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Backups try to make a name for themselves

If we knew then what we know now, if we knew two months ago that by Week 8 of the NFL season, Damon Huard, Seneca Wallace, Sage Rosenfels, Bruce Gradkowski, Andrew Walter, David Garrard and Tony Romo would be starting or logging significant time at quarterback, would anyone have bothered to kick off the first football?

Even knowing what we know now, you look at those names and you ask yourself: When NBC reacquired television rights to the NFL, did it have to bring the arena league with it?

To update:

* Huard became the starting quarterback in Kansas City when Trent Green absorbed the season’s most gruesome tackle this side of Larry Johnson dragging down Troy Polamalu by his hair.

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Before that: Huard led the AFC in startled “He’s still in the league?” responses whenever his name was spotted on the Chiefs roster.

Week 8 result: Huard passes for 312 yards in Kansas City’s 35-22 victory over Seattle.

* Wallace became the starting quarterback in Seattle when Matt Hasselbeck satisfied the conditions of his Campbell’s Chunky Soup endorsement contract and sprained his knee in Week 7.

Before that: Most of America thought Seneca Wallace was a discontinued line of Toyota vehicles.

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Week 8: Seneca drives the Seahawks, not into the sea but into the end zone three times with his passes.

* Rosenfels replaced David Carr as Houston’s quarterback midway through the third quarter with the Texans trailing Tennessee, 21-3.

Before that: Rosenfels spent five seasons not playing in Miami despite the fact the Dolphins’ other quarterback candidates were named Jay Fiedler, A.J. Feeley and Gus Frerotte.

Week 8: Rosenfels nearly rallies the Texans with three touchdown passes in 17 minutes. Tennessee holds on, 28-22.

* Gradkowski became the emergency starter for Tampa Bay after Chris Simms was sacked for a loss of his spleen.

Before that: Gradkowski was a big name only if you’re adding up vowels and consonants.

Week 8: After contributing to upsets of Cincinnati and Philadelphia, the “New Polish Rifle” more closely resembles the 194th player chosen in the 2006 draft, which he was. Gradkowski completes 42% of his passes for 139 yards in a wind-swept 17-3 loss to the New York Giants.

* Walter replaced Aaron Brooks as quarterback for the Oakland Raiders because during September, Brooks badly hurt a) his shoulder; b) his reputation; c) the Raiders; d) all of the above.

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Before that: Randy Moss said some nice things about Walter because the kid wasn’t Kerry Collins.

Week 8: Walter completes five passes for 51 yards, Ben Roethlisberger completes 25 passes for 301 yards. Shocker headline reads: “Walter defeats Super Bowl champs, 20-13.”

* Garrard got the start for Jacksonville against Philadelphia because Byron Leftwich had a bad ankle (official company line) or lost his last start by 20 points to Houston (official stat line).

Before that: Garrard served as a handy stopgap whenever Leftwich wrenched an ankle or lost by 20 points to Houston.

Week 8: Garrard beats McNabb! Garrard beats McNabb! (OK, he completed 10 passes for 87 yards. But his team did beat Donovan McNabb’s, 13-6.)

* Romo made his first NFL start as the Dallas Cowboys acknowledged that either their 2006 season or Drew Bledsoe’s Cowboys career was over.

Before that: “He’s got to be better than Bledsoe.”

Week 8: Bledsoe watches Romo save the Cowboys’ season by overseeing 35 unanswered points in a 35-14 triumph over Carolina.

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Among big-name quarterbacks still active and in the lineup, Peyton Manning, Jake Plummer, Brett Favre and Steve McNair completed their appointed rounds.

Favre defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 31-14.

McNair defeated the New Orleans Saints, 35-22.

Manning defeated Plummer, 34-31.

And in Week 2 of “What’s the Deal With Michael Vick?” the skittering scatter-arm who moonlights as the league’s most watchable and most disappointing quarterback passed for 291 yards and three touchdowns as Atlanta continued its domination of the AFC North, winning at Cincinnati, 29-27.

Before that, Vick passed for 232 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-38 triumph over Pittsburgh.

Vick’s two-week passing totals: 58 attempts, 38 completions, 523 yards, seven touchdowns.

At this pace, Vick will lead the Falcons back to the NFC championship game and stop Atlanta fans from wishing, “If only Michael was more like Chris Miller ... " And if Vick truly is making the jump to a new level, who fills the vacancy he leaves behind?

Consider these Vick-like numbers from Sunday: seven completions for 87 yards and a touchdown, plus 44 rushing yards and a touchdown in a 28-22 victory.

Those numbers belonged to rookie Vince Young, winning quarterback of the Tennessee-Houston game, which combined with the San Diego-St. Louis game to explain why the NFL’s return-to-L.A. status is now decade to decade.

See, when the Oilers left Houston to become the Titans, Houston became so desperate for validation as a “big league” city, it burned a record $700 million to poach the league’s last expansion franchise from Los Angeles in 1999.

As a result, a new generation of football fans know Los Angeles only as the answer to the trivia question, “Which city once rented three current NFL franchises?” One of those teams, the Raiders, dropped the reigning Super Bowl champion Steelers to 2-5.

The other two met in San Diego, with the Chargers (left L.A. in 1961) defeating the Rams (left L.A. in 1995) by a score of 38-24.

This game was noteworthy in that it was the Rams’ first game in Southern California since the team jumped to St. Louis.

Yes, the Rams hadn’t played a game locally since their 24-21 loss to Washington in Anaheim on Dec. 24, 1994. And they hadn’t played a game in San Diego since Nov. 27, 1994. The Rams lost that one too, 31-17. There are reasons why the Rams left.

*

mike.penner@latimes.com


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