Barring a late recovery by Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, the Bengals' AJ McCarron and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger will lead their respective teams against each other in Saturday's Wild Card Weekend matchup.
If/when that happens, it will add another interesting chapter to the quarterbacks' relationship—one that goes back more than a decade.
McCarron was thrown into the first real action of his NFL career last month against the Steelers after Dalton injured his thumb trying to make a tackle in the first quarter of the game. The second-year quarterback looked good, all things considered, but it was Roethlisberger who walked away with a 33-20 victory.
While that Dec. 13 game was their first head-to-head meeting on the field, the two initially met years ago on a day McCarron will never forget.
The two met back in 2003, after Roethlisberger led his Miami (Ohio) RedHawks to a 49-28 victory in the GMAC Bowl (now known as the GoDaddy Bowl) in Mobile, Alabama. The RedHawks junior quarterback took home MVP honors in the final game of his college career. After the game, the Miami star hooked up a young fan with a cool piece of memorabilia.
That young fan just happens to be an AFC North rival now.
"I remember him giving me a wristband and just how cool it was," McCarron recalled Tuesday, per ESPN's Coley Harvey. "After the game, I went under the stadium to the locker room and saw his mom, dad, sister and him."
This was before Roethlisberger became an NFL star and won two Super Bowls. It was before McCarron won three national championships (two as a starter) at Alabama. Now, the two will be squaring off in the NFL playoffs.
After McCarron relieved Dalton last month, the 25-year-old quarterback made sure to remind Roethlisberger of their meeting—more than 12 years ago—after the game.
"He started dying laughing," the Bengals quarterback said. "He said he remembered. I don't know if he did, but at least it made me feel good and like it was cool."
McCarron admitted he does not know where the wristband is today, but he won't soon forget the experience.
"That's what's crazy about this," McCarron said. "A young kid from Mobile, Alabama, watched the GMAC Bowl, and later he's playing against one of the best quarterbacks in the league. It's awesome."
Cincinnati will need McCarron to be on top of his game if it is going to end a winless playoff drought that lasts more than two decades. Perhaps if McCarron gets the job done this weekend, he will return the favor and give Roethlisberger a piece of game-used equipment after the game.
It would only be fitting.