You might say it was destiny. Kismet.
The quarterback was 17 years old at the time and chasing a deer with the girl who would later become his wife. The deer had stopped, and so the couple stood very quiet and still a few yards away, watching with gentle curiosity. They flashed wide eyes to one another and the animal seemed to meet their gaze. In the late afternoon of a late summer day, they shared a moment, the deer, the quarterback and the girl, until the ground in between them suddenly began to move. The deer sprinted away in silence, leaving only the sound of cicadas.
Sometimes, it really is just the song of insects or the wind rustling through a pile of dry leaves that scares an animal off. The quarterback, however, knew otherwise. Call it outdoors instinct. He had spent his childhood wayfaring the hinterland of Central Texas, from sunup to supper call and back out when there was no school or football practice. For a bit, his father rented a foreman's house on a ranch that spilled a good 600 acres and the family had the run of it. So he knew to scoop behind him the girl as the rattlesnake rose from a dusty cover into striking position -- the spade-shaped head and the face emblazoned with black stripes that run diagonally, like Zorro's mask, and the half-inch fangs identified a western diamondback, which feeds on prairie dogs, gophers and chipmunks and bites more people than any other venomous snake in the United States. It was quite big -- five feet long, the quarterback quickly estimated, knowing that a rattlesnake strikes one-third to half its body length -- and it angrily hissed at them. And then he remembered something he saw on the Discovery Channel.
The quarterback slipped off one of his boots – this is why real outdoorsmen wear them – attached it to the end of a stick that he picked from the ground and dangled it in front of the hissing western diamondback. The rattlesnake struck the boot. The boot danced and the snake struck again. And again. Nearly 10 times the snake attacked the boot. Until, finally, the snake recoiled and lay lifeless on the ground. What do you know? It worked. That show on the Discovery Channel reported that a rattlesnake will play dead when prey doesn't fall victim to its spectacular bite.
So the quarterback reached down and plucked the rattlesnake by its neck and held it out. With his other hand, he retrieved the .38 caliber handgun fastened to his hip and fired a round into the rattler's head. He then used his favorite pocketknife to cut off the rattles. Thirteen of them!
His prize of valor -- and the antidote to the old Cherokee legend that says he who kills a rattlesnake will soon see others; and should he kill a second one, so many will encircle him "whichever he may turn that he will become dazed at the sight of their glistening eyes and darting tongues and will go wandering about like a crazy man, unable to find his way out of the woods."
"Like a rabbit's foot," the quarterback would say later, "their rattles are good luck."
If you don't know of him, you will. (A little juicy nugget for you fantasy freaks to file away before your draft: A former scout by the name of Dave Razzano -- who worked for three different teams that made it to five Super Bowls over 22 years -- predicts Kolb will throw 30 to 35 touchdown passes this season. By comparison, Donovan McNabb slung 22 last year.)
Speaking of McNabb, Kolb (pronounced cob, as in "corn on the") is the reason the Philadelphia Eagles shipped their former franchise quarterback to Washington. Kolb is Aaron Rodgers. After three seasons as an understudy, he could no longer learn anything more by watching from the sidelines. Kolb's rookie contract was expiring, McNabb was growing older, and as the story of the Donovan McNabb Philadelphia Eagles was growing even older, the landscape of the team was growing younger. The team had a choice that wasn't as difficult as you might think.
Out of respect for McNabb's highly successful tenure, in which he accomplished everything possible for a quarterback except for winning a ring, and because of a little poker strategy by head coach Andy Reid and new general manager Howie Roseman, the Eagles portrayed the decision between McNabb and Kolb as angst-filled. But the truth was they were trying to move him for much of the offseason. There were just no takers at the team's asking price of a first-round draft pick for McNabb, who at 33, was five years younger than Brett Favre when the Packers traded him to the Jets.
Finally, on April 5, the Eagles settled for a second-rounder in 2010 and a fourth-rounder in 2011 from the division-rival Redskins. Herein lies the biggest difference with the Favre trade: Knowing the Vikings lusted after Favre, Green Bay opted for less in return and moved him to the AFC. The team also inserted a poison pill so the Jets couldn't turn around and flip Favre to a team inside the division, at the risk of surrendering three first-round draft picks. That provision also prevented any potential third team from sending him to the NFC North. It took Favre retiring and unretiring for him to land in Minnesota. Meanwhile, the Eagles openly embraced the notion of facing their guy twice a season, which says oodles about McNabb and Kolb.
The stars begin to fade as the night sky over Central Texas thaws incrementally, moving forward from the east, the precursor to daybreak. As we leave the center of town, not far from where Kolb lives in the offseason with his wife and two daughters, it is still terribly warm, the temperature in the upper 80s before the sun even arrives with its late June might.
Rural land quickly spills outside Glen Rose, and Kolb, driving his black pickup, boat in tow, opts to enter the property of the Ten Triple X Ranch further down from the lakes that we're fishing because old Joe Mitchell's road is a much better drive. Mitchell made his fortune by pioneering the dial around long-distance business -- allowing customers to get discounted long-distance rates by dialing 10-10 plus an access code. Cell phones soon arrived, and Mitchell bought this 8,500-acre ranch, an outdoorsman's paradise featuring several lakes and spring-fed creeks that are home to bass, striper and catfish, and rolling hills that offer the likes of elk, whitetail deer, fallow deer, black buck antelope, Corsican rams, Spanish goats, buffalo and turkey.
The sky lightens just after 5 a.m., and you can see animals frolic on the side of the road. "Look," Kolb points. "There."
An antelope buck chases a doe.
"This time of the year," he explains, "the bucks usually run together. Then when mating season begins, they start fighting each other. Sound familiar?"
Kolb likes to talk wildlife. He likes to explain wildlife, especially to the city folk whose only encounter with green is the leaf of basil in their red sauce and the grass that grows between the cracks of the sidewalk. He explains like a quarterback. He explains like a quarterback who's the son of a coach.
He's explaining wild-hog hunting now. How it's tradition here because the hogs destroy the crops. How you send out your American bulldogs to track the hogs and they'll bay when they have one encircled, and then you haul ass in your truck to find them. How to take the hog down, you need to carefully get behind it and grab its hind legs, flip it over and stab it in the heart. He said he hasn't hunted hogs since he's been in the league, but recalls the time one scared the devil out of him. See, you have to know these pigs aren't lovable pigs nicknamed Babe. They're mean, aggressive, snorting razorbacks. And that one time, he went to snatch one's back legs and his dog let go and so he let go and got all turned around -- and he looked back to see the fanged pig headed full speed for him. The pig was two feet in front of him when his dog recovered and detained it. "They're really good eating," Kolb says. "Very tasty."
Kolb backs the trailer to the edge of the water, and suggests I wait on the makeshift dock. Wearing Nike sandals, he hops out and in moments, without need of any help, has the boat running on the lake. The sun peeks from above the horizon, and the water glistens from an early morning bath of light. The sky has a bluish-purple hue. I look down at my cell phone. I can't get service on the sprawling ranch long distance built.
"Isn't it just perfect?" Kolb remarks, happy the moment is not lost on me. He retrieves several elaborate fishing rods from a floor compartment and toys with them. He gets his rods and reels for free, too, because he's a largemouth bass fisherman who just happens to be a starting NFL quarterback. He inspects a shorter rod and nods, "Since you have no experience, you're going to use a ladies' one, OK?"