|Vinny and the Cats; Testaverde still has it at age 43|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 15 October 2007 11:51|
When he signed last Wednesday with the Carolina Panthers, the 43-year-old thought he could still play. But he wasn't sure he'd gain the respect of his teammates.
``Not having the support of the players was a worry of mine,'' Testaverde said Monday. ``Dealing with me being 43 years old and the players looking at me and saying, 'Hey, how is this guy going to help us? He's 43. He's not going to be able to do it.'''
``I wanted to show them through practice and certainly through the game that I was capable of holding up my end of the bargain.''
He has nothing to worry about anymore. Except perhaps being involved in a quarterback controversy.
The man nicknamed ``Dad'' by his teammates led the Panthers to a 25-10 win at Arizona on Sunday despite not knowing all his teammates' names. An emergency fill-in with Jake Delhomme out for the season with an elbow injury and David Carr nursing a sore back, Testaverde learned enough of the offense in four days to become the third-oldest quarterback to start an NFL game and the oldest to win one.
A guy who spent the previous Sunday at home watching games on TV completed 20 of 33 passes for 206 yards, including the go-ahead 65-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith in the fourth quarter. Testaverde, who hadn't thrown a ball in more than five weeks until Wednesday's practice, didn't throw an interception as the Panthers moved to 4-2 heading into their bye week.
``It's a pretty good feeling to be called upon on short notice, not really knowing your personnel, what players are capable of doing, and going out and winning the football game,'' Testaverde said.
The old body held up pretty well, too. Testaverde said he felt ``not too bad'' as he lifted weights and did some light running Monday.
Meanwhile, Vinnymania had gripped the Carolinas. Fans were calling into radio shows Monday urging that Testaverde, who turns 44 next month, start ahead of Carr on Oct. 28 against Indianapolis.
Coach John Fox wasn't available to reporters Monday, and Testaverde isn't sure of his role.
``I have no clue. There has been no conversation with me,'' Testaverde said. ``Whatever the decision is, I'm here to help in any way I can.''
Entering his 21st season, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1987 draft was cut by New England before the season. He returned home to Long Island and thought he'd get a call from the Patriots to rejoin them later in the season as insurance.
But then there was a rash of quarterback injuries around the league, and general manager Marty Hurney acknowledged Monday signing Testaverde involved some luck.
Hurney was scrambling to find a QB after it was learned Delhomme would undergo season-ending elbow surgery and Carr was questionable with a back injury.
Hurney looked at the thin list of available QBs and thought Testaverde was the best option.
``If anybody could come in on Wednesday and be effective on Sunday, certainly it would be him,'' Hurney said.
But then Hurney learned Testaverde was going to sign with Arizona, and crossed him off the list.
A day later, Panthers strength and conditioning coach Jerry Simmons, a friend of Testaverde from their days together in Cleveland in the 1990s, called to congratulate him on going to the Cardinals. Testaverde told Simmons he'd changed his mind because of the distance he'd be from his family in New York.
Simmons relayed the information to Hurney. He immediately called Testaverde, who said he'd be interested in coming to Carolina because it was on the East Coast.
Testaverde flew to Charlotte early Wednesday, took his physical, signed his one-year contract and was taken on a golf cart to the practice field just as the workout began.
Testaverde had some familiarity with the offense because coordinator Jeff Davidson once worked under Bill Belichick in New England. But learning the system in four days was a monumental task.
He returned few phone calls and missed the Testaverde old man jokes from Jay Leno and others on TV to study the playbook and watch film.
``Our players noticed he had DVDs and was watching cutups on the flight out to Arizona, preparing,'' Hurney said. ``Our players just got the opportunity to see how a guy prepares mentally and physically that's been in the league as long as Vinny has.''
On that flight Friday, Carr's back tightened. With Carr unable to play, Fox told Testaverde on Saturday night he was starting ahead of undrafted rookie Matt Moore.
Testaverde acknowledged he was afraid to make mistakes early and limited his long throws. But he got more confident, and in the fourth quarter found Smith in stride for the winning score.
``Its unprecedented really,'' said Belichick, who lost his chance to bring back Testaverde. ``I'm not surprised at all. He's a remarkable athlete and a remarkable player and person.''
Testaverde was just happy to get off the couch and prove to himself and his teammates he can still play - even if he's still learning their names.
``I've always told myself as long as I'm healthy and I'm having fun and I can contribute to the team, I want to continue to do it,'' he said. ``It never gets old.''