Jamie Martin and Mark Brunell were high school quarterback foes in California. Then, as now, Brunell was the star; Brunell was recruited to the University of Washington, and Martin went to Weber State.
Since then, Brunell has established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Martin has been in a yearly battle to stay in the league.
This Thursday, right foot permitting, Martin will attempt to strengthen his hold on the backup job to Brunell, when the Jaguars play the defending NFC-champion New York Giants at Giants Stadium.
"I've got to play like I have in the past here; be smart with the ball and run the offense," Martin said today, as Jaguars players and their wives and children took part in family-day festivities prior to the team's 3:30 p.m. practice.
Martin sat out last Friday's preseason opener with a sprained foot. In his place, third-string quarterback Jonathan Quinn played nearly three-quarters of the game, but Quinn's performance certainly left the door open for Martin.
This is not something new. Martin claimed the backup job in competition with Quinn last summer. He accomplished that feat against the athletically more-gifted and stronger-armed Quinn by executing the fundamental act of moving the ball down the field with more consistency and grace.
It is what Martin does best; move the ball.
"There have been a lot of quarterbacks without strong arms; great ones. If you get the ball out in time, you can score," Martin said.
Martin has stayed "alive" in the NFL for eight seasons by doing the little things it takes to overcome the absence of a strong arm. He's also played for the Rams, Redskins and Browns, and, of course, served his one-year apprenticeship in NFL Europe.
Once upon a time, Martin dreamed of having a Brunell-like career, but his conscious moments were of the reality that he would always be the secondary role player. Teams just don't invest much of their futures in players with soft arms.
"I remember being excited all week. It was my sixth year and it was the first game I started," Martin said of that week late in the 1998 season, when Martin replaced an injured Brunell for a game against the Tennessee Oilers.
Brunell had suffered a high-ankle sprain early the previous week. Martin came off the bench to dismantle the Detroit Lions. Immediately, he began to dream. After all of those years since high school, maybe it was finally his turn to be the star.
His hopes were dashed just before halftime. Martin scrambled out of the pocket and to his left and was trying to run out of bounds to kill the clock during a two-minute drill, but Oilers defensive Steve Jackson got to Martin before the sideline did. Jackson crashed into Martin's right knee. Can you say, ACL?
"He could've let me get out of bounds, but maybe he was trying to keep me inbounds," Martin said of a hit some judged to be less than sportsmanlike.
What would've become of his career had he not been injured? Clearly, he would've been the Jaguars' starting quarterback through the final two weeks of the regular season.
"Who knows? Hopefully, I was on my way to doing good things," Martin said.
The 1999 season was spent rehabilitating the injured knee, while in the employ of the Cleveland Browns and former Jaguars offensive coordinator Chris Palmer. Martin can thank heavens for expansion, or maybe his career would've ended, and that would've been a shame because stories such as Martin's are the kind that warm the hearts of fans.
He is clearly the underdog. Who won't be rooting for Martin to light it up against the Giants?
"I could be bitter and cynical because I wasn't drafted, but I'm thankful for what I've had," Martin said.
The NFL has never allowed Martin stardom, but it's provided him with a handsome yearly salary, a pension and financial security. "Oh, yeah, I'm tight," Martin said when asked if he's saved his money.
"It's your job and you only have a few years in it. From the outside looking in, it's a game," he added.
Thursday's encounter in the Meadowlands will be just another meaningless preseason game for established stars such as Brunell, but for journeymen such as Martin, preseason games are the equivalent of the Super Bowl. It is on these steamy summer nights that players such as Martin earn their roster spots. For these players, there are no allowances for bad performances in the preseason.
"That's the one thing that gets frustrating. I've competed with guys who've been high draft picks. I make one mistake and I'm out of there. They make a mistake and they're back in there," Martin said.
"He's a lot like Eric Zeier," Atlanta Falcons personnel man Ron Hill said, comparing Martin to the Falcons journeyman quarterback. "He's not going to beat you downfield with his arm, but he's bright and he knows his role and you can win with him."
Hill was the Jaguars' director of pro personnel when the Jaguars signed Martin in the winter of 1998.
"They're second and third guys on your team. All the intangible things that go with that role, those guys have. They're always prepared and ready to go. It's a lot like (Jay) Fiedler. That's what he did. The league is full of guys like that," Hill said.
The league is not full of guys such as Brunell. He remains that rare breed of quarterback we call star. They seem destined for that role, even at a young age.
"How many times did you and Brunell play against each other in high school?" Martin was asked.
"They won all three," Martin said.
It just isn't fair.
Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.