NEW ORLEANS -- Columbus Destroyers QB Matt Nagy and San Jose SaberCats QB Mark Grieb have one thing in common -- they will meet in the ArenaBowl XXI on Sunday (ABC, 3 p.m ET). The paths that led them there and their styles of play, however, couldn't be more different.
Nagy played his first two years with the New York Dragons and learned under veteran AFL QB Aaron Garcia. He went on to play for the now defunct Carolina Cobras in 2004, where he developed a strong relationship with wide receiver Damien Groce. Nagy signed with the Georgia Force in 2005 and replaced Jim Kubiak during the fifth game of the season.
Georgia coach Doug Plank joked that Nagy went from the clipboard to the scoreboard as he led Georgia to its first ever ArenaBowl appearance, a 51-48 loss to Colorado in ArenaBowl XIX. The next year, however, things began to unravel. Georgia lost five games by three points or less. Many blamed the close losses on Nagy's inability to complete passes late in games and teammates were openly critical. Georgia went from 11-5 in 2005 to 8-8 in 2006 despite having almost the exact same team. Plank decided that Nagy's style of play was not a good fit for Georgia's timing offense and traded Nagy to Columbus.
"Last year I had a lot of ups and downs with the Force," Nagy said. "Mentally, I felt like was under a lot of stress both on and off the field. After we lost in the playoffs, I knew my career with Georgia had come to an end."
Not that it was an easy decision for Georgia to get rid of Nagy.
"When I first made the suggestion to replace Matt, the rest of the people in the organization said 'What are you talking about?'" said Plank. "Matt was a very good QB, but I wanted a QB that could get rid of the ball quickly and Matt would often hold the ball when it should have already been thrown."
In the offseason, Nagy wanted to find a team that he could call home. He jumped at the opportunity to play for Columbus coach Doug Kay. After the trade was completed, Nagy told Kay that he wanted to finish his career in Columbus. Nagy felt even more comfortable when Kay signed Groce, who is Nagy's go-to receiver and accounted for a third of the Destroyers' offensive production.
Now, on his fourth team in six years, Nagy finally is feeling like he can put some roots down in Columbus, Ohio.
"I have been searching for stability my whole career," Nagy said.
Stability has never been an issue for Grieb and San Jose. While Nagy has had four different offensive coordinators in six years, Grieb has been with the same offensive coordinator, Terry Malley, for the past eight years. He also has the luxury of playing with the same group of receivers. He has thrown to James Roe for eight years, Rodney Wright for three years, and Ben Nelson for two years. By contrast, this is Nagy's second year playing with Groce and his first year playing with all his other receivers.
"I am really fortunate," Grieb said. "I think that consistency is one of the bigger reasons for our success. "
Grieb, for all his stats and success, flies under the radar. Don't forget, he's already won two championships with San Jose. Matt D'Orazio, Sherdrick Bonner and Sonny Cumbie might get all the headlines, but Grieb has once again put together a solid season. He ranked fourth in TD passes (99) and third in passing yards (4,486) in the AFL. Until this season, Grieb held the league record for most single-season passing yards with 4,841 in 2006.
"The league never featured Grieb on any of their commercials," Bonner said. "They even featured Michael Bishop who ended up getting cut. Grieb and Andy Kelly (New Orleans VooDoo) are two QBs that don't get enough attention."
Grieb, who majored in biochemistry at UC Davis and earned a master's degree in education from Stanford, is one of the more intelligent QBs in football. He is not afraid the throw the ball away when no one is open and his timing might be the best of any AFL QB. If he has a weakness, it's his inability to avoid the pass rush.
"Mark is a pocket QB who is used to throwing a lot of timing passes, while Matt is a QB that is at his best when the play has broken down and he is one the run," Plank said.
Nagy does not necessarily have the best technique. He does not look good throwing the ball, but he is able to make a lot of things happen. He'll bounce around and buy a few extra seconds to make a play. A perfect example came July 14 in Atlanta: Nagy threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Groce in the fourth quarter of the National Conference title game against his old team, the Georgia Force. That score gave Columbus a 14-point lead with 2:43 to play on its way to a 66-56 victory and berth in ArenaBowl XXI.
Now the surprising Nagy and the stable Grieb meet on Sunday for the AFL championship. If things go well for Nagy, he and Grieb could have something else in common -- winning the ArenaBowl.
"The way Matt is playing now, I would not bet against him," Plank said.
William Bendetson covers football for ESPN.com.