Carson Palmer was born on December 27, 1979, in Fresno, California. As might be expected from a future athlete, young Carson spent his childhood playing sports. While he also had a weakness for Nintendo, his favorite video games were football games like Tecmo Bowl (or shoot-em-ups like Contra). "If only there was a game where army men played sports," Palmer recently joked when asked what he liked to play.
In the mid-1990s, Palmer attended Santa Margarita High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, California. During his junior year, Palmer's father took a job in Connecticut, but the family stayed in California so that Palmer could stay in his high school, where he was having great success as a quarterback and a member of the basketball team.
In 1997, his senior year, Palmer passed for 31 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions, and led his undefeated team to victory at the state championships for the second year running. Palmer set 27 school records in total.
In the fall of 1998, Carson Palmer enrolled at the University of Southern California, where he majored in public policy and management. Palmer made waves as a freshman starting quarterback for the USC Trojans. But his promising start was derailed when, four games into his sophomore year, Palmer broke his collarbone and spent the rest of the season on the sidelines.
Upon his return in 2000, Palmer was unable to play at his best. For a player unaccustomed to being behind in a game, the sharp upturn in interceptions was humbling.
Palmer's injury and struggles helped him mature as a player, and during his junior year, Palmer came back with a vengeance. Palmer's fellow Trojans and coaching staff were coming together better too, and, by his senior year, Palmer was living up to the hype that had been poured on him as a freshman.
In 2002, Palmer won the Heisman Trophy, only the fifth USC player so honored (another former USC Heisman winner was O.J. Simpson). Palmer also took home the 2002 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as best college quarterback, as well as other awards and distinctions from the sports community.
With such a stellar final year, Palmer was a top prospect for the NFL. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round, and was the overall No. 1 pick. By early 2004, Palmer was made the Bengals' starting quarterback. However, a disappointing autumn followed by a knee injury in December 2004 made it look like Palmer was once again destined to play below his potential.
But just as they had been during his college days, it looks like Palmer's troubles are just bumps on the road to greater achievement.
In 2005, finishing 11-5 the Bengals clinched the AFC North title, their first divisional championship since 1988, when they won the now-defunct AFC central division. Palmer became the very first Bengals QB to finish a season with a 100+ passer rating, tied Peyton Manning's record for most consecutive games with a triple digit passer rating, led the NFL in completion percentage, and set a franchise record by throwing a league-leading 32 touchdown passes. On December 21, 2005, Carson Palmer was one of five Bengals voted to the 2006 Pro Bowl game. The others are tackle Willie Anderson, kicker Shayne Graham, wide receiver Chad Johnson, and cornerback Deltha O'Neal. This would have been Palmer's first pro bowl appearance, but he did not play in it due to injury. On December 29, 2005 Palmer signed a 6-year contract extension that will keep him in Cincinnati until 2014. The deal is for 9 years and $118.75 million.
In the wild card round of the 2005 playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Palmer suffered a knee injury on his first and only pass of the game: a 66-yard completion to wide receiver Chris Henry. Steelers defensive tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen collided with Palmer's left knee, and Palmer was left writhing on the turf in agony as he had to be taken off the field on a cart. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test revealed that Palmer had torn both the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL). Backup quarterback Jon Kitna took over and led the team effectively enough for them to finish the first half leading 17-14, but they were dominated in the second half and lost the game 31-17. The officials found that von Oelhoffen did not have an unobstructed path to Palmer and that it was altered by Bengals offensive lineman Eric Steinbach. Therefore, no flag was thrown on the play.
Palmer's 66-yard completion to Henry on his sole play was both the longest play of the game and a franchise record for the longest play in postseason history.
Palmer played impressively in the 2005 season, and doubtlessly will keep doing so for many more -- although he plans to put his college management degree to good use in the restaurant business once his NFL career comes to an end. Carson Palmer currently lives in Laguna Hills, California, with his wife, Shaelyn.
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