I remember when the Jets drafted Chad Pennington. Really, I didn’t know much about him except that he had great numbers because he was throwing to Randy Moss…Who everyone knew. We as fans were told he was the future and in the coming years we’d see just how bright that future could be.Paul Hackett’s offense didn’t quite suit Vinny Testaverde. Testaverde was a strong armed quarterback who liked to throw the ball deep down field. To get Testaverde to conform to a west coast offense just didn’t make sense nor did it work and that’s where Pennington came in and made his name.
It was 2002 a year in which the Herman Edwards’ Jets started 1-4 (Which seemed all too routine in the years that would follow). Somehow, someway, the Jets were able to with the division and enter the playoffs with a 10-6 record. A majority of that success was attributed to Pennington as it should have been.
I was in college at the time, but I just remember my father raving about Pennington. I remember him specifically saying, “This kid is going to be something else.” Jets fans needed this and so did the organization. They needed that person to captivate a dormant fan base, they needed that player who was going to finally awaken a less than storied franchise, and Chad was that guy.
Pennington was intelligent, articulate, and personable which made him the perfect fit for any franchise. He even had that “Golly, Gee, heck” southern twang down, which meant he could say anything and you could tell he was being modest. The media in New York dubbed him the next Joe Montana after the 41-0 drubbing of the Colts in the opening round of the playoffs in 2002/2003. Even after the Jets lost to the Raiders, people felt fine because the Jets and their fans had their guy. They had their Montana, their Elway, or their Unitas. Everything was going to be great in Jet land from this moment on.
Then, on an August night before the 2003 season something went horribly wrong. This Disney script took a Wes Craven like turn. What seemed to be a fairly tale soon turned into a nightmare.
It was a preseason game against the Giants; Pennington dropped back and under pressure from Giants linebacker David Barrow, Pennington rolled out of the pocket and threw the ball away. But just as he had thrown the ball Barrow had caught Pennington from behind and while falling to the turf Pennington tried to brace himself for his collision with the same turf that ruined the 1999 Jets season when Testaverde ruptured his Achilles tendon. Something was wrong, Chad wasn’t getting up, and thousands of Jets fans were left again with that feeling that another season was going to be wasted.
As Pennington walked off the field he held his wrist. It looked like Pennington was literally holding his wrist together. Pennington would be out for 8 weeks and would return, but one would say that this night was the start of a trend that would soon follow.
The next year Chad was healthy going into the season and Jets fans again had a good feeling that this team would do something special. They did, except against the Bills, Pennington went down awkwardly on his throwing shoulder and tore his rotator cuff.
Chad’s throws would soon appear to be ducks floating softly through the air. This was when all the comments and questions about his arm strength started and to this point they haven’t stopped. Actually they have stopped becoming questions and are now bold and bitter statements.
Pennington not only played out the season after missing a few games, but got them within a Doug Brien field goal of making it to the AFC Championship game.
The next year was even more of a disaster. Pennington’s shoulder was much worse than the Jets had led many to believe. He did not get to rehab as long as he should have and against the Dolphins he once again tore his rotator cuff. This time he would miss the remainder of the year and would have a long road back heading into the 2006 season.
Pennington came back to camp healthy in 2006 and won his starting job. But this was what Pennington does, he surprises people. He shows everyone just what he is about and by now everyone should realize Pennington is all about heart. With virtually no running game he led the Jets to an improbable 10-6 record and was awarded the Comeback Player of the Year award.
Well, what a difference a year makes. This year Chad looks like something about him has disappeared and it has nothing to do with his arm. I would never doubt Chad’s desire to play the game, but maybe all the naysayers have finally gotten to him. Maybe this time his, “I’m going to prove the world wrong” attitude has finally gotten him in trouble.
As you can tell from the words above, I have nothing but the utmost respect and loyalty for the man who turned around my favorite franchise in sports. Every time the media, fans, or his organization kicked dirt in his face, Chad did nothing but work that much harder to be a better quarterback. But all things come to the end, and unfortunately Chad’s career as the Jets starting quarterback may be ending.
Chad should recognize this situation from 2002 and embrace it. He is the aging veteran in front of the young gun who the fans are dying to see turn this season around. I wouldn’t expect anything less than a fight from Chad, but I know Chad is smart enough to know when its time to do something for the better good of the team. And that time is now.
Fans have every right to boo a player. And to be honest Pennington probably deserves some of those boos, but I can only hope that they remember all the good Pennington did for this franchise. His selflessness should never be overlooked when his importance to the Jets franchise is measured. Whether it was playing through injury or cutting his salary (Twice), to Pennington the team came first.
I’ll never forget Chad racing off the field after the Colts playoff game in 2002 and feeling like this won’t be the last time I feel this way. Unfortunately for everyone who associates themselves with the Jets, and most of all Chad Pennington, we never got to see or feel that again.