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George Solomon

A Tale of Three Quarterbacks

By George Solomon
Sunday, October 31, 2004; Page E02

The subject today is quarterback. And the spotlight falls on Byron Leftwich of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Mark Brunell of the Redskins and Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers.

The story lines:

Leftwich, in his second year, is one of the hottest young quarterbacks in the NFL, having brought the Jaguars from behind three times to win and helping them to a surprising 5-2 record. At 6 feet 5, 245 pounds, he has thrown for 1,664 yards and nine touchdowns, but his clutch fourth-quarter performances overshadow his being the 14th-rated starting quarterback in the league.

Leftwich, 24, became a big deal at Marshall, from where the Jaguars took him in the first round of the 2003 draft. That happened only four years after he graduated from H.D. Woodson, a high school in Northeast Washington in the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association -- the city league no longer known for its football.

His high school coach, Bob Headen, who after 32 years gave up his football role this year but kept his athletic director job, loves to recount his first encounter with Leftwich when Leftwich joined the team as a 10th grader.

"He didn't want to be a quarterback; he wanted to be a wide receiver," Headen recalled this past week. "He went out for a pass and when he threw back the ball, I said 'Who threw that ball?' Well, it was Byron, and from that moment he was a quarterback. I only had to teach him not to throw it so hard. He developed every year.

"He came from the 'hood, but was never in trouble. There was no better kid; had a smile like Magic Johnson. We keep in touch and recently he gave us some money for new uniforms."

A year ago, Leftwich replaced Brunell as the Jaguars' starter after Brunell, the mainstay of the team since its inception in 1995, injured his left elbow. Leftwich finished with the fourth-most passing yards (2,819) of any rookie in league history, leaving Brunell, now 34, available as an unrestricted free agent. Enter Joe Gibbs, looking for a veteran quarterback, impressed with Brunell's skills and character.

But going into Sunday's game against Favre's Packers at FedEx Field, Brunell ranks 25th among the NFL's starting quarterbacks, with only five touchdown passes and 912 yards. Gibbs remains solidly behind Brunell, believing him not to be the reason for the team's 2-4 record. Nevertheless, Brunell has not shown the mobility or arm strength he had in Jacksonville. Another game of pedestrian play by Brunell should result in Gibbs thinking about giving Patrick Ramsey or Tim Hasselbeck a chance.

That brings us to Sunday's game at FedEx, where Favre makes his 196th consecutive start over a span of 14 years. Favre has the Packers (3-4) on a roll. In an era when players often jump from team to team, Favre is the Green Bay Packers. Sean Taylor, charged this week with DWI, is missing the opportunity to compete against the best. Taylor will learn from this mistake, or he won't be in the league very long.

Some Start for Wizards

For a young team seeking a fast start, who needed center Brendan Haywood (three games) and guard Larry Hughes (one game) to get suspended by the NBA for their part in a senseless fight in a preseason game Monday night against Chicago? Neither player will be available for Wednesday night's opener at Memphis, nor will Gilbert Arenas (one-game suspension for improper gun registration, like he's trying out for the Olympic hunting team?) and new reserve guard Anthony Peeler (suspension for an ill-timed elbow last season).

"Not the optimum way to start the season," GM Ernie Grunfeld told WRC-TV. Grunfeld has cobbled together a reasonably talented, potentially exciting young team that includes newly acquired Antawn Jamison. The Wizards should surpass last season's 25 wins. But Kwame Brown, Steve Blake and Etan Thomas need to get well and the healthy players have to act like grown-ups.

"We're improved," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We're more familiar with the system, each other and know the need for a commitment to defense, play tougher and take care of the ball. Jamison is a major addition. He's a great leader. A real pro."

Home opener: Saturday against Shaq and the Miami Heat, with team president Susan O'Malley pondering a "Senior Citizen" night in which married couples, 60 and over, get discounted tickets not to sit with each other.

D.C.'s MVP

D.C. United's Jaime Moreno, at 30, has made a strong bid to be the MVP of Major League Soccer for 2004 after undergoing career-threatening back surgery last year. Moreno, acquired by United in the offseason from the MetroStars, has eight goals and 14 assists after a 2-0 win over the MetroStars, his former team, last night at RFK Stadium.

"I've been blessed, to come back from the surgery, to have this kind of season," said Moreno, who was with United from the league's beginning (1996) until spending 2003 with the MetroStars. Moreno, one of the mainstays on United's championship teams of 1996, 1997 and 1999, gives credit to former Redskin Eddie Mason, his personal trainer, for his successful rehab. "If we go all the way, after how we started, it would be amazing."

Covering the Bases

• If everyone who spoke, or wanted to speak, at the D.C. Council hearing Thursday regarding whether the city should build a new baseball stadium actually bought a ticket to see a game at RFK Stadium next year, the team will be a box office smash. More than 250 witnesses signed up to speak at a hearing that lasted longer than two postseason games. Mayor Anthony A. Williams knows without the stadium deal that will cost between $400 million to $500 million, Major League Baseball won't relocate the Expos here. The mayor believes the council will approve the measure despite formidable foes, including former mayor Marion Barry, who is running for a Ward 8 council seat. Barry, on his watch, tried hard to return baseball to town, likes the game and probably would love seats near the field where he could hear dejected strikeout victims grumble on their way back to the dugout, "the catcher set me up."

• At least one fully paid ($40 annual dues) Florida alum believes the Gators would do well to rehire Steve Spurrier as their football coach. And this person believes Spurrier would be smart to return to the scene of his greatest success as a coach and player.

Have a question, or comment, reach me at talkback@washpost.com.


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