Pennington vows to come back stronger than ever
Chad Pennington knows a thing or two about providing moral support from the sidelines while watching Vinny Testaverde lead the Jets offense. The Jets' fourth-year quarterback waited more than two full seasons for his chance to step in and be The Man -- and that opportunity came amidst the turmoil of VT and the Jets' horrid start of the 2002 season. Pennington was the spark that turned that campaign around, finishing the season with the NFL's highest passer rating, the Jets' second AFC East Championship in 5 years, and a playoff romp over the Indianapolis Colts.
Now, as we Gang Green faithful try to work through the emotional aftermath of losing our New Hope to a gruesome hand/wrist injury -- just the latest crushing blow in our 40 years of Jets fandom -- Chad Pennington stepped up to the podium at Hofstra on Sunday and assured the assembled media that he's eager to do what he can to help from the sidelines, and excited about what he believes the Jets can still achieve in his absence.
"We are not the Chad Pennington Jets," said Pennington, his left arm encased in a soft cast from his knuckles to his elbow. "We are the New York Jets and I am excited about what we are getting ready to do this season. We are going to take another step Thursday night and I canít wait to be there and be a part of it."
While the part Pennington plays will be similar to what he contributed during his first two-plus clipboard-carrying seasons, now that he's proven to be a fiery, win-producing team leader, the hope is that his presence on the sidelines serves as an inspiration to a team picked by many "experts" to finish last in the AFC East.
"On Sundays, I like being down there with the guys. I like trying to fire them up and be there talking to them making sure that the communication lines are opened up," said Pennington, describing how he intends to make the best of the situation. "I think my role will be on the field. I am excited about it because I love being on the field."
His time on the field between the lines may come sooner than the original 12-week timetable, according to an optimistic Pennington. While claiming that he has "no doubt" he will be able to play this year, he stated that he's hopeful that even a ten week absence is overstating the case. "Nine maybe," he said, "But only time will tell. It is a challenge I am looking forward to taking on."
Pennington has a tough road ahead of him. He won't be cleared to start throwing for another 3 to 4 weeks, limited for the time being to conditioning, cardio, and lower body exercises. His challenge will no doubt be mental as well as physical -- a challenge the young QB says he is up to. "I will treat this like an off-season program and do everything I can off the field in the weight room and the training room to keep my strength and my conditioning," Pennington promised. "Mentally, Iíll stay in the meetings. I am going to all the games and I will be right there. When you have an injury like this, it tests you to see how much you love the game and I know my passion for the game is true and real."
Always the consummate team player, Pennington pledged his full support of Vinny Testaverde, and made it clear that a ring is the only goal -- no matter who lines up under center. "I want to see us win every game. I want to see us come out firing Thursday night and keep on in," said Pennington. "I donít want to see us take a down fall or what happened to us last year."
While it's often expected that players will 'say the right thing' when faced with similar adversity, Pennington spoke with a sincerity that erased thoughts that he might be paying lip service for the media's benefit. When asked how he might deal with a quarterback controversy should Testaverde have a hot hand when the injured QB is ready to return, Pennington said "Iím not concerned about that. I think that is coachís call and I am comfortable with whatever Coach Edwards decides. I understand we are a team, and just like when Vinny made the step down last year for the team. I may have to do the same thing."
Fate-battered Jets fans can only hope Herm Edwards faces such a tough decision when the kid is ready for the ball.