Byron Leftwich stared into the sea of cameras and started to laugh.
It’d been awhile — a long while — since the Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback found himself thrust into the spotlight.
Yet three years after he last started a game and six years after he won one, the former first round draft pick will take the snaps tonight when the streaking Steelers (6-3) host the Baltimore Ravens (7-2) with first place in the AFC North on the line.
Watching good friend and teammate Ben Roethlisberger go down with a sprained right shoulder and dislocated rib isn’t the way Leftwich wanted to step back into the spotlight. Still, it’s what the 32-year-old signed up for when he decided to re-sign with the Steelers last summer rather than try and revive his career as a starter elsewhere.
Leftwich relishes the opportunity to get back on the field. The end of life in relative anonymity? Not so much.
“I joke with Ben all the time, I don’t miss this part of being a quarterback in the NFL,” Leftwich said. “All those conference calls, all those interviews. I tell him all the time I don’t really miss that part of it.”
Maybe, but he better get used to it.
Roethlisberger is out indefinitely, the latest familiar face to be rendered highly paid bystander to one of the league’s most heated rivalries.
The Steelers will also be without star safety Troy Polamalu, who will miss his sixth straight game with a right calf injury, while Baltimore captain Ray Lewis remains on the injured reserve-return list with a torn triceps.
“It’s definitely going to be different, a different feel,” Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “But once that whistle blows and the bullets become live, I don’t expect anything less than traditional Ravens/Steelers.”
Suggs admitted he’s “disappointed” he won’t get a chance to chase after Roethlisberger, though he’ll find Leftwich to be a more stationary target.
The big-armed seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft hasn’t started since playing three forgettable losses with Tampa Bay in 2009. His last victory in a game in which he took the first offensive snap came on Oct. 8, 2006 when Jacksonville crushed the New York Jets.