They are two quarterbacks whose careers became linked as star passers in the Mid-American Conference. They are two friends who found out just how close they are this past June, when one of them nearly lost his life in a motorcycle accident.
"It's something we've always had," Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich said of his closeness with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "You know how you always know the opposing team's quarterback?"
Leftwich was at Marshall; Roethlisberger at Miami of Ohio. They were the MAC's star quarterbacks; competitors for conference honors.
"My junior year, we went there and beat him. My senior year, I missed the game with a broken ankle," Leftwich said.
Leftwich moved on to the Jaguars the following year as the seventh pick of the 2003 draft. In '04, the Steelers made Roethlisberger the 11th pick of the draft and the two quarterbacks met in a classic confrontation late that season. Roethlisberger drove the Steelers to a game-winning field goal with 18 seconds to play in a prime-time Sunday night game.
This Monday night, the two will meet again at Alltel Stadium, and all eyes, of course, will be on the two quarterbacks, especially Roethlisberger, who will be making his 2006 season debut after missing the opener due to appendectomy surgery. Roethlisberger, of course, nearly died in a motorcycle accident in early June that caused helmet awareness across America.
"My mother called me," Leftwich said of how he heard the news of Roethlisberger's accident. "My phone just started ringing off the hook. When that happened, that's when people started telling me, 'put that bike down.'"
Leftwich, too, has a motorcycle and he admitted that he has ridden it since, but not without wearing a helmet.
"Yes, I always wear a helmet, 95 percent of the time," he said.
Was he afraid for his friend?
"That was my first thought. It was frustrating later in the day hearing people say ride when you're done playing. What, you don't care about him then?" Leftwich said.
"Some guys live on the edge. That's what they ask us to do every week. That could've easily been me," the Jaguars quarterback said.
Fortunately, tragedy was averted and the two friends from college will meet again on Monday night. Roethlisberger is listed as "questionable" on the Steelers' injury report, but he's practicing this week and expectations are that he will play.
"We expect to see 'Big Ben' and we'll adjust accordingly," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said.
Roethlisberger is a different quarterback than he was when he played so well as a rookie in the Steelers' win over the Jaguars. Two years later, Roethlisberger is a quarterback who's won a Super Bowl.
"We look at Monday night's game as a big opportunity … to go up against the defending world champions," Del Rio said.
It's also an opportunity for two quarterbacks to continue a football friendship that began on the fields of the Mid-American Conference and has blossomed on prime-time television.