Trent Dilfer had quite a football career. Born in Santa Cruz, California, he starred at Aptos High School and Fresno State where he became an All-American. After being selected sixth overall in the 1994 NFL Draft, he struggled under intense expectations in Tampa Bay and many thought that his career would never recover. But he defied the naysayers and won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. After leaving Baltimore he spent most of his later career as a journeyman quarterback who never lived up to the hype but he gave everything he had despite suffering an impossibly devastating tragedy late in his career. This is his story.
Trent Farris Dilfer was born on March 13, 1972 in Santa Cruz, California. He moved to Aptos when he was young and starred at the local high school. He was All-League and All-County in football, basketball and golf, leading each team to the playoffs. As a senior, he was named the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s Male Athlete of the Year. After graduating in 1990, Dilfer accepted a scholarship to Fresno State University. Appearing in nine games as a freshman, he passed for 832 yards and two touchdowns against three interceptions.
Dilfer started all 13 games and completed 52.2% of his passes while passing for 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns, giving up 14 interceptions. The Bulldogs went 9-4 that year, won the conference championship and defeated USC 24-7 in the Freedom Bowl. In a sign of things to come, Dilfer led a conservative offense against the favored Trojans, throwing for 164 yards while the Bulldogs ground out 241 yards rushing. To this day, it is considered one of the biggest victories in Fresno State history.
Trent Dilfer was even better the following year, completing 64.1% of his passes while throwing for 3,799 yards and 30 touchdowns against just five touchdowns. As a result of his quality play, he was named a first-team All-American and earned the Sammy Baugh Trophy. He led the Bulldogs to an 8-4 record, another WAC championship and an appearance in the Aloha Bowl where they lost to the University of Colorado 41-30. Ironically, Trent Dilfer had his best day of his college career against the Buffalo, passing for a career high 523 yards and two touchdowns. At the conclusion of the season, Dilfer declared himself eligible for the 1994 NFL Draft, foregoing his senior year.
Since their beginning, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers struggled mightily to find consistent excellence, only making the playoffs a handful of times in their first two decades of existence. It was known as a place where careers went to die. Trent Dilfer was drafted by the Buccaneers sixth overall in the 1994 NFL Draft. Expectations are always high for such a high draft pick and Dilfer was no exception, despite the lack of talent throughout the roster.
Appearing in five games as a rookie, Trent Dilfer completed 46.3% of his passes for 433 yards and one touchdown against six interceptions. Despite his struggles, he earned the starting job in 1995. However, his growing pains soon became insurmountable as he tossed just four touchdowns and coughed up 18 interceptions in his first year as a starter. From that season onward, Tampa Bay fans were against him as their quarterback.
The 1996 season was the beginning of a rebuilding period for the Buccaneers as they welcomed head coach Tony Dungy into the organization. Oftentimes when a new coaching staff takes over a quarterback’s job is at stake. Trent Dilfer was no different but the Buccaneers lacked talent in those days and he was still pretty young, just 24 years old. Dungy decided to give him a chance and Dilfer delivered late in the year. He finished the year with 12 touchdown passes to 19 interceptions.
The Buccaneers had ended the 1996 season on a hot streak, going 6-5 after losing the first five games of the season. Emboldened by their new lease on life, the Buccaneers set out to prove the naysayers wrong in 1997. While the defense led the charge, Trent Dilfer contributed with 21 touchdown passes and the only Pro Bowl invitation of his career. Tampa Bay made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade and defeated the Detroit Lions 20-10 in the first round of the playoffs. However, they lost to the Green Bay Packers 21-7 in the next round.
From there, the bottom fell out of Dilfer’s time in Tampa Bay. In 1998, Trent Dilfer and the Buccaneers struggled with the team going 8-8 and missing the playoffs. Though he threw 21 touchdown passes, his 15 interceptions hurt the team. The following year, Dilfer hurt his shoulder in the tenth game of the season and was done for the year, watching the team’s run to the NFC Championship Game from the sideline. At this point in his career it was becoming painfully obvious that his time in Tampa Bay was coming to a close. Rookie Shaun King had taken over when Dilfer got hurt and had led the team to the NFC Championship Game. The Buccaneers saw King as their franchise quarterback, not Dilfer, and released him when the season concluded. But Trent Dilfer’s football career was far from over.
When Trent Dilfer came to the Baltimore, Tony Banks was the starting quarterback and he was hot. In the second game of the season he threw for five touchdowns and led the team to a 3-1 start. However, when the calendar turned to October, the Raven’s offense turned stagnant and failed to score a touchdown in the entire month. Despite their offensive ineptitude, the Ravens still managed to win two out of their five games in October.
After suffering through a three game losing streak to end the month, Trent Dilfer took over as the Raven’s quarterback to begin the month of November. In his first game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Dilfer threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandon Stokley in the second quarter to end the Raven’s drought. He finished with three touchdown passes and a 117.8 quarterback rating. Two of his three touchdown passes went to tight end Shannon Sharpe, beginning a connection that would come to greatly benefit the Ravens.
From there, the Raven’s season took off. With a ball control offense and a historically stellar defense, the Ravens stormed their way to the playoffs, winning their final 11 games of the regular season. Trent Dilfer finished the year with 1,502 yards and 12 touchdowns against 11 interceptions.
In the playoffs, his connection with Shannon Sharpe came in handy. Against the Denver Broncos in the first round, Dilfer threw a pass that was deflected into the air. Sharpe caught the pass and miraculously ran the deflection into the end zone for a game changing touchdown. After their 21-3 victory, the Ravens defeated the top ranked Tennessee Titans 24-10 and headed to Oakland for the AFC Championship Game.
In the second quarter against the Raiders, with the game still scoreless, the Ravens were backed up to their own four-yard line. Again, the connection between Trent Dilfer and Shannon Sharpe was on display as Dilfer tossed a 96-yard touchdown pass to the great tight end. From there, the Ravens cruised to a 16-3 victory. They won the Super Bowl two weeks later in Tampa Bay, Trent Dilfer's old home, defeating the New York Giants 34-7. Like he had done for much of the season, Trent Dilfer did just enough to help the Ravens secure a victory, tossing one touchdown pass for 153 yards. However, despite his helping bring a Super Bowl title to Baltimore, Trent Dilfer became the only quarterback in NFL history to get released from a team after having just won a Super Bowl. Thus began a lengthy time as a journeyman backup.
After getting released by Baltimore, Trent Dilfer signed with the Seattle Seahawks where he found a home for the next four years. The Seahawks were building a contender in those days and had Matt Hasselbeck as their quarterback and Mike Holmgren as their coach. As Hasselbeck’s backup, Dilfer started and won four games in 2001 while throwing for 1,014 yards and seven touchdowns. Dilfer received more opportunities in 2002, starting six games and winning two. He threw for 1,182 yards and four touchdowns against six interceptions.
Before the 2003 season began, Dilfer’s five year old son, Trevin, passed away from heart disease. Depressed, Trent Dilfer gained weight and drank himself to sleep while mourning the loss of his son. While football was a good respite from his misery, it mattered little that he didn’t start a single game in 2003, nor did it matter that he threw a miniscule 31 yards and one touchdown in relief. Over time, with the help of Matt Hasselbeck, a fellow Christian, Dilfer slowly crawled out of his depression and grew into the man that his family needed during that incredibly difficult time.
After such a difficult 2003 season, Dilfer started and won two games in 2004 and threw for 333 yards and one touchdown against three interceptions. Trent Dilfer was traded to the Cleveland Browns in 2005 where he became the starter for much of the season. After winning four games and losing seven, Dilfer was traded to the San Francisco 49ers. During his first year in San Francisco, Aptos High School named its football field after his late son, Trevin Dilfer Field.
He didn’t play in 2006 but in 2007 Dilfer was in a back and forth battle for the starting spot with former top overall pick Alex Smith. In total, Trent Dilfer started six games in 2007 and completed 51.6% of his passes for 1,166 yards and seven touchdowns with 11 interceptions. In a game against the Minnesota Vikings late in the year, Dilfer received a concussion after running for a first down. It would be the final play of his career. Two years later, he was inducted into the Fresno County Athletic Hall of Fame. Despite his retirement as a player, Trent Dilfer’s time in the game was far from over.
Trent Dilfer had been working as a guest analyst on the NFL Network since 2006 and when he retired he threw himself fulltime into a broadcasting career. Upon his retirement, he was hired as an analyst with ESPN, staying with that network until being fired in a cost cutting move in 2017.
In 2011, Dilfer became the coach of Elite 11, a quarterback competition for rising high school seniors featured on ESPN. In 2019, Dilfer became the head coach of Lipscomb Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. In his two years at the helm, the team has made the playoffs each year and even made the state championship in 2020, losing 35-28. While his coaching career is still young, it looks like a promising future.