It wasn't that long ago when Kelly Herndon's NFL career was as good as finished before it had a chance to start.
Seven years ago, the undrafted free agent was cut by the San Francisco 49ers and was out of football. The next year he played in NFL Europe.
In 2001 he was on the Denver Broncos' practice squad, and the next year played in 14 games, mostly on special teams.
"He's a football player. He just makes plays," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "You saw that when he was here, he will do anything to win a football game. He's always at the right place at the right time, and he's a guy you want in your foxhole."
The Broncos unlocked Herndon's potential, and by 2003, Herndon had arrived. Eleven starts in 15 games. He was starting alongside multiple Pro Bowler Champ Bailey at cornerback in 2004, and turned that into a free-agent deal with the Seahawks in 2005.
From there it was a dream season for the Seahawks, a Super Bowl for them and Herndon, who battled injury for a good part of the campaign but set a Super Bowl record with his 76-yard interception return.
Now things have come full circle, as today Herndon is back in the Rocky Mountains to face the Broncos. And Herndon is coming off one of his best games as a Seahawk. His interception Monday night was arguably the best catch of the season for any Seahawks defender.
"Kelly has good ball skills," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "A lot of defensive backs, if you threw them 25 balls, they would catch one. He has good ball skills, and he made a great interception, and he's kind of a lightning rod around here. He goes out, does his job, he's been banged up a little bit, plays while he's hurt. Being a corner in this league is tough."
On the play, Herndon played Brett Favre's pass more like the intended receiver than did Packers tight end Bubba Franks. Herndon made a sliding over-the-shoulder grab in the back of the end zone to thwart a Green Bay scoring chance.
He was humble in talking about it, understandable for a player who has gone through so much to be an NFL starter.
"Well, God has blessed me with an ability to make plays like that," Herndon said, shrugging.
Herndon started the season very well, and was maybe the best Seahawks defender the first two games of the season. He was doing what he does best — making good tackles in the open field and providing solid pass coverage.
Starting with the fourth quarter of the New York game in Week 3, however, the Seahawks and Herndon struggled to stop long pass plays.
The slump came to an end in Week 9 against Oakland, but the Seahawks find themselves 21st in the league in pass defense going into tonight's game.
Herndon and the other two regulars at cornerback, Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings, each got their first interceptions of the season Monday night.
Being a cornerback in Seattle comes with its share of criticism. Teams have found they can have success throwing deep, a problem the defense has tried to address. Herndon can only hope to make another big play against his old team.
"It's going to be fun," he said. "I know a lot of guys there, the whole staff there. Hopefully me and the fans have a good rapport. I know what kind of fans they have, just like Seattle."
Soft-spoken and out of the spotlight — unless he's one-on-one in pass coverage — Herndon has been playing hurt this season. He has missed practice time with various nagging injuries, including this week. But on game day, he is what Holmgren calls "a battler."
"He's a pretty even-keeled, even-tempered guy, kind of a quiet guy who does his job," Holmgren said. "It's just that his mistakes are there for the world to see. No one plays a perfect ballgame.
"Kelly is hanging in there and battling. I don't have any problems with how he's playing."
Josť Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or firstname.lastname@example.org