The AFC championship game in two weeks could hold a distinct, invigorating Maryland flavor. How would Boomer Esiason vs. Frank Reich tickle your Terrapin fancy?
The prospect of a matchup of Maryland quarterbacks in the AFC title game remains alive, pending the outcome of this weekend's divisional playoff games and the status of Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly's surgically repaired left knee.
Esiason leads the Cincinnati Bengals against the Los Angeles Raiders Sunday at 4 p.m. Tomorrow, either Reich or Kelly will quarterback the Bills in their 12:30 p.m. showdown with the Miami Dolphins in Buffalo. The winners will meet on Jan. 20 to determine the AFC's representative in the Super Bowl.
The prospect of an Esiason-against-Reich matchup would delight Maryland coach Joe Krivak, who tutored both quarterbacks during his days as an assistant under Bobby Ross. His rooting interests, however, will be divided this weekend. No fewer than five former Maryland players are active on three of the four remaining AFC playoff teams. In addition to Reich in Buffalo, ex-Terp linebacker Kevin Walker joins Boomer in Cincinnati, and tight end Ferrell Edmunds and cornerback J.B. Brown play for Miami.
It is the potential quarterback showdown, though, that holds the most irony. Reich spent three years as Boomer's backup in College Park, getting the full-time job as a senior. He encountered more of the same in Buffalo, where he has started only when injuries KO'd Kelly in each of the last two seasons.
Reich, a third-round draft choice in 1985, went 3-0 when Kelly went out with a shoulder injury last year. Reich started the last two regular-season games this season after Kelly's knee injury. He is 4-1 as a starter.
"That says a lot about his personality," Krivak said. "He's even-tempered, doesn't get carried away. He understands what's involved in the game. So much of it is being in the right spot. Unfortunately he's played behind two great quarterbacks. But he has poise and confidence in his own ability. He's a great team guy."
Esiason, a second-round pick in 1984, became a starter in 1985 for the Bengals. He took them to Super Bowl XXIII two years ago, losing to the San Francisco 49ers 20-16.
Krivak said although the outgoing Esiason and the reserved Reich differed in personality, they were similar in talent and approach to the game.
"They both had the arm and the football sense to do things a productive quarterback has to do," Krivak said.
During his career at Maryland, Esiason threw for 6,259 yards and 42 touchdowns. Reich completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 2,097 career yards.
Esiason and Reich were the beginning of a quarterback legacy that has been passed down at Maryland. Stan Gelbaugh, class of '85, and Neil O'Donnell, class of '90, followed them into the NFL. Out of the league now, Gelbaugh spent time with Dallas, Cincinnati and Buffalo. O'Donnell was a third-round pick by Pittsburgh this year.
Krivak thinks this year's Maryland quarterback, Scott Zolak, could join the NFL ranks next season.
Only Miami, with four starters (Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde and Steve Walsh), has more current quarterbacks in the league.