Byron Leftwich and Ben Roethlisberger will meet in a reunion of Mid-American Conference quarterbacks this Sunday night, and Leftwich says Roethlisberger has a debt to pay.
"He owes me," Leftwich said, referring to a friendly bet the two quarterbacks made this season. Each bet his alma mater would beat the other's. Leftwich won the bet when Marshall defeated Miami of Ohio, but Leftwich wasn't saying what the stakes were.
They represent two members of a bright crop of young quarterbacks in the NFL, and Leftwich and Roethlisberger are also united by the details of their entrance into the NFL. The story goes like this:
• Baltimore attempted a trade with Minnesota in the 2003 draft, for the purpose of selecting Leftwich, but the two teams couldn't finalize the deal before the clock ran out on Minnesota. That put the Jaguars on the clock and they selected Leftwich with the seventh pick of the draft.
• The Jaguars owned the ninth pick of this year's draft and Roethlisberger was available to them, but, of course, the Jaguars weren't interested because they had selected Leftwich the previous year. Had Baltimore and Minnesota consummated that '03 trade, Leftwich would be in Baltimore and Roethlisberger might've been the Jaguars' pick this season.
Leftwich listened to that not-so-far-fetched draft scenario, shook his head and said nothing. After all, the two quarterbacks are best of friends and this is a week that will conclude with a head-on confrontation between the two.
"He's just having fun. I told him, 'what you're doing is special,'" Leftwich said of one of his many phone conversations with Roethlisberger. "I think I'm going to let him call me (this week)," Leftwich added.
Roethlisberger has yet to lose as a pro quarterback. He'll bring a 9-0 record into Sunday's game and, of course, Leftwich would love to provide the first blemish on Roethlisberger's resume. Leftwich might even forgive the debt should he win Sunday night.
A month ago, a Jaguars win would've seemed impossible. The Steelers had just beaten the Patriots and Eagles in consecutive games and Roethlisberger was the toast of the league, but he's cooled off considerably since then.
"They're winning, though. That's the key. He's winning football games. That's all that matters. I don't know if he's hit the wall or not," said Leftwich, who experienced a dip in his performance at a similar stage of his rookie season last year.
Roethlisberger is the quarterback of a 10-1 Steelers team that is almost certainly headed for the playoffs. He has a cast of veteran players around him and a number one-ranked defense to help erase his mistakes.
Leftwich, on the other hand, is the quarterback of a 6-5 Jaguars team that must beat the Steelers to have any hope of making it into the playoffs. In his second season and without as strong a supporting cast, more is demanded of Leftwich than of Roethlisberger.
"The big picture is making the playoffs. We can't allow ourselves to look at the big picture. We have to take it one game at a time. We have no margin for error," Leftwich said.