Cool Hand Chad

By Kevin Newell
Jets Head Writer
December 4th, 2003
Cool Hand Chad: "The Franchise" Randy O'Rourke/Jets
Cool Hand Chad: "The Franchise" Randy O'Rourke/Jets
“With the 18th pick of the first round the New York Jets select Chad Pennington, quarterback, from Marshall University.”

When NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue completed that sentence during the 2000 NFL Draft, he not only introduced many of us to Pennington, he unknowingly ushered in an era of hope, prosperity, and greatness for a star-crossed franchise.

Four years later we have had the privilege of watching Pennington grow and develop into one of the premier quarterbacks in the league and arguably the most intelligent player in the game. What we are witnessing is the dawning of a superstar. Pennington has wowed us with his poise, his moxie, and his relentless pursuit of perfection for not only himself, but his teammates as well. He’s a winner, a leader, and class act. He is the franchise.

Yes, he has only started 17 regular season games. But it doesn’t take a genius, or a New England Patriots fan, to see and realize that Pennington is the real deal. What he may lack in arm strength is more than compensated in myriad ways.

The adjectives and superlatives roll off the tongue with the efficiency of Pennington’s pinpoint accuracy and deft touch. He has a commanding presence in the locker room, in the huddle, and on the field.

Then there’s his never-say-die attitude. Pennington has to be the most optimistic individual I have ever come across. No deficit is too great, no obstacle unattainable. Remember, he guaranteed that the team would make the playoffs last season when Gang Green was 2-5. He’s a man of his word.

I had been a huge Pennington fan when he played for Marshall University's Thundering Herd in Huntington, WV. The more I watched him play, the more I became enamored with not only his physical tools, but also his mental aptitude. His cerebral approach to the game has served him well and sets him apart from many signal callers in the game.

Pennington loves to play the game of football. From his rah-rah pre-game antics to his head-butting teammates helmets to his towel waving, he is a joy to behold. What’s more, he brings a refreshing perspective to a sports world littered with egomaniacs starving for personal gratification.

Prior to Monday night’s game with the Tennessee Titans, Pennington was given a script for a pre-game promo that read, “This is my Monday Night.” For players such as Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson, talking about themselves is a no-brainer. Not Pennington.

He insisted that the script be changed to, “This is the Jets Monday Night.” And that’s what he read on-air. How cool is that? Is that too good to be true or what? Chad is the ultimate team player.

There aren’t enough words to describe the immeasurably qualities with which Pennington is blessed.

We all know about his on-field demeanor and heroics. But he is equally adept off the field. He’s a loving husband, a wonderful son and son-in-law, a community leader, and mature way beyond his 27 years.

As many of you probably know, thanks to your generous donations, Jets presented a plaque to Chad in addition to a check in the name of his late father-in-law, Bob Hampton, to the Leukemia Society He was completely taken aback and genuinely overwhelmed by the gesture.

Not only did Chad write a poignant thank you letter to us, the fans. So, too, did his lovely wife, Robin. That’s about as close as we will get from catching a touchdown pass from one the truly great people in the world. It hit us right in the numbers.

I have been racking my brain for a suitable nickname for Pennington, something apropos and worthy. Not too corny. What I came up with is: Cool Hand Chad.

To be honest, I borrowed the Cool Hand part from the classic Paul Newman movie, “Cool Hand Luke” It just seems like a natural fit. As we have all seen, Chad is one cool customer. He is always in control. Always calm, always collected.

Although he has yet to complete his signature drive, he has had his share of last minute heroics, the most recent being the 94-yard drive with just over three minutes left vs. Jacksonville.

In his brief but splendid career, Pennington has displayed a flair for the dramatic and provided the crunch-time leader the Jets have sorely lacked. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, a sleeve that covers a magical right arm that possesses more savvy than strength.

And the team has responded. Pennington is a difference maker. That rare individual who can win a game all by himself. Or at least place his team in a position to win.

Here’s an interesting statistic: Pennington has thrown 27 passes for touchdowns inside the red zone (20-yard line) without an interception. That’s impressive for someone with less than two years of starting experience.

I was only a tiny child when Joe Namath called signals for the Jets. Even now, the memories of Broadway Joe tossing tight spirals through the volatile Shea Stadium gusts are faint at best. Unfortunately, my last memory of Namath was as a sacrificial lamb on a poor Los Angeles Rams team.

His Super Bowl III guarantee and numerous passing records will forever live in Jets lore. He was, is, and forever shall be the primary player linked with Gang Green.

Since Namath’s departure and consequent retirement, many quarterbacks have worn the green and white. Some have distinguished themselves and left an indelible mark on the franchise. Others are better left forgotten.

Richard Todd, Ken O’Brien, Boomer Esiason, and Vinny Testaverde all had their time in the sun. Todd and Testaverde have come the closest to guiding the Jets back to the Promised Land, delivering the team to the doorstep of the Super Bowl, only to lose in the AFC Championship game. Had it not been for Mark Gastineau’s spear of Bernie Kosar in the 1987 divisional playoff, O’Brien, too, would have led the Jets to the conference title game.

Now the mantle has been passed to Pennington. To some, including yours truly, he is the Messiah, the Chosen One.

I understand that Pennington has yet to win a Super Bowl, the pinnacle and measuring stick of any elite and immortal quarterback. It’s only a matter of time. If there is a man whom one day will hold the Lombardi Trophy high and proud on behalf of the long-suffering Jets Nation, it is No. 10.

Christmas is only a few weeks away, but I already got my present. It was delivered to me on April 15, 2000, wrapped in a big green and white bow.

Chad’s the gift that keeps on giving.

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