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Says Sparano, "He might be 31 years old, but he takes tremendous care of his body and he always has. I think you're seeing a guy who still has a bunch in his tank." Williams is taking night classes twice a week at Nova Southeastern University in preparation to become a doctor of osteopathy after football. He envisions playing three more seasons in the NFL, then dedicating himself to practicing medicine.
OF COURSE, if Williams changes his mind later and wants to keep playing through his mid-30s, he'll probably find a suitor somewhere. "In my experience there's always another 31 teams out there," says nosetackle Jason Ferguson, 33, who's in his first season in Miami after three with Dallas and eight with the Jets. "In this league we're always going to have chances. If you get dropped by a team and you've played at least 15 games, you are circled as a guy who can do it."
Says defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday, the 11-year veteran who spent five seasons in Green Bay and two in Kansas City before coming to Miami, "You can get a second chance no matter what you're going through. That was the case in Dallas with Pacman [ Jones] and, certainly here, with Chad. It's not like Chad was doing terrible in New York. He was welcomed here with open arms because on paper he's the best quarterback in Miami since Dan Marino."
While Favre was recalling to the media the finer points of his two-touchdown passes—including one to receiver Chansi Stuckey resulting from a classic Favre escape and jump ball on fourth down—Pennington, who had taken four sacks, was being asked which body part hurt most. The Dolphins' new quarterback pointed to his chest. "My heart," he said. "My pride is hurt."
Pennington was on the bitter end of the Favre saga last month, when the Jets quietly released the 32-year-old veteran after eight seasons and he signed with Miami. While Favre is famed for his rocket throws and iron-man stamina, Pennington has exhibited a softer toss and a tendency to get hurt. Benched last year in favor of Kellen Clemens, he began working out full time in the off-season with Charles Petrone, a trainer he's known since he was a high school sophomore in Tennessee.
"He was this skinny, broke country kid with big feet and big hands," Petrone says. "He walked up to me at the gym and said, 'I'd like to train with you.' I was like, 'Who the hell are you?'"
As a teenager, Pennington would leave his house at 4 a.m. to travel to Petrone's gym, more than an hour away, in a 1985 maroon Oldsmobile, its radio locked in to country music. He continued the workout program at Marshall and all the way through his rookie year in New York, where he became the most accurate passer in league history but also endured constant questions about his arm strength in the swirling winds at the Meadowlands.
The goal of the off-season program was for Pennington to reclaim the Jets' starting job. "Watching him hold a clipboard, that isn't going to be Chad in this league," Petrone says. "They had him pegged as a guy who can't push the ball down the field. I told him, 'Let me incorporate the exercises that had you throwing the ball 64 yards.' It's ironic that he's going to be doing it for a new team."
Says Pennington, "I think as human beings and as athletes, all we can ask for is a chance and a glimmer of hope. You can look at [moving to a new team] as a challenge or an obstacle. To me there's no greater feeling than walking into that huddle, looking your teammates in the eyes, calling a play and walking to the line of scrimmage together, ready to execute."
After a listless first quarter in which he heard boos, Pennington nearly helped Miami equal its 2007 win total. Working in the no-huddle offense with less than two minutes remaining, Pennington connected on five straight passes—short, precise, perfectly weighted—to four targets to move the Dolphins to the Jets' 18. With 10 seconds left and Miami facing a third and 10, Pennington, under a heavy rush, lofted a pass into coverage in the end zone. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis pulled it down for an interception. Moments later Pennington and Favre embraced at midfield after the latest, and most unusual twist, in a long AFC East rivalry.