<
>

Ben Roethlisberger's gift to AJ McCarron: a sweaty wristband

CINCINNATI -- AJ McCarron will never forget the day he met Ben Roethlisberger.

McCarron, the Cincinnati Bengals' presumed starting quarterback in Saturday's wild-card playoff game against Roethlisberger's Pittsburgh Steelers, was an impressionable 13-year-old.

"I remember him giving me a wristband and just how cool it was," McCarron said Tuesday, smiling broadly.

At the exact moment he received the sweaty accessory, the young, sports-savvy McCarron considered it something of value.

So where is it today?

"I don't know," McCarron said. "I'd be lying if I told you that I put it in a trophy case."

At the time of their initial introduction, Roethlisberger was a junior at Miami (Ohio). Minutes before he parted with the wristband, he quarterbacked the RedHawks to a 376-yard, four-touchdown performance in a GMAC Bowl win over Louisville.

Now named the GoDaddy Bowl, the GMAC Bowl game Roethlisberger played in happened at the end of the 2003 season. Just after leading Miami to its 13th win that year, Roethlisberger announced his intentions to turn pro a year early. The following April he was drafted 11th overall by the Steelers.

Like the GoDaddy Bowl, Roethlisberger's GMAC Bowl game was played in Ladd-Peebles Stadium in McCarron's hometown of Mobile, Alabama.

"After the game, I went under the stadium to the locker room and saw his mom, dad, sister and him," McCarron recalled.

Just after coming in and relieving an injured Andy Dalton in last month's Bengals' home loss to the Steelers, McCarron caught up with Roethlisberger on the field and told him about their meeting.

"He started dying laughing," McCarron 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.

"That's what's crazy about this. 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."

It was during that Dec. 13 meeting when McCarron threw for 280 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in three quarters. With Dalton still recovering from a right thumb injury he received in last month's game, it seems likely McCarron will start Saturday for the fourth straight game. He's 2-1 as a starter since Dalton has been out.