Posted: 6:45 a.m.
Finally, after a decade as teammates at Coffman High School in the Columbus, Ohio, suburb of Dublin and then at Notre Dame, Bengals safety Chinedum Ndukwe and Browns quarterback Brady Quinn face each other Sunday 110 miles to the south in a schoolboy dream at Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium.
Not only an NFL game, but a division game. An AFC North game of hometown heroes and backyard rivalries.
Quinn was the 22nd player taken in the 2007 draft, Ndukwe the 253rd. But this is Quinn's first appearance against the Bengals and Ndukwe's fifth start against Cleveland. Quinn has already called looking for tickets and Ndukwe says they'll try and have dinner the night before the game like they have before many of the previous five meetings.
On Wednesday, Ndukwe played it pretty straight while Quinn played it pretty loose in his conference call with the Cincinnati media. Of their dinner, Quinn says it won't be any different now that he's playing.
"Like our Last Supper," Quinn said. "I don't think so. Mostly because he's so goofy. He's laid back and relaxed even though he tries to come off as serious and responsible to you guys. I know the real Chinedum and that sure isn't him. That place wasn't too good the last time."
He was kidding, of course. He just couldn't resist a shot at the Mount Adams restaurant where Ndukwe has been a part owner. As friends that still text and call each other frequently and hang out together in the offseason and watch film and are still so close that Ndukwe says Quinn will be in his wedding some day, it's hard not to needle each other.
Quinn went way back to middle school to take out the needle, back when he was the second kid Ndukwe met when Ndukwe's family moved from Tennessee to Ohio.
"We were both trying to be Casanovas. We took a French class and we sat next to each other," said Quinn and when the question was asked why learn French, Ndukwe said, " 'To smooth talk the ladies.' I was like, 'Yeah, me too.' So we hit it off from there."
On Sunday, they try to improve their fluency in the pros' weekly chess game of the safety trying to read the quarterback's eyes and the quarterback trying to eye his reads from the safety.
"We talk about Xs and Os all the time," said Ndukwe before Wednesday's practice. "Different teams, good quarterbacks, good safeties. I get his opinion on a lot of stuff. We probably won't be talking about too much Browns-Bengals this week. We'll talk about getting tickets, family coming in town and going to dinner after the game.
"He claims he knows me better than myself and I say the same thing about him. In the offseason we talk just like any close guys in the NFL talk about football Xs and Os, but definitely not this week. I can see it in his eyes. It's just like any other quarterback. You try to get as many tendencies as possible by watching film."
The strategy has always been a two-way street when it comes to watching the tape together.
"I try to be a good friend to him," Quinn said, "and say, 'This is what the quarterback is thinking. This is the route concept and this is what you need to be thinking.' I'll try to coach him up a little bit and vice versa. He'll talk about the defense's mentality and what he sees affects him as a defensive back that the quarterback does."
They were a comfort to each other this training camp, when Ndukwe was visibly frustrated that the Bengals had signed five-time Pro Bowler Roy Williams for the strong safety job he had last season and Quinn was backing up Derek Anderson.
"We just tried to push each other and just make sure to be there for one another as a friend," Quinn said. "If there was a time we were down, just remind each other what we were capable of and just try to pump each other up. What's important and what values really matter when you take the field every day."
Or, as Ndukwe said, "No one wants to be the second guy. Same with me. I was frustrated early in the season when I wasn't out there. You're a competitor. You always want to be out there. (Quinn) never stopped preparing. It showed last week. I'm excited to play against a good quarterback this week."
Quinn had his coming-out party in Detroit in a 38-37 loss in which he threw for a career-high 304 yards and four touchdowns. With Williams struggling with a broken forearm and now on injured reserve, Ndukwe is making his seventh start of the season. He has no interceptions and he knows that three of his four career picks have come against Anderson and the Browns.
"It would be nice, wouldn't it?" Ndukwe asked of this Sunday. "I'm trying to get my first pick. I'm searching for one. I need one."
On the tape, Ndukwe sees the same quarterback he's always seen.
"He's still pretty much the same guy," Ndukwe said. "It's different systems. They had some trouble up there getting adjusted to it, but it seems like they're back on track looking at last week. They took it deep a couple of times. Their receivers are clicking and they have (running back) Jamal Lewis back and that's a dimension they didn't have when we played them. They looked pretty good."
Ndukwe says the Bengals have to worry about Quinn's brains as much as his arm.
"He's a smart player; he makes pretty good decisions with the ball and he did a good job of handling the game last week," Ndukwe said. "Just make sure we keep pressure on him and just do what we've been doing to quarterbacks all season, which is keeping them in the pocket and making them make decisions and keep pressure on them."
Here is what Quinn sees on tape from the Bengals defense:
"They've played great all season. All across the board. Whether it is third down efficiency or red zone. When you look at their turnover ratio, (cornerbacks) Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph have done a great job creating turnovers. Give credit to their D-line and the blitz packages. They've done a great job getting to the quarterback and getting pressure, which has allowed them to hurry guys and allow their cornerbacks to make plays."
Quinn does a little bit of the no-huddle offense, which he says he likes because it forces "the defense to show its hand," and "it allows the offense to put pressure on the defense." This rivalry has seen that before out of its quarterbacks, and the 25-year-old Quinn admitted to having a Boomer-Bernie poster in his room from "The Battle of Ohio" days when Boomer Esiason and Bernie Kosar were the quarterbacks.
"C'mon, man. I was a Browns fan, not a Bengals fan," Quinn said. When asked why, he said, "I know it's kind of like the halfway point, but if you were to take a vote, I'd probably say people would tend to go with the Browns in Columbus."
On Sunday, the split goes right through middle school.