The guy was genuinely angry, and he was starting to push my buttons.
What is it about Byron Leftwich that is so unacceptable? The kid's a solid citizen; not even a hint of civic impropriety. He's been great with the media; answers every question until the last reporter has walked away. Leftwich remains positive in all of his remarks about Jacksonville and Jaguars fans; loves 'em both.
So what's not to like about him? Bad mechanics? He's not mobile? Come on!
Well, to each their own, I guess, but this was lunchtime on a lazy June day and after delivering to a local civic group a few words on the Jaguars' 2005 prospects, I found myself face to face with a guy in midseason anger. It might as well have been the day after the day after Christmas; you know, after Leftwich and the Jaguars laid an egg against Houston in front of 40,000 fans dressed as empty seats.
The guy was hot at me because I dared to compare Leftwich to Johnny Unitas. At least, that's what the guy said.
Here's what happened. In response to a question about Leftwich's lack of mobility, I referenced Unitas, Dan Marino and Bart Starr, all of whom are great quarterbacks who weren't especially mobile. Heck, I should've used Peyton Manning as the example.
My point was that a lot of quarterbacks have done great things without having the ability to run away from the rush. I said that quarterbacks have offensive linemen who are paid to protect their quarterback from the rush.
The guy heard Unitas, however, and got red. When the talk was over, the guy headed straight for me. How could you compare "that quarterback" to Unitas? The guy was indignant. "Look at the numbers," he kept saying.
That's where he made his mistake. When comparing players from generations ago to this generation of players, don't ever use the numbers.
Wanna look at the numbers? OK, let's look at the numbers.
In Unitas' first season as the Colts' starting quarterback, he completed 55.6 percent of his passes for 1,498 yards, nine touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 74.0 passer rating. In Unitas' second season, 1957, he completed 57.1 percent of his passes for 2,550 yards, 24 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and an 88.0 passer rating. The following year, he led the Colts to the NFL title.
By the way, Unitas and Leftwich had very similar starts to their careers. Unitas became the Colts' starting quarterback in the fifth game of his career, after starter George Shaw was injured. Leftwich became the Jaguars' starting quarterback in the fourth game of his career, after Mark Brunell was injured.
So how does Leftwich stack-up against the great Johnny Unitas who, in my opinion, is the greatest quarterback who ever lived?
Well, in Leftwich's rookie season, he completed 57.2 percent of his passes for 2,819 yards, 14 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a 73.0 passer rating. That's over 13 starts. Unitas played in 12-game seasons.
Last year, Leftwich's second season, he completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 2,941 yards, 15 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and an 82.2 passer rating. That was in 14 starts.
Frankly, there's very little statistical difference between Unitas and Leftwich over the first two years of their careers. Unitas threw more touchdown passes and interceptions in his second season, which is the first indication Weeb Ewbank knew he had something special at quarterback and he was going to feature him. Let's not forget that Unitas also had Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame.
My original comparison of Leftwich to Unitas was for a lack of mobility. It was merely meant to illustrate that great quarterbacks don't have to be great runners. Unitas speaks of then and Manning speaks of now.
Unitas was the greatest. I understand. Just don't tell me, "Look at the numbers."