball practice wrapped up.
He didn’t start his throwing practice with his old Rushville backup quarterback Kurt Finkey until 9:30 p.m. or 10:00 p.m.
Sometimes, the two would play full-court, one-on-one basketball to spice things up a bit.
While the 23-year-old quarterback was in limbo, he stayed in a city that had no parking meters, stoplights, and movie theaters, per SI.com.
Stouffer told Zimmerman he never moved back into his old room. He kept his packed suitcases there while he slept in his younger sister’s room.
The setup made Stouffer feel his maddening situation with the Cardinals was temporary.
By the time the 1987 NFL campaign kicked off, Blatt asked the Cardinals for a four-year, $2.5 million deal for Stouffer.
At this point, Stouffer was ready to sit out the entire year and wait and see how things would pan out.
For his part, Blatt felt it would be better for Stouffer if the Cardinals traded him.
However, Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill felt otherwise.
— DNash (@Dmnash55) January 28, 2014
When the spring of 1988 came, several teams including the Seattle Seahawks, the then-San Diego Chargers, the then-Los Angeles Raiders, and Green Bay Packers expressed interest in Stouffer’s services.
After a year-long holdout with the Phoenix Cardinals, Kelly Stouffer signed a four-year, $3.1 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks in April 1988.
Stouffer, who was the Seahawks’ third-string quarterback behind Dave Krieg and Jeff Kemp, didn’t have to wait too long to get a chance in the Emerald City.
He started six games for the Seahawks after Dave Krieg separated his shoulder in September 1988.
Stouffer showed Seattle why he was the sixth overall pick in the 1987 NFL Draft.
Despite losing to the San Francisco 49ers in blowout fashion 38-7 on September 26, 1988, the Seahawks featured one memorable play from Kelly Stouffer.
Stouffer tripped over the legs of offensive lineman Edwin Bailey and then broke his nose after running back Curt Warner elbowed him.
Stouffer shook off the massive hit and threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ray Butler to the delight of 62,382 fans at the Kingdome in Seattle.
It was the Seahawks’ only touchdown of the game. The score ended an eight-quarter scoring drought for the home team.
Stouffer made headlines again just three weeks later.
He threw for a then-rookie record 370 yards in the Seahawks’ 20-19 loss to the visiting New Orleans Saints on October 16, 1988.
Stouffer suited up in eight total games for Seattle in 1988. He had 1,106 passing yards, four touchdown passes, and six interceptions that year.
The Seahawks went 9-7 and won the AFC West division in the 1988 NFL season.
Unfortunately, they lost to the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFC Divisional Round, 21-13.
After the loss to the Bengals, Stouffer fell out of favor with the Seahawks. They relegated him back to third-string status following the 1988 NFL campaign.
Stouffer suited up in just five games for the Seahawks in the next three seasons. He had 327 passing yards, zero touchdown passes, and four interceptions during that stretch.
Seattle averaged eight wins in that three-year span. They never made it to the postseason in the next ten years.
The Seahawks made wholesale changes after head coach Chuck Knox ended his nine-year tenure with the team toward the end of 1991.
The team hired former Raiders head coach Tom Flores to replace him.
As for Kelly Stouffer, he received another shot at redemption after Seattle released Krieg prior to the 1992 NFL season.
Stouffer started at quarterback for the Seahawks ahead of Dan McGwire and Stan Gelbaugh.
Also on the wall is former NFL first round selection Kelly Stouffer. He was an All-American in 1982. pic.twitter.com/V8rnqhcrW3
— Jeremy Crabtree (@jeremycrabtree) August 26, 2013
Unfortunately, Stouffer sustained an injury in Week 5 and was never the same after that.
He played in nine games for the Seahawks in 1992 and had 900 passing yards, three touchdown passes, and nine interceptions.
Kelly Stouffer had officially played his final down in the National Football League.
Seattle reached rock bottom with a dismal 2-14 win-loss campaign in 1992.
The Seahawks released Kelly Stouffer a season later.
The Miami Dolphins signed him in April 1994 but waived him prior to the start of the regular season.
After two years in limbo, Stouffer signed with the Carolina Panthers in March 1996.
Regrettably, he experienced the same fate he had with the Dolphins two years earlier.
He never signed with another NFL team again.
Kelly Stouffer finished his disappointing five-year NFL career with 2,333 passing yards, seven touchdowns, and 19 interceptions.
Kelly Stouffer and his wife Barbara have four children.
Barbara is a registered nurse. She and Kelly were married in South Dakota in 1988.
The Stouffer family reside on an 800-acre ranch twenty miles north of Rushville, NE.
They cultivate a hundred acres of crops in the Ponderosa pine forests. They assigned a relative to raise cattle in the same area.
After Stouffer retired from the National Football League, he became the head football coach of the Rushville Longhorns.
It was around this time when Kelly Stouffer’s family not only began to grow, but it was also a time when he realized he should finish what he started at Colorado State University in 1983.
Family and football placed heavy demands on Stouffer’s time as his college football career at CSU wound down. Thus, he had to postpone completing his bachelor’s degree in biology.
Stouffer became the first CSU undergraduate to complete his degree from the College of Agricultural Sciences via distance learning.
He achieved that milestone in the spring of 2000. He was thirty-five years old when he earned his bachelor’s degree from CSU.
“To me it never was an issue whether I would or wouldn’t finish,” Stouffer told CSU’s official website that year. “It would only make sense that I would.”
College of Agricultural Sciences associate dean James Heird suggested the idea of distance learning to Stouffer.
Stouffer’s college football coach Sonny Lubick introduced him to Heird. The former CSU quarterback remains close to both men to this very day.
Stouffer visits the CSU campus frequently. His daughter Maci was a former CSU softball infielder whose games he watched often.
He became a member of the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.
ESPN announces it’s broadcast crew for our Week 1 primetime showdown with JSU on Wednesday, Sept 1.
— UAB Football (@UAB_FB) August 23, 2021
Stouffer ventured into sports media in 2003. He began working as an analyst for ESPN Regional Television that year.
He served as a college football color analyst on Versus and the NFL Network four years later. He called NFL Europe games for the latter network.
Stouffer became a studio analyst for the Mountain West Network in 2011. He rejoined ESPN as a college football analyst one year later.