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Everything Is Old for Testaverde

October 09, 2005|Jim Litke | Associated Press

One picture of an old quarterback is worth a thousand words of warning.

The iconic image for today's NFL fans might well be T.O. with his mouth in gear, but to an earlier generation, a single black-and-white photo fixed what the game was about: Y.A. Tittle on his knees in the shadow of the goalposts, his blue New York Giants' helmet lying on the ground a few feet away, a trickle of blood creasing his bald pate.

When that image was captured in September of 1964, Tittle was a month shy of his 38th birthday and beginning his 17th year in pro football. He had no way of knowing it at that moment, but his time had already run out. Ahead lay a season so brutal and bad that he'd quit the game as soon as it was over.

Vinny Testaverde will be almost four years older than that when he settles in over center today at the Meadowlands. He'll be a Jet again, which is only fitting, because that's how his most ardent supporters and detractors will remember him, anyway.

At the moment, though, it's an even-money bet which side will be happier when this experiment ends.

"Everything is old," Testaverde chuckled Thursday, "not just my arm."

His teammates claim they got the opposite impression -- if you heard the phrase, 'same old Vinny' in the Jets' locker room once, you heard it a dozen times -- but what did anyone really expect them to say? With a 1-3 record, they haven't blocked well enough to unclog the running game and they couldn't prevent the first two quarterbacks on their depth chart, Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler, from getting knocked all the way to the sideline.

Maybe that's why Coach Herman Edwards warned his squad to worry less about posing for alumni photos with Testaverde and concentrate more on protecting him.

"It's going to take everyone around Vinny to be successful," Edwards said Thursday, "not just him."

If that sounds as if the coach is already laying off some responsibility for bringing Testaverde back, there's a reason. Edwards said he knew something drastic had to change after watching his first two options go down with shoulder injuries, followed by third-stringer Brooks Bollinger running for his life last week against the Baltimore Ravens.

But even after Pennington and Fiedler went down, Edwards didn't exactly rush to call Vinny. Screwing up the courage to do that, to switch to Plan D in yet another desperate bid to revive the Jets' season, took the better part of two days.

Testaverde would have been happy to save Edwards the time and trouble. Turns out he watched the Jets' first two quarterbacks fall, too, and even from the safety of the sidelines as Bollinger was getting chewed up, figured he could do better. But Testaverde hadn't exactly rushed out to call Edwards, either.

He left the organization after playing in less than half the games in the 2003 season, convinced he'd slid too far down the depth chart to make it worth his while. Instead, Testaverde hooked up with his old Jets' coach, Bill Parcells, in Dallas and had another productive if unsatisfying season. It's anyone's guess whether Testaverde would have been moved to re-enlist anywhere else but New York, but at least there he got some encouragement.

He and Jets' receiver Wayne Chrebet still get their families together for dinners, and that's where the reunion tour idea picked up steam.

Edwards finally got around to calling last Tuesday, and 15 minutes later, Testaverde reported for his physical. By kickoff, he may not know the offense, or that he's only the second-oldest QB in the league behind Doug Flutie, soon to turn 43. He may not know he's the fourth-oldest quarterback to start a game in the Super Bowl era, or even the sad endings that Tittle, and Johnny Unitas, wrote for their careers.

But Testaverde can take some comfort knowing the Jets can't do much worse with him than without him. Pressure is a word that won't enter his vocabulary this week.

"You just want to go out and react," he said. "I'm not thinking too much. The calls are coming in the huddle, and I'm getting them out without having to think too much."

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