In the latest installment of Card Back Q&A, ge talks about converting from high school quarterback to tight end, playing with Peyton Manning and crew, the “Kenny Fanchise” tag and much more.
Tony Reid–Your 1995 Bowman rookie card stated that you were a civilian for a year after high school graduation before enrolling in college. What did you do during your year off?
Ken Dilger– I graduated in May of 1989 and I was the quarterback of a small school in a small area in southwest Indiana. Most of the MAC schools- Ball State, Indiana State and those type of teams offered me a scholarship. Illinois was the only school to give me a scholarship offer in the Big Ten. When it came down to it, Illinois told me all of their scholarship were committed for the fall of 1989 but come the spring of 1990 I would be the first player in that class. OK. I sat out that fall semester and coached 7th grade football at my old high school. It was a good time.
TR-The back of your 1996 Fleer Breakthroughs card mentioned your impressive production level right out of the gate as a rookie and that you quickly became one of quarterback Jim Harbaugh’s favorite targets. Could you give us a little insight what it was like to play with Jim?
KD-Jim wasn’t our starter in 1995. Craig Erikson was. I think the second game of the year we were in New York and Craig was struggling a little bit. Jim Harbaugh comes in maybe in the third quarter. He brought us back and we won the game in overtime. That was how he became known as Captain Comeback. He caught me on a couple of nice passes throughout the season. A lot of times he would just throw it up deep and I would go get it.
TR–It was mentioned on the back of a number of your cards that Harbaugh called you “Kenny Franchise”. Was that alright with you?
KD-Jim was a big fan of me when I was a rookie and in my second and third year. The team would franchise players and he always said I would get the franchise tag. That is where the name came from.
TR–Your Playoff card mentioned that you were an All-Conference quarterback in high school and that you converted to tight end at the University of Illinois. What was that process like for you?
KD-It was a long, tough transition. I came into college at 215 pounds. Back in those days you didn’t really have much of a weight lifting program. When I got to Illinois I was working out with the punters and kickers. Then the next fall I slowly started moving up the tight end group and started working out with them. I had to gain 30-35 pounds before I could play in the Big Ten. Even then it was tough to be big and strong enough to play in the Big Ten with those physical defensive ends.
TR–Many of the card backs from your second year mention you bursting onto the scene against the 49ers with the 7 catch, 125-yard game, which was the most yards by a Colts tight end since John Mackey in 1967. What are your memories of that game and you are terrific rookie season?
KD-It was one of those games where I finally got in the rhythm of the offense. For the first here or four games of the year I wasn’t really starting. I think they were the defending champions and we were just trying to get going as an offense. It must have been one of those games that they forgot about me and I caught some balls and got my first touchdown that game.
TR–The back of your 2000 Topps card mentions how incredibly loaded the Colts offense was at the time and there’s a quote from Peyton Manning that states “Ken Dilger is the most unselfish player I have ever played with.” What was your time like with The Sheriff in Indy?
KD-Yeah it was a great time with Peyton coming in because we knew he was going to be the leader for the Colts for a long time. Once you are in that offense and you have so many weapons around you-you had Peyton, Edgerrin, Marvin and then Reggie Wayne came in. There wasn’t a lot of balls to go around so I knew if I was going to be in this offense I had to be a great run blocker and pass blocker. I learned that from the late great Howard Mudd who passed away (a couple of years ago). He was one of the best offensive line coaches I ever had. He taught me how to block versus defensive ends and he kept me in the league for ten years because I knew how to block.
TR–Your 2003 Score card mentions that you are a major contributor to the Tampa Bay Super Bowl run in 2002. How special was it to finally capture a Lombardi Trophy, a Super Bowl ring and do it in the Gruden Bowl and all that entailed?
KD-It was great. I had a seven year run here in Indianapolis and went down to Tampa to finish out my career. Gruden brought in some offensive players at that time. That defense was one of the greatest defenses ever. If Gruden could get the offense going we knew we could play well and do some things. The offensive clicked in the second half and we made a great run in the NFC Championship game in Philadelphia and then the Super Bowl win against the Raiders. It was one of those years where everything came together and a lot of good things happened to us that year. It was a great way to finish a season.
More Q&A with Ken Dilger here.