Baby Steps
By Kevin Newell
Jets Head Writer
October 21st, 2003
Monday’s announcement that Chad Pennington will return to game action Sunday at Philadelphia is long awaited and welcomed news to Jets Nation.

(Yes Jets fans, you can finally exhale.)

That Herm Edwards will start incumbent Vinny Testaverde and bring Pennington off the bench – most likely in the second quarter – is equally refreshing. And smart! Despite the anxiety of Pennington getting under center, by not only he, the coaching staff, teammates, and fans, it’s the right call to spoon feed him. Some might say prudent. While Chad may look sharp in practice, donning a red jersey is a far cry from facing a cranky Eagles defense that would like nothing more than to test his wrist early and often.

Besides, there is so much more irony in Pennington getting his feet wet vs Philly and then starting against the Giants next week. What a story line: coming back to face the team that knocked you to the sidelines in a home game against same said team that has the stadium named after it. Can you say drama?

There is also no urgency to bring Pennington back right away. The team is coming off two consecutive wins and appears to be playing its best ball of the season under Testaverde, who was influential and instrumental in both touchdown drives at Houston.

No harm in letting Vinny warm up the car one more time.

Edwards made an interesting, if not ominous, remark about having Testaverde warmed-up at Lincoln Financial Field, God forbid anything should happen to Pennington, i.e., reinjured. But by starting Testaverde Sunday, Edwards is also thanking the veteran for his contributions during not only the last two victories, but during his entire tenure in green and white.

It’s a classy move by a classy coach for a classy guy.

Vinny, in spite of his limitations in the West Coast offense, reached and surpassed several career milestones this season. A season that was initially expected to consist of nothing more than mop-up duty. Not extensive playing time.

Passing the likes of Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas in the NFL record book is pretty sweet for a kid from Elmont, NY who dreamed of playing for the Jets.

In addition, Vinny has played good soldier. He has taken Chad under his wing, instead of becoming a divisive influence, and understands his role on the team. He is the modern day version of Don Strock. Which isn’t half bad.

In some ways, this is a fitting tribute to Testaverde. For all of his shortcomings, the man has cemented a legacy with the Jets. You know the story: hometown boy comes home. Suits up for the team his idol, Joe Namath, quarterbacked to glory…Assumes the starting role in 1998 and proceeds to have a career year in carrying Gang Green to its first AFC East title en route the AFC Championship Game and within 20 minutes of the Super Bowl…Suffers a torn Achilles tendon in the 1999 season opener, dashing any hopes of another Super Bowl…Returns to lead the team back to the playoffs in 2001…Rides off into the sunset.

Like Namath, Todd, O’Brien, and Esiason before him, Testaverde has a rightful place in Jets lore.

Now it’s Pennington’s turn to forge his own legacy.