A game for all ages
Testaverde, Peterson shine in unpredictable Week 6
Posted: Monday October 15, 2007 4:29AM; Updated: Monday October 15, 2007 1:46PM
NEW YORK -- With apologies to Tom Brady and his consistent greatness, the Patriots and their quest for perfection, Adrian Peterson and his Gale Sayers-ish day at Soldier Field, and LaDainian Tomlinson's déjà vu rampage over the Raiders, I'm leading with the most charismatic story of Week 6.
It's the story of Vinny Testaverde coming off the couch -- literally -- a month shy of his 44th birthday to start his first football game in two years, and playing quarterback for a serious playoff contender. I'm not sure you're going to believe it. I'm not sure I believe it.
I'll begin at the beginning. Eight days ago, Testaverde was home on Long Island, doing what all his sports-fan neighbors were doing -- watching the Giants and Jets on TV from his living room.
Testaverde is married and has three children (girls 16 and 5, and an 11-year-old boy), and he drives them to school and to sports practices. He was cut by the Patriots on Sept. 2, and his football career was basically over. If the Pats had an injury, maybe he'd mop up for them as a third quarterback. Maybe. But he just figured he'd move on with life. He hadn't thrown a football for five weeks. Until last Monday. And then his semi-house-husband life started changing rapidly.
The Cardinals called. Matt Leinart had suffered a broken clavicle the previous day and coach Ken Whisenhunt needed a backup for Kurt Warner. Testaverde was interested, but the distance bothered him. By the end of the day, though, he was excited enough to think: Hey, this is for me.
He liked Warner, liked Whisenhunt, and figured he might get a chance to play some for a team that looked like it might contend for a division title. So he agreed to a one-year contract Monday night with the Cardinals and prepared to join them Tuesday to learn Whisenhunt's system. The Cardinals left an E-ticket for Testaverde for the first thing Tuesday morning, even arranged a car service for his trip to the airport at 4:30 a.m.
"The alarm rang Tuesday morning, and I just sat there thinking, I can't go. I can't leave my family. It's too far," Testaverde told me Saturday evening, over the phone, from Phoenix, " And so I went back to sleep, and when I got up, I called Ken and told him how sorry I was. But I said if I didn't tell him now, I'd have done it three weeks from now, and really left them in a jam.''
That was about 9:30 Tuesday morning. The kids were out of the house, gone to school, and now he just sat there. He thought: That's it. That's the end of my football career. I had a chance, but it wasn't the right one.
Less than an hour later, his phone rang. It was an old friend, Jerry Simmons, who he'd known as the strength coach with the Cleveland Browns when Testaverde played there in the '90s. Simmons was with Carolina now. As soon as he heard Simmons' voice, Testaverde figured he was calling to see if he wanted to play for the Panthers. Which he was. And the good thing about Charlotte is that it's a 70-minute flight from New York, not the four-hour-plus trip to Phoenix.
So here was Testaverde, who hadn't thrown a football in five weeks, who was sure his career was over -- now he was beating off teams with a stick.
"The first thing I thought of was I didn't want to go play for Carolina, because they were playing Arizona this week, and I felt bad about saying no to Arizona after I told them I'd come,'' he said. "But then I thought of the positives. I know the offense they run, because it's basically an offense I'm familiar with from my years in New York and New England, and I knew they had a good team. Plus, I'd be closer to home. In Phoenix, I don't think I'd have been able to come home on my off-day.''