Note: This article first appeared on www.nfl.com.
Five years ago if I’d heard NFL quarterback Chad Pennington tore his ACL in a pick-up basketball game I’d feel guilty for being overjoyed. It’s terrible how being a sports fan can bring out the worst in you, but Pennington knew how to make Dolphin fans miserable. His tendency to go for the safe five yard first down rather than the long touchdown made me underestimate him. I thought he was lucky, not good. But as his New York Jets kept finding ways to defeat my Miami Dolphins you had to wonder if there was a certain amount of skill involved too.
So then in 2008 when the Jets kicked Pennington to the curb, even though at that point he had taken the Jets to the playoffs three different seasons, for Brett Favre, I was hesitant to get too excited. Here was another journeyman quarterback the Dolphins had recruited whose best years were behind him. Another Brian Griese. Another Daunte Culpepper. Another Trent Green. But in week one, Pennington proved he was a different kind of cat. The Jets took a big lead, but there was no quit in Pennington. He inspired his team to keep fighting and they came one catch away from stealing a victory.
Pennington took the Dolphins from worst to first in that magical 2008 season. While Brett Favre captained the Jets to a historic collapse including litigation involving sexual harassment and a naughty photo, Pennington’s smart, tactical play led the Dolphins to tie an NFL record for fewest turnovers in a season. He took that Miami team on their only playoff run since the 2001 season clinched in a storybook week 17 victory in The Meadowlands over Favre and the New York Jets. Along the way Pennington became the only quarterback truly accepted by Dolfans since Dan Marino retired (although I think Jay Fielder got a raw deal, but that’s a topic for another day).
The next year the Dolphins had a brutal schedule and started 0-3 when Chad Pennington’s shoulder separated on the San Diego turf. If that injury didn’t happen I have no doubt Pennington would have led the Dolphins to the playoffs that year. But if Pennington had a flaw besides his lack of arm strength, it was that he kept getting hurt. It’s not like he wasn’t tough. He is the only NFL player to twice be named Comeback Player of the Year. Yet last year when he tried to come back again it took him only one play to severely injure his shoulder again. And now comes the latest injury which doesn’t give me Schadenfreude, just sadness.
The only bright spot for Pennington is if he retires now he can go out as the quarterback with the highest career completion percentage ever. That’s small solace for any competitor, which Chad Pennington truly was. For that reason I suppose we shouldn’t count him out from getting a hat trick of Comeback Player of the Year awards, but if your body keeps breaking I think it might be trying to tell you something. Maybe it’s time to take up a less brutal game to get his competitive fix. The way he played football, I’d bet Chad Pennington would be a hell of a chess player.