A tip of the cap to Cal's Kevin Riley

November, 2, 2010
11/02/10
11:53
AM ET
California won't build a statue of Kevin Riley outside of Memorial Stadium. It's unlikely that many Old Blues will demand their children and grandchildren be named "Kevin" or "Riley" in tribute to the now-former Cal quarterback. The Bears have produced many good quarterbacks through the years. Riley will be well down the list when they count off the best ones.

But would it be too much to pause and tip our caps to Riley? To give him -- if not praise -- at least respect?

For whatever reason that Riley never became a "special" quarterback, it wasn't for a lack of trying. You wanted the Bears to win every game and Riley to go all Aaron Rodgers? Trust me: Riley wanted it more. My guess is he had plenty of nights tossing and turning wondering why things couldn't come together.

[+] EnlargeKevin Riley
AP Photo/Rick BowmerCal's Kevin Riley threw for 1,409 yards this season before injuring his left knee.
“It’s upsetting to see Kevin end his collegiate career like that,” Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said in a statement reporting Riley's career-ending knee injury suffered at Oregon State last Saturday.

“He has been a very strong competitor during his time at Cal and has dedicated himself to our program. He’s a great team player and has a lot of passion for Cal football. He’s provided a lot of great moments.”

What a complicated relationship Tedford and Riley have had. Recall their first made-for-TV moment, when Riley's ill-advised scramble in the last seconds against Oregon State in 2007 -- he was filling in for an injured Nate Longshore when Nate Longshore was still Nate Longshore -- probably cost the Bears the No. 1 ranking. The cameras caught Tedford, far from the demonstrative sort on the sideline, jumping into the air and slamming his play sheet to the ground.

Tedford's moving compassion for Riley on Saturday when it was clear the injury was severe is probably being noted by recruits and their parents: This guy cares about his players.

Tedford has benched Riley. He's defended Riley. He tried to get others to beat him out. He spent this past offseason telling anyone who would listen that Riley's numbers ranked him among all the celebrated quarterbacks in the Pac-10.

Those numbers? Riley is among Cal’s all-time leaders in touchdown passes (50, No. 5), total offense (6,136, No. 6), passer efficiency (131.55, No. 7), passing yardage (6,182, No. 8) and 250-yard passing games (7, No. 10). He has completed 55.5 percent of his throws with 50 TDs and 21 interceptions. He has scored another five touchdowns on the ground.

Riley is 19-12 in 31 career starts. He's won more games than any other active Pac-10 quarterback. Riley had a string of 11 straight games with a touchdown pass, spanning the final eight outings of his junior campaign and the first three of this season. In 2010, he completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,409 yards with 13 touchdown and six interceptions. He probably had his strongest performance of the season in his last full game before the injury, completing 19 of 28 passes for 240 yards, with two touchdown tosses and no interceptions in a 50-17 win over Arizona State.

As of today, he's ranked 32nd in the nation in passing efficiency.

There was a time when going 19-12 as Cal's QB would have been pretty darn good. These are not those times. Bears fans engorged themselves on the success of Tedford's early years and are frustrated that the program isn't taking the proverbial next step. Longshore and now Riley are the first two players who fans finger over the recent middling results.

And that frustration is not invalid. In the program's big picture, there are notable trends and patterns that are hard to ignore.

Therein lies something I always liked about Riley: He wasn't a whiner. And he never hid. He admitted his own frustration and shortcomings. Reporters would ask the tough questions, he'd provide the tough answers. Sometimes it was clear he wished his inquisitors knew enough about football to realize a lot of things go into a failed play, but he generally sucked it up.

He tried to get better. He worked on his mechanics. He fought to retain his confidence in a new-media world that makes it impossible to block out criticism.

Riley burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2007, when he entered the Armed Forced Bowl early in the second quarter, trailing 21-0, and directed the Bears to a 42-36 victory over Air Force. He completed 16-of-19 for 269 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

At that point, it was hard to believe his future script wouldn't include championships and postseason honors.

But not everyone gets a storybook ending. At least in sports. Riley's got his whole life ahead in which to write a lasting, more substantive script than the ones recounting the events on fall Saturdays.

But as to that football part of Riley's life, today we tip our cap. Respect.

Ted Miller | email

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