As two of the top quarterbacks in college, David Carr and Patrick Ramsey were teammates briefly for the 2002 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The game, a showcase for NFL prospects, also included a handful of functions before kickoff and it was on a bus trip returning from a barbecue that Carr and Ramsey struck up a conversation.
With their NFL futures about to dawn, they became fast friends. Ramsey introduced Carr to Virginia, his fiancee at the time. And Ramsey met Carr's wife, Melody, and son, Austin.
"We got to become buddies," Carr said Wednesday. "We hung out a little bit."
A few months later, Carr became the top pick in the NFL draft, chosen by the expansion Houston Texans. Ramsey was the final player picked in the first round, selected by the Washington Redskins. Once the season started, Carr and Ramsey were too busy learning the NFL's most difficult position to stay in touch.
But the bookends of the first round renew acquaintances this afternoon as rookie starters when the Redskins host the Texans, and although both have endured first-year struggles, optimism remains about their futures.
"They both can really throw it well," Redskins Coach Steve Spurrier said, "so it'll be interesting watching the two rookie quarterbacks go at each other."
The 23-year-olds are strong-armed and strong-willed quarterbacks who have shown promise. Despite similar talents -- "I think we're alike," Carr said -- and statuses as rookie starters on losing teams, Carr and Ramsey have spent their first season on starkly different paths.
Carr has participated in all but one snap after the Texans decided during preseason that the future couldn't wait. And since the Redskins waited for Ramsey to end a 16-day holdout during training camp, Spurrier didn't give him an opportunity to play until Week 4, when Danny Wuerffel suffered a shoulder injury against the Tennessee Titans during the Redskins' first series.
Ramsey responded with a magical performance to lead the Redskins to a 31-14 victory with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Spurrier named Ramsey the Redskins starter the rest of the season -- a declaration that proved premature.
Ramsey's positive numbers evaporated in his next two starts with seven turnovers (including four interceptions). Ramsey returned to the bench, and didn't regain the starting job until Wuerffel suffered another shoulder injury on Dec. 8 during a 27-21 loss to the New York Giants, which eliminated the Redskins from the playoff picture.
Now, the Redskins (5-9) have only one more win than the Texans (4-10). Yet many feel Carr comes into today's game with an edge over Ramsey simply because he has had more playing time. Would the Redskins -- and Ramsey -- have been better off if the club had stuck with him as a starter?
"Hindsight is 20/20," said Ramsey, who got married shortly before the draft. "I can't say, 'Had I played, we'd have been a better team.' Things worked the way they did."
There are prominent examples of quarterbacks who hardly played during their rookie seasons before eventually flourishing: Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, Joe Montana and Steve Young. But strong cases can be made for starting rookies as soon as possible: Troy Aikman, John Elway, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino (the only quarterback in the modern era to excel as a rookie).
Despite the presence of veteran quarterback Tony Banks, Texans Coach Dom Capers named Carr his starter in preseason because of the coach's experience with the expansion Carolina Panthers in their first season in 1995.
After selecting quarterback Kerry Collins with the fifth pick of the draft, the Panthers entered the regular season with Frank Reich and Jack Trudeau as the top two quarterbacks. The depth chart was revamped after the Panthers lost their first three games. Collins was named the starter, and after losing the next two, the Panthers won seven of their final 11.
"It became obvious to me after three games we were going nowhere," Capers recalled. "We weren't moving the football, so I felt: Here, we [have] a No. 1 draft pick. Why not get the young guy in there, and let's grow together? The only way he's going to grow is being out there and experiencing things."
Carr, who has nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions, has endured 70 sacks, which is only two short of the record set by former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham in 1986. The ignominious mark is likely to be at least tied today. This season, the Texans have allowed an average of five sacks while giving up at least two in every game.
"David Carr is one tough cookie," Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey said. "I tell you, he takes a licking and keeps on ticking."
Ramsey has displayed a similar toughness, which has endeared him to teammates but also led to 13 sacks in his first two starts.
Ramsey's penchant to stay too long in the pocket was perhaps the strongest criticism of him in his early starts. Last week, however, against the blitz-happy Eagles, Ramsey made good on his vow to avoid sacks. He displayed a quicker release, was not sacked and completed 23 of 35 passes in a 34-21 loss.
Car has undergone a similar adjustment by employing quick drops and short passes. "I suppose maybe if you go through being sacked that much you aren't going to hold on to it as long," Capers said, chuckling. "He's got tremendous courage."
Before Wuerffel's second injury, Spurrier had planned on waiting until today to give Ramsey his third start. Spurrier didn't want his rookie quarterback to lose confidence against the Eagles' devastating defense, which will send three-fourths of its secondary to the Pro Bowl. But Ramsey's performance last Sunday turned out to be the only thing worth salvaging.
Ramsey threw three touchdowns, each with pinpoint precision, and his rating for the day was an impressive 110.8. Before Ramsey's display, the Eagles had allowed only 14 touchdowns in 13 games.
Ramsey "looks like a very talented young quarterback to me," Capers said. "It was very impressive what he did in Philadelphia last week."
Ramsey's performance offered the Redskins a hint of the promise the Texans also see in Carr.
"I'm glad he's doing well," said Carr, who has two kids now, "and I'm excited we get to play against each other."