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VINNY'S SHIP HAS COME IN
Dave Scheiber
August 03, 1987
With Vinny Testaverde at the helm, Tampa Bay hopes to improve its NFL fortunes
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August 03, 1987

Vinny's Ship Has Come In

With Vinny Testaverde at the helm, Tampa Bay hopes to improve its NFL fortunes

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Perkins planned well for Testaverde's arrival. In February he hired Marc Trestman, who coached both Testaverde and Bernie Kosar at Miami in 1983 and '84 and spent the last two seasons with Minnesota as the Vikings' running backs coach. "Vinny's not the quiet, shy kid he was when he came to Miami," says Trestman. "Because of the success he had, he's gained confidence. I think Vinny's been well prepared for the NFL by Miami's offensive system, which is a lot like the Dolphins'. And he played in a major program, which helped him learn to deal with pressure."

Nonetheless, some observers question how well Testaverde handles the heat. They point to two games with the national championship on the line: Miami's 35-7 loss to Tennessee in the 1986 Sugar Bowl and the 14-10 loss to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. Testaverde threw a combined eight interceptions in those two games.

"That's completely off base to say he can't handle pressure, based on those two games," says Hurricane coach Jimmy Johnson. "He handled the pressure against Oklahoma extremely well—twice. He handled the pressure of Florida at Gainesville. And he handled the pressure of about a dozen TV games. Against Penn State and Tennessee, he didn't play well after two long layoffs."

The latter one followed a motor scooter accident on campus in November. Testaverde's left shoulder still bears traces of the painful abrasions from the wipeout. "It's just the way things worked out," says Testaverde. "I've got to believe I would have been five or six weeks better if the accident hadn't happened. But I don't dwell on it. If anything, losing to Penn State has become a motivator for me. It ticks me off sometimes that we lost. I think about it when I'm working out, and I just work harder."

As for pressure, Testaverde thrives on it—on and off the field. Last year he was aboard a 727 that had to make an emergency landing at Washington's Dulles Airport when the landing gear failed. Flight attendants asked Testaverde and several other men to help keep passengers calm during the landing.

"There was a chance the plane could have blown up and caught fire after we landed, and the other guys who were supposed to help took off when the plane came to a stop," Testaverde recalls. "I just started helping people off. One of the firemen came up to me and said, 'Go! Go!' I started to, but I could see he was having trouble with people. So I stayed and helped him. I'll tell you what, it was exciting. It sounds weird, but my heart was pounding and I was into it. It wasn't a scared feeling, but a ready-to-go feeling."

Testaverde prides himself on helping people. Last year, for instance, while taking his Miami linemen out to dinner, an old couple approached him sheepishly in the restaurant parking lot. Their car had broken down and they had no money. Without hesitation, Testaverde handed them a $10 bill.

"I told them, 'Don't worry about it; don't be embarrassed, because if it was me, I'd want somebody to help me out,' " he says. "Things like that really make me enjoy life."

For companionship Testaverde has his new teammates and a steady girlfriend, Laura Gambucci, an aerobics instructor whom he met at the Fiesta Bowl. From the start Testaverde has made efforts to gain acceptance on the Bucs. After Tampa Bay's last minicamp in June, he took 15 veterans out to dinner and picked up the tab.

"I've never seen that done by a rookie, and I thought that was a great gesture on his part," says linebacker Scot Brantley. "It wasn't done in a way like, Hey guys, now will you accept me? It was done like, Let's just sit around and talk and get to know each other."

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