<
>

Julius Peppers, Josh McCown -- foes this week -- last of the 2002 draft

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- In early September, Josh McCown happened to be watching an ESPN E:60 feature on David and Derek Carr when it occurred to him that he was the only still-active quarterback from the 2002 draft.

David Carr was the first overall pick, McCown was the 81st pick (fourth quarterback).

"I try to tell the young guys all the time that you just don’t know," McCown said. "You come in and maybe you’re bummed because you didn’t get drafted here or maybe you went undrafted. You never know how your story can unfold."

Now there's a new twist to the story: When the Seattle Seahawks made the surprising move on Tuesday to release defensive end Dwight Freeney, it left McCown and Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers as the only active players from the '02 draft. Fittingly, the New York Jets and Panthers meet this Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

A total of 261 players were drafted in 2002, from Carr to defensive tackle Ahmad Miller -- and only two still play football for a living. Maybe it'll go back to three if Freeney gets picked up on waivers. Either way, it's a remarkable accomplishment for two players who took different roads to this place.

McCown was picked in the third round out of Sam Houston State and became an itinerant player -- eight teams in 15 years. Everybody's favorite journeyman never has started more than 13 games in a season, but he has a chance to accomplish that with the Jets.

Peppers was a can't-miss prospect, the second overall pick. He will wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame some day, as will Freeney (11th overall) and safety Ed Reed (24th). Peppers has 151 career sacks, fourth on the all-time list.

"Heck of a guy and it doesn’t shock me," McCown said of Peppers, a teammate with the Panthers and Chicago Bears. "It’s cool to still see him going, for sure."

Peppers, 37, no longer is an every-down player -- he averages 26 snaps per game -- but he has 7.5 sacks. Ultimately, Sunday's game could come down to how the Jets protect their graybeard from the Panthers' graybeard.

No matter how it turns out, it's a credit that both men are still playing in such a violent sport. Passion for the game never goes out of style.