Pennington is ready to shed the headphones and hit the field
– To say that Chad Pennington is an emotional football player is like saying Al Pacino is an intense actor.
The point is obvious.
Just as we, the fans, are counting down the hours, minutes, and seconds until Pennington makes his triumphant and much-anticipated return Sunday from the fractured left wrist he suffered Aug. 23, so too is the kid. After all, he compared himself to a volcano ready to erupt.
Do you think he’s looking forward to playing? Keep an eye out for a lava flow from his helmet during the player introductions.
“There are all kinds of emotions,” said Pennington. “There’s anxiety. There’s nervous energy. Nervous about how you are going to perform. I think if you are not nervous about that there’s something wrong with you. I also think there’s a lot of excitement to be able to put on the pads again, put on the helmet, and not only be a cheerleader, but go out there and do something about it. The whole spectrum of emotions are going through my brain and my heart right now.”
It’s Chad’s brain and heart, in addition to his right arm, that are the essential elements that make him who he is – one of the elite quarterbacks in the game. More importantly, our leader. But it is his left wrist, the one that shattered on the Co-Tenant Stadium turf, and has kept him out of commission for nine weeks, that is the body part of discussion.
Pennington readily admits to having total confidence in his non-throwing hand. To further alleviate any lingering doubts, he’s been assured by the team doctors that the chances of reinjuring his wrist are as slim as having it happen in the first place.
In addition, he will wear a thin, polyurethane protective brace on his wrist, replete with a receiver’s glove to keep the brace snug. You can never be too careful.
“That gives me a lot of confidence that I can just go out there and play my game and whatever happens, happens,” Pennington said.
He added: “I feel fine. Obviously it doesn’t feel normal because it’s not normal. But at the same time it does feel like it’s ready to play. And it feels like I can do all the normal motions of the things we do as human beings. I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to worry about it aching or hurting or anything like that.”
Play action is Pennington’s bread-and-butter, so there are some questions regarding his ability to play-fake with his tender wrist. However, he says there are no adverse or lingering effects.
“That was one of the key things that we have been working on over the past couple of weeks,” he explained. “Making sure that I could hand the ball off with my left hand. Making sure that I could do play-action with my left hand. And do all the necessary ball handling that I have to do to run this offense. That was big question coming in and we’ve been able to answer that.”
The time away from the field not only gnawed at Pennington – being the competitor that he is – it also gave him time to reflect on his affinity for throwing a pigskin and how vulnerable the human body is to a violent contact sport such as professional football.
Watching from the sidelines made him hunger for a chance to lead his team on a scoring drive, and, ultimately achieving the ultimate goal in the ultimate team sport.
“It’s been a situation where it definitely showed me how much I love the game,” he said. “The passion I have for the game.”
Pennington added: “The game days were tough. I remember opening day, how tough that was because I never experienced an opening day playing. When you miss out on that excitement, that’s tough to do and tough to handle as a player because that’s what you like to do. But at the same time, there’s a whole process here. Our focus is on winning the championship and anything that distracts you from that you have to remove from your mind.”
While Pennington has tested the wrist in practice, that’s a far cry from lining up across from 11 players who get paid to make your day a laborious and painful experience. You can be sure that the Eagles defense knows the difference between touch and tackle football.
“You can never simulate game day,” Pennington said. “You can never simulate the adrenaline, the emotion, and the anxiety of an NFL game.”
Even he doesn’t know what to expect the first time the wrist is banged around by a couple of unruly linebackers.
“It’s not going to feel great but I don’t think it’s going to be something that I can’t deal with,” said Pennington. “I don’t think it’s going to be unbearable. I really don’t even think it’s going to be painful. There may be some soreness here or there. Or it may be like getting hit on your normal hand.”
Having participated Thursday in just his first full practice, there are several lingering factors that may come into play Sunday. First, how accurate can he be due to an extensive layoff? Second, can he endure the rigors of almost three quarters of football?
Two people close to the situation offered their opinions.
“Chad’s game is accuracy,” said offensive coordinator Paul Hackett. “He is brilliant at that. That’s his greatest strength. Come Sunday his decision-making and ball handling will be fine. What we don’t know is will he throw it high? Will he throw it wide?”
“The way he prepares, I would expect him to pick up where he left off,” said running back Curtis Martin. “He may be a bit rusty, but he’ll be prepared.”
Coach Herman Edwards has come under fire in some circles regarding his decision to start Vinny Testaverde and then bring Pennington off the bench, presumably sometime in the second quarter. No one but Edwards knows for sure.
Regardless, Pennington is on board with the decision.
Said Pennington: “I’m trusting [Edwards’] wisdom and Coach Hackett’s experience on quarterbacks having to come back from injury. I never had to do this, so I don’t know. Part of my job being a professional is to make sure that when the fourth quarter comes around I have enough energy and enough stamina to not only make it through the game but help us win the game.”
Winning games is something Pennington has been accustomed to in his brief role as the Jets’ starter. Sunday it begins again.
Watching No. 10 walk from the sidelines to the huddle with be a heart warming and inspirational time for every one in Jets Nation. None more so than Pennington himself.
“I’m excited just to get a chance to play,” he said. “The opportunity to come back from an injury like this and play this season is exciting for me.”