New York Jets

The Legend of Chad Pennington by Matt Waters

Pennington drops back to pass and just sits there, prone, alone, under pressure in the pocket. The offensive line is under siege, armed torpedoes clad in black and gold launch themselves full bore, attempting to penetrate the line of scrimmage.

He has no time, knows it, and prepares a pass. Only, his throwing motion is awkward, discomforting to watch, bound to unleash yet another dying quail. Two steps are taken, meaningful, painful steps, before the fling could be completed.

It sails out of his fingertips, destined for doom, caught in the wind, dying slow.

He’s playing hurt, and will never be what he was, will never to continue to be who he is, and will never be properly acknowledged for his sacrifice. This is the definition of injustice, a miscarriage of information, the Legend of Chad Pennington, almost utterly unheard of.  

2002, a year seemingly on the verge of Football disaster, Jets style. An aging squad forced into facing unfairly high expectations, the team sputtered to a wretched 1-4 start, featuring depressing defeats evenly dispersed with gnarly blowouts. At the time, a non-partisan survey of New York’s wreckage could have easily led to one satisfied conclusion: irredeemable.  

Perhaps this is why Head Coach Herman Edwards allowed himself the leeway to make a switch at the quarterback position. Vinny Testaverde, a grizzled veteran, past his prime but still of fight, deserved hardly any blame for the Jets’ pathetic start. Indeed, it was the defense that had forfeited both their will and execution, manufacturing the need for an undue scapegoat.

The benefactor of the move was Chad Pennington, a third year player who hadn’t made a striking impression on his peers or coaching staff. A former first round pick, Pennington was highly heralded on draft day, having led Marshall to undisputed success during his tenure as starter

 After drafting Pennington, the Jets flirted briefly with exchanging him for fellow first rounder Plaxico Burress. The move wasn’t consummated by either team however, and was mutually scrapped.

All we had were rumors. Jets fans fretted about Pennington’s development through 2001 and 2002, as he rode the bench and was supposedly overly indecisive during team practices. Many wondered whether a scholarly, quiet kid such as Pennington could survive and thrive under the bright, cynical light of the big city.

As Chad progressed in his regression, Vinny tested the strength of coronary muscles beating within embattled fans of the green and white. He made at least five insane passes per game, into both exotic zones and no one in particular. To an outsider, Testaverde’s job security may have looked somewhat serene going into the 2002 season, but judging by the quick hook, both the front office and coaching staff seemed ready to embrace change.

On a wing and a prayer, number 10, Chad Pennington, was elevated to number one on the Q.B. depth chart, a move that would irrevocably change the franchise forever.


2002 is a distant, intangible memory now, indefinable in it’s purpose. Exaggerated as it may sound, that time of hope and renewal, for a fan of Gang Green anyway, now seems a cruel joke.

We fell, hard. Jubilant signs [A.B.C.- All Because Chad] reckless proclamation [Pennington, future MVP, Hall of Famer, not to mention Lord and Savior] and arrogance were all exonerated from previously unused realms of confidence.

The Jets had passed on Dan Marino. They vetoed Jerry Rice. They believed in Blair Thomas’ durability and doubted Emmit Smith’s staying power. The cruel illusion that they finally nailed one, completely hit a jackpot, had to be embraced, it was purifying, a fresh storyline.


The run ended, a portent of future events, in Oakland, Chad crumbling, the defense reverting to its prior porous standards.

Fortunately, through the sadness, a silver lining opened the unforgivably gray clouds, years and years, seasons and seasons, many more remaining in the career of Chad Pennington.


Stab me, rip the heart out, step on my guts, it could never match the pain of the 2004 Divisional Playoffs. After a lost 2003 replete with a jarring Pennington injury, a hungry team feasted on a cup cake schedule and reached the promised land of postseason play, shocking San Diego in the Wild Card round before falling to the Steelers, ignobly, jarringly, emptily.


  Heavy is the head that wears the crown, the arm that carries an entire logo. Chad Pennington had already received backlash, in 2003 for having the nerve to break his hand, in 2004 for lashing out at the press and stumbling somewhat down the stretch.


Through the rain, Pennington plays hurt. A torn shoulder, heroically, perhaps foolishly, ignored by a man whose heart far outweighed his copious talent. It was now; the questions would abound, with regards to his strength, sapped by a damaged rotator cuff. In the latter portion of ’04, he began employing a two-step jump pass, resulting in increased interceptions, and further questioning. The media, attempting to poison any positive, as is their want at certain times, lead the chorus in interrogation. Pennington eventually relented to his temper, his combatively competitive instincts, lashing out at the growing number of critics. Now, he dug in a trench against notebook wielding locusts, those sullied even a superlative effort against the Seattle Seahawks in which he fired three touchdowns. In the end, some in the press may have been improperly indicted as disloyal con artists, the truth becoming dirty, unreadable. Chad, the fans, the New York media, nobody walked away clean.

Pennington ruined his future in a dash for the present, playing hero and losing courageously in the field of battle, Doug Brien’s errant kicks sealing a dogged team’s faith. As his career kisses the abyss, the only outlook left pointing upward from a bottomless pit, nary a word exemplifies his courage in playing hurt, putting the ring ahead of his career, his money, his overall value and worth as a player. Instead, his arm visibly finished after a Playoff’s worth of abuse inspires Chris Carter to dismiss it as a water pistol. As if that were its original design. The fans that originally doubted his talent, all in doubting themselves, had their narrowest convictions completed in reality. The bitterness simmers. The media never runs a single story detailing Chad’s courage, washing their hands of a perceived mistake.  Herm, who originally cast an experienced kid at quarterback for the duration of 2002, is vanished, eliminated in favor of a fourth round pick.

We are left with a snapshot, instead of a scrapbook. All or nothing, one for everything, Chad Pennington rolled the dice. His contract for 2006: The Franchise, making one million dollars.

Meanwhile, a player, perhaps in the very near future, will weigh taking the field with an injured appendage against sitting it out, playing it safe. He will hear opinions, sides tugging him in either direction. Someone, a veteran perhaps, will chime in with a cautionary tale, telling a sad story, the Legend of Chad Pennington.

By mw2828

Matt Waters is a screenwriter currently living in New York. He has been writing about sports since age seventeen, about the time when it became painfully apparent that his athletic dreams would go unfulfilled, due to terrible luck and an obscene lack of talent. His favorite movie is “The Thin Red Line”. His favorite band is “Modest Mouse”. His favorite sport is baseball! With an exclamation point.

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