Mirror Men

Get up in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror. That is exactly what the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns will experience when they meet at Heinz Field this Sunday.<p>

Like a sidebar to the Cinderella story, the traditional rivalry is one in which each team looks at the other as the uglier step-sister and neither wants to admit their similarities, such as the quarterback situations this year.

While former Steeler backup Tommy Maddox has inevitably passed his audition as a starter, Browns backup Kelly Holcomb has resumed his audition for the starting quarterback position in Cleveland.

Due to an injury in the pre-season, Tim Couch sat out the first two games of the year. Holcomb's play at the beginning of the season had many Browns fans and media wondering if he would remain the starter. Incensed by Couch's lackluster play, Browns fans have sainted Holcomb and vilified Couch in a way only Kordell Stewart would understand. But, much to the dismay of the Dawg Pound, there was no coup at the quarterback position and Tim Couch returned to the starting job Week 3.

The following week, the coup instead occurred in Pittsburgh with Maddox taking over the starting job, against the Browns, of course. The mirror-image analogy becomes complete when Holcomb starts against the Steelers this Sunday.

Both players have injected sparks into their teams at crucial times this season.

Maddox's spark started in Week 4 against the Browns while the Steelers were in the process of going 0 - 3 to start the season. He led them from behind in the final minutes and the Steelers went on to win in overtime. His latest spark flickered on a 21-yard scamper to keep a late touchdown drive alive last weekend.

Holcomb, 1 - 1 as a starter earlier in the season (the loss due to a helmet toss), entered last week's must-win over Atlanta after Couch broke his leg. Holcomb threw a 4th quarter touchdown pass to Kevin Johnson to put the Browns ahead for good. Because of Miami's loss to New England, the Browns had to wait another 3 hours for the Jets to win before celebrating the playoff-clinching victory.

The similarities only begin there. Both quarterbacks lost their starting job this season, albeit in different, yet familiar, circumstances. Maddox's career-threatening injury resulted in Kordell Stewart coming off the bench as the veteran backup for two games in mid-season.

At Cleveland it was the other side of the coin with Holcomb sitting after Couch returned from injury, only to return for the playoffs as the veteran backup.

"It's been a roller-coaster of a season, and the ride hasn't stopped,'' Kelly Holcomb remarked about this season.

Tommy Maddox would agree.

Last week, both quarterbacks suffered from interception syndrome only to regain their rhythm and make the passes when they counted. Maddox threw 2 interceptions that led to points. Holcomb also threw 2 interceptions, but rebounded as well.

Browns coach Butch Davis said, "(Holcomb) got back in, regained his composure and made the throw down to Kevin Johnson for the touchdown that we needed.''

Their past is also similar as journeyman quarterbacks who couldn't seem to find solid footing in the league. Maddox entered the NFL in 1992 and had stints in Denver, Los Angeles Rams, NY Giants, Arena League, and XFL over the course of the next 8 years. His only career starts in the NFL happened in Denver during his rookie year. Pittsburgh signed him to a tryout contract before the 2001 season.

Holcomb entered the league in 1995. He has been on the practice squads of Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Cincinnati in 1996, and also saw World League action in 1995. His first and only career start before this season was on November 11, 1997, versus Cincinnati. Cleveland signed him as an unrestricted free agent in March of 2001.

Kelly Holcomb Career Stats

Height: 6-2
Weight: 220
NFL Experience: 7 Seasons

1996Indianapolis Colts0 0000.000.0-- 000.0
1997Indianapolis Colts5 1734561.64546.241 1844.3
1998Indianapolis Colts0 0000.000.0-- 000.0
1999Indianapolis Colts0 0000.000.0-- 000.0
2000Indianapolis Colts0 0000.000.0-- 000.0
2001Indianapolis Colts1 012758.31149.525 10118.1
2002Cleveland Browns5 21066460.47907.544t 8492.9
TOTAL7 NFL Seasons11 319111660.713587.144t 101273.6

Tommy Maddox Career Stats

Height: 6-4
Weight: 220
NFL Experience: 6 Seasons

1992Denver Broncos13 41216654.57576.338 5956.4
1993Denver Broncos16 011100.011.01t 10118.8
1994Los Angeles Rams5 0191052.61417.439 0237.3
1995New York Giants16 023626.1492.113 030.0
2001Pittsburgh Steelers3 09777.815417.157 11116.2
2002Pittsburgh Steelers15 1137723462.128367.572t 201685.2
TOTAL6 NFL Seasons68 1555032458.939387.272t 273173.9

A look at the stats shows that both Maddox and Holcomb have nearly identical career passer ratings. Their touchdown-interception rate is nearly identical with Maddox's at .87 touchdowns for every interception while Holcomb's rate is .83. Their completion percentages for the season are both above 60% and the yards-per-attempt are almost identical.

They don't have great mobility and their arms aren't as strong as the starters they unseated but both have the ability to throw the ball downfield with success.

Finally, both quarterbacks will be playing the first NFL playoff games of their careers. Every down and possession will be scrutinized to a degree neither have ever experienced in the regular NFL season or in the postseason of other leagues.

This week's outcome may just decide which mirror cracks first.

--The Steel Apple

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